I was in Delhi, yesterday, for IndiaSocial 2012. I reached Delhi late on Tuesday night (April 3rd) and was put up at a hotel called Mapple Emerald. Yes, it was ‘Mapple’, and it made me cringe, but the hotel was pretty decent.

As I checked out of the hotel on the morning of 4th, I asked the reception desk about the distance from that hotel, to Leela Kempinsky, Gurgaon, where IndiaSocial was being held. I was told it would be less than 2 kilometers. Since I was in a buoyant mood, I asked him if I could just walk it, instead of asking for a cab. The reception guy told me, ‘Oh yes, it’s not very far!’.

So, I started walking. Both the hotels were in the same road, incidentally and Leela is not actually very far. But, practically, in the harsh sun of Delhi summer, it seemed far. After taking a few steps, I stopped to check with an auto driver, just to make sure I was walking in the right direction. The auto driver glanced at me and said (in Hindi, this is the translated version), ‘You look decent. And you seem like you’re going for a meeting at Leela. It is not far, but if you walk, you’ll go drenched in sweat. Come, let me drop you there for Rs.50’.

Considering the distance (about 2-3 kilometers), Rs.50 was indeed high, by normal Indian standards, but I loved the auto driver’s effort to sugar-coat it in something so personalized! As I sat in the auto, I pondered about the kind of premium we pay for small additions by marketers – better packing, faster delivery and so on! It was wonderful seeing an auto driver using that technique to entice a customer – I was indeed enticed!

Two other, related observations – related only on the location and event, not by the story’s theme.

One, at the Mapple Emerald, as I walked past the reception in the morning, for my breakfast, I noticed a huge crowd of foreigners occupying almost the entire dining area. They seemed like Americans, specifically from Middle America – the stark lack of any kind of communication gadgets (tablets, laptops or smartphones – they just had a lot of cameras) made me assume so. Random guess, I do agree.

There was just one table with 4 chairs and one of them was occupied by an Indian. I asked him if I could join him and upon his affirmative nod, I sat there to have my breakfast.

I saw the same man at IndiaSocial, during lunch! He was Hareesh Tibrewala, Joint CEO of Social Wavelength! Looks like I haven’t learnt anything from ‘Never Eat Alone‘, a book by Keith Ferrazzi. So much more to learn – I could have easily chatted with him informally and could have found that we were headed to the same event and are in the same line of work!

Silly me.

The other observation – my auto wasn’t allowed into the Leela. The security guard told me that autos are strictly not allowed even inside the main entrance of the Leela! Reminded me of the case of Leela Bangalore shooing away a cyclist and how it became a nice little PR crisis for them, a couple of years back (Leela did make some amends in this issue, later!). I suppose star hotels are more bothered about the wrapper (the vehicle) and not what is inside (the customer/client) and are also making these choices based on external appearances of affluence.