Group's Taj chain launches its latest luxury hotel in Cape Town

“I'm looking forward to the freedom to do the things I've always wanted to do. I don't want to leave the company in a wheelchair, or in a box,” said Ratan Tata, Chairman of the $71-billion Tata Group.

At an impromptu press conference in the business lounge of the newly opened luxury hotel, Taj Cape Town, Mr. Tata answered questions from journalists on the property, the group's ties with South Africa and, inevitably (despite firm injunctions from the organisers not to bring up the topic) his successor as Chairman.

In August, Tata Sons, Group's holding company, formed a five-member panel to choose Mr. Tata's successor. He has been Chairman since 1991.

His own decision

Although Mr. Tata was characteristically polite, he was also firmly non-committal: “I think all of you should let the committee do its job.” He did, however, stress that the decision to retire was his own. Declaring his full faith in the selection process, he said: “I have chosen to stay away from that committee… so it can make a fair decision… [But] I'm always available to the committee if needed.”

Formally launched on August 28, the hotel has 177 rooms, two restaurants, a champagne bar and a spa and is set in the heart of Cape Town. It is a joint venture between Indian Hotels Company and Irish property investment company Eurocape. Established in 1903, the Taj chain has 67 hotels in 45 locations in India, and 16 elsewhere in the world.

Taj Cape Town, the “city's oldest new hotel,” is set in two heritage buildings, the South African Reserve Bank and Temple Chambers. It took over two years and $69 million to restore and create.

The Tatas have had a presence in South Africa. “We've been here for 15 years… Our first industry was operating assembled buses from Johannesburg… We look at this as a country that works. It has good vibes, the infrastructure is strong,” he said.

“We should be thoughtful. Shouldn't create an over-presence,” said Mr. Tata, answering a question on expansion plans. “It's not going to be, as I see it, a Taj in 15 cities.” He, however, added: “I think the opportunity for four-star hotels in South Africa is pretty enormous and something we should not ignore.”

R.K. Krishna Kumar, Director Tata Sons, said the Taj strove to offer an experience that was different. “Much more personal. It's not brick and mortar that brings people back. It's experience.”

The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai, the brand's flagship property, reopened its 107-year-old Heritage Wing this Independence Day, welcoming guests back after the November 2008 terror siege.

Mr. Kumar said “restoring the hotel was a labour of love.”

“For many of us who lived through those three days of violence it was emotional — we saw lives being taken, we saw the hotel burning,” said Mr. Tata. “We lost 31 people.” On the reopening, he said: “This was our statement of defiance. It's an emotional triumph… we've been able to overcome.”