Mumbai, India’s business capital, is the country’s richest and most populous city, with more than 13 million inhabitants. Fascinating and exotic, it boasts a panoply of colors, flavors and aromas. Sacred cows, Bentleys and three-wheeled tuk-tuk moto-taxis share the streets with food carts, while pedestrians in turbans, business suits, dhotis and brightly colored saris crowd the sidewalks. This vibrant cosmopolitan metropolis, a hub for culture, fashion and film, is also the entertainment capital of India, with an international crowd of Bollywood stars, global financiers and India’s wealthy adding to its legendary glamour.
This is a city of extremes where people from all walks of life congregate. Be prepared for crowds and sensory overload. Soaring skyscrapers and modern malls flourish amid slums and grinding poverty. Men, women and children live and beg on the streets near the posh luxury hotels. The best of Mumbai is enlivening and heart-wrenching at the same time.
Mumbai is safe if you’re prudent and careful. This is especially important for women travelers. Although the city has not experienced the same violence against women as other parts of the country, it’s key to use trustworthy transportation when going from place to place and to dress modestly. For example, one never shows bare arms; Indian businesswomen wear either beautiful saris or smart Western garb in this fashion-forward city. Also important to know: Public transportation is dubious and not an option for foreigners. Taxis are neither reliable nor recommended for business travelers. Many taxi drivers don’t speak English, and their driving skills can be sketchy. The best way to get around in Mumbai is with a private car and driver, prearranged.
At once chaotic and orderly, Mumbai embraces its own unique system of how things get done — which has nothing to do with Western ways. In a city where “yes” may mean “I’m not sure,” “no” can denote “perhaps,” and “I’ll try” is a gracious but definitive “no,” communication can be complicated.
Instead of our traditional handshake, Indians use the namaste, in which the palms are brought together at chest level with a slight bow of the head. This holds especially true when dealing with women. Doing this is a sign of understanding Indian etiquette and respect. Business cards should be exchanged at the first meeting, always using the right hand for giving and receiving, and put away respectfully.
In addition to practical data, Indians rely on intuition, feeling and faith to guide them in both personal and business matters. You will notice that everything is done at a much slower pace. If your dealings in Mumbai involve negotiations, there’s a good chance they will happen slowly. Don’t mistake this for laziness or carelessness. Doing business here involves building relationships. Indians only deal favorably with those they know and trust. Family responsibilities take precedence over business, so last-minute cancellations are possible. That’s the “Indian way.”
Given the intricacies involved in doing business in Mumbai and the concerns for safety, it’s highly recommended to have a top India specialist plan your trip. Pallavi Shah, the Indian-born, well-connected, New York-based owner of the travel company Our Personal Guest, specializes in delivering custom-tailored experiences to both the business and leisure traveler with the utmost personal attention. Her company not only arranges everything from accommodations to ground transportation including private car and driver, but also offers the ultimate amenities for business travelers. OPG can provide access to exclusive members-only private clubs — such as Bombay Gymkhana, Willingdon, The Chambers at The Taj Mahal Palace hotel and The Belvedere at The Oberoi — for prime business lunches, dinners and cocktails. Also, specialists can give insights and important tips about doing business in Mumbai.
OPG’s expertise, taste level and VIP access guarantee a seamless experience. Services include securing reservations at the best tables, staging a cocktail party or dinner at a private residence and coordinating business events with corporate clients. They also address the social dos and don’ts, including proper dining protocol if your client invites you home to dinner, such as what type of gift to bring, whether to take off your shoes, and table manners regarding eating with your right hand, among other things.
Business is conducted in the restaurants and lounges inside the top luxury hotels, away from noise and crowds. An integral part of Mumbai’s history since 1903 and overlooking the Gateway of India, the legendary Taj Mahal Palace hotel hosts royalty, heads of state and celebrities and embodies old-school opulence and grandeur. Silk couches and museum-quality paintings line the elegant lobby. The hotel has an array of top restaurants, making it an easy place to entertain clients. For power breakfasts, the Taj Palace Wing is unparalleled. For impressive lunch meetings or dinners, enjoy authentic Japanese cuisine at Wasabi by Morimoto, Cantonese at the acclaimed Golden Dragon or fine European cuisine at The Zodiac Grill. Souk offers Eastern Mediterranean flavors with scenic rooftop views, and Masala Kraft delivers ancient Indian dishes with a contemporary twist. The historic Harbour Bar, the oldest bar in the city, is a great place to meet for drinks. Or treat clients to cocktails, light fare or afternoon tea at the Sea Lounge.
Another option for those who like sleek, chic and modern is the luxurious Oberoi. The hotel showcases spectacular views of the Arabian Sea and skyline, a soaring gorgeous atrium/lobby and a red grand piano. In addition to all-day dining at stylish Fenix, Italian fare at trendy Vetro (with a lighter power-lunch menu) and elegant afternoon tea at The Champagne Lounge, Michelin-starred chef Vineet Bhatia works his magic for lunch and dinner at the renowned Ziya Indian restaurant, where each plate is a work of art.
Grand Hyatt Mumbai is another favorite of business travelers. This stylish property with a striking lobby offers tasty Italian fare at Celini; all-day casual dining at Fifty Five East and China House; and the Lobby Lounge, where guests gather over power breakfasts, business lunches, afternoon high tea and dinners.
Don’t plan meetings near or on national holidays such as Independence Day or Diwali. You can avoid the heat by scheduling your visit between October and March. Mumbai is best experienced if you are open and can appreciate the ambiguity and excitement of this captivating city.
Read more about Indian dining.
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