Puttin' Taj on the Ritz

Ritz-Carlton Boston

PHOTO GALLERY: Early days at the Ritz-Carlton, Boston

AUDIO SLIDESHOW: Remembering the Old Ritz

TEXT OF STORY

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Today the very first Ritz-Carlton hotel, built in Boston in 1927, will transfer ownership to Mumbai-based Taj Hotels. The cost: $170 million. From WBUR in Boston, Curt Nickisch checks in.


CURT NICKISCH: Sitting in the cafe at the Ritz-Carlton Boston, socialite Smoki Bacon remembers getting married here. She went to her favorite cocktail party here too, after a funeral — it was in the will. And she'll never forget the woman who was wearing slacks instead of the required dress.
SMOKI BACON: When they told her she couldn't come into the dining room, she ran around the dining room screaming

Soon the Ritz will serve a new cast of customers, as the international Taj Hotel Group breaks into the U.S. market by buying this 278-room hotel. Back in its home base of India, many Taj properties are converted royal palaces.

In the Taj Mahal Hotel lobby in New Dehli, a fountain splashes under a mural of an elephant. Tiger statues stand guard in the hotel suites.

But David Gibbons says you won't see elephant statutes on the Boston Common.

DAVID GIBBONS: Taj is known as the steward of iconic buildings and palaces. We look at this one as an American palace.

The new general manager says the Ritz name will change to the Taj Boston, but little else will. Though Gibbons might spice up the menu with a few Indian entrees.

GIBBONS: If I do there'll be somebody grinding the curry daily properly - and it will be done with the authenticity. So yeah that'll be added to the repertoire. But it won't be the repertoire.

An international flavor could help Taj, says hotel industry analyst Matt Arrants. He says Boston's social elites no longer pay the bill. These days, it's corporate customers and a new wave of international travelers.

MATT ARRANTS: And they're coming for medical treatment at Mass General Hospital or one of the other medical institutions in the city; they here go shopping on Newbury Street, or visit their kids at Harvard, BU or MIT. So that's an important factor.

A factor that went into purchase price. Taj paid six hundred thousand dollars per room for the Boston Ritz, the highest price ever here. It reflects a larger trend, says Martin Desmairis. He edits the Indus Business Journal and says Indian companies are flush with cash after a decade of U.S. outsourcing. Now they've got American know-how.

MARTIN DESMAIRIS: The door's open, and now it's a two-way street I think. They know how to do it one way, so it's not too hard to take a look at that and do it the other way.

Next month Bostonians will have to get used to another way of puttin' on the Ritz. Hotel industry analyst Matt Arrants:

ARRANTS: I tell you the one thing I like is that it's a nice quick one syllable so it's easy to say "I'll meet you at the Taj for a drink" just as easily as you can say "I'll meet you at the Ritz."

Chai and crumpets, anyone?

In Boston, I'm Curt Nickisch for Marketplace.

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