‘Our focus is to invest in our brands, technology and tools'

Sudeep Jain, Managing Director, South-West Asia, IHG Hotels & Resorts, feels India has a lot of tourism potential

No sooner had he taken over the reins as the Managing Director, South West Asia at IHG Hotels & Resorts in January 2020 that Sudeep Jain got down to tackling the toughest two years any hotelier would ever have to handle. The pandemic had hit the world. But then Jain took up the challenge positively. “There is an opportunity in every challenge. The last two years have proven to be a great learning curve for the industry and all of us. I got the opportunity to work closely with our network – owners, General Managers and individual teams to collectively find solutions amid the unprecedented challenges. By virtue of a collaborative approach, we are at a significantly better position today than at the beginning of the crisis,” says Jain.

He adds that while the last two years have taught us to live and learn despite uncertainties, they have instilled confidence that will help us deal with issues that may arise in future. “I strongly believe the key to survival is innovative thinking, developing leaders with the capacity to effect change, creating an interconnected team, and adapting to the pace of transformation. I can say with pride that we have been able to evolve as a team and business to be more resilient and adaptive,” he opines

InterContinental Chennai Mahabalipuram Resort

IHG Hotels & Resorts has had a long and successful history of operating in India, having set foot in 1965 through an alliance of InterContinental with The Oberoi Group of Hotels & Resorts. “In 1974, we launched Holiday Inn. Our corporate office opened in 2006 and we set up our global business support centre in Delhi,” informs Jain. At present, IHG has five of its core brands operating across South West Asia – Six Senses and InterContinental Hotels and Resorts in the luxury segment, Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts in the premium segment, and Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express in the mainstream category – 41 hotels at present with 37 to open over the next few years.

Sharing his views on which of IHG brands has a greater potential for growth in India and why, Jain says, “Our Holiday Inn Brand family, comprising Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express will continue to remain at the centre of our growth plans. These brands have worked well for the market which is primarily driven by domestic tourism. With an attractive brand proposition in line with market demand and a low cost of development, these brands make for an attractive investment choice for our owners.”

Crowne Plaza Today Gurugram

In luxury segment, the InterContinental brand has strong potential for growth given its familiarity with domestic and international guests and legacy of being the largest luxury hospitality brand in the world that is pioneering luxury travel for 75 years. “We are in several discussions to add more InterContinental hotels to our portfolio in the coming years. Also, our first Six Senses hotel in Rajasthan has been a great success. This will result in further opportunities to grow the brand footprint in the country. We see growth potential of our global brands such as Regent, Kimpton and the recently launched Vignette Collection. We look forward to introducing these at the right time with the right partners, at the right location but these will be bespoke projects,” he shares.

Jain is confident about IHG Hotels & Resorts being well poised to respond to any forthcoming challenges. “The demand is witnessing an uptrend as consumer confidence continues to return with easing of restrictions and effective rollout of the vaccine. Hotels across our portfolio have registered a noteworthy increase in bookings and occupancies across key destinations. Our overall business performance was robust in Q4 2021. With the growing demand for domestic leisure travel, the average rates in our leisure hotels have reached almost the same levels as 2019,” he says.


“Across the globe, including India, we follow an asset light business model and investment in assets is covered by our owners. Our focus is to invest in our brands, technology, tools and solutions that make the largest difference to our guests, owners and teams, our loyalty offer and our talent to deliver the right experiences to our guests. This drives returns for the owners,” he shares.

On IHG’s performance in 2021 in comparison to 2020 in India and SW Asia, Jain says, “The business was mixed with lows during the second wave of the pandemic and there was significant recovery once the situation stabilised. Effective rollout of the vaccine and ease in travel restrictions helped in return of consumer confidence. Hotels across our portfolio register a noteworthy increase in bookings and occupancies across key destinations. Initiatives such as IHG Clean Promise and use of advanced technology for minimal contact added to consumer confidence.” He adds the business performance was strong in Q4 2021, with occupancies in some cases reaching above 2019 levels. “Although the rates were still slightly reduced, we have witnessed a substantial surge in overall GOP and in some cases, we have hit record revenues,” Jain says.

Holiday Inn Chandigarh Zirakpur

Talking about maintaining good, lasting and growing relations with their leading owner partners, he says the owners have been an integral part of the IHG family. “We are focussed towards providing them complete support not only in hotel openings and renovations but ensuring profitable operations in the long run. A significant number of our owners have valued how we supported them through the pandemic and have appreciated our effective and resilient response to the evolving situation. Our owners have the confidence in us and they recognise the long-term prospects of the sector,” he avers.

The Managing Director, South-West Asia, IHG Hotels & Resorts says the collaboration with owners is built on the shared values of trust, empathy and mutual respect for each other’s expertise. “Understanding each individual owner’s needs and creating bespoke solutions for them is critical to our business strategy in the country. We work towards finding solutions as partners focussing on overall performance while ensuring transparency as well as flexibility in our approach,” he says.

Jain believes the Indian market has the appetite and space for both traditional hospitality operations as well as concepts such as homestays as the propositions are different. “For corporate travellers and large groups, a hotel offers more booking flexibility and ease including a better network of suppliers for tours, meetings and leisure experiences. The hospitality sector will always witness an influx of new players and new ideas, and we welcome this as it helps us to constantly innovate and better our offerings,” Jain feels.


Shedding light on IHG Concerto, Jain shares that the intuitive Cloud-based solution is the first-of-its-kind in the industry and is critical to the work they are doing in this space. “Blending core hotel applications into one seamless platform capable of enhancing the guest, owner and colleague experiences, it serves as the foundation for much of how we are creating digital advantage. It gives IHG the ability to add regular releases with new functionality at pace and scale, and ensures we continue to evolve how we enrich the guest stay and meet new expectations, alongside driving stronger returns for our owners,” he says.

The last two years have taught us a lot on HR practices, bringing in focus and attention on the significance of employee well-being and welfare. Explaining his strategy for employee engagement and welfare and talent management and retention, Jain shares, “Supporting our colleagues’ mental and physical wellbeing during these challenging times has been a priority for us. We have learnt new ways to keep them motivated throughout the period of uncertainty and change. We have maintained regular and open communication from senior leaders, organised work-life summits, initiated partnerships for mental wellbeing via online courseware and ongoing support for colleagues, launched leadership master classes and an employee assistance programme, among other initiatives.” He strongly believes that ensuring honest, two-way communication with colleagues and being transparent with them is key to build trust within the organisation. 

InterContinental Chennai Mahabalipuram Resort

Additionally, in the current circumstances, the business environment has changed significantly, and the concept of hospitality is being redefined. “In order to serve our guests in the new context, we believe it is extremely important that we train all members of our workforce extensively across all hotel operations to adapt to the new normal. Keeping this in mind, we have provision for extensive operational guidance on health,  safety and cleanliness, and changes to hotel Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for all existing and new employees,” he shares.


Expressing his thoughts on the role of sustainability as a responsible hospitality company, Jain says, “With a massive footprint across the globe, we recognised the important role that the tourism and hospitality sector play in working towards sustainable future. As one of the world’s leading hotel companies, we embrace our responsibility and opportunity to make a positive difference and help shape the future of responsible travel.”

He shares that their 10-year action plan launched last year, called Journey to Tomorrow provides a powerful set of ambitions to make a difference to their people, communities, and the planet. “This includes our support towards efforts to care for the environment. Through a partnership with SunFuel Electric in India, an EV charging company, we are helping guests make a positive contribution to environmental sustainability. We strongly believe that sustainable hospitality is the future. Across our estate, we have IHG Green Engage environmental management system which enables our hotels to track measure and report on energy, water and waste. It also offers 200 green solutions that can be utilised to improve sustainability practices at property level,” he says.


On his outlook for the hospitality sector in India and how is IHG planning ahead across the 360 degrees of business here, Jain says that India has a lot of tourism potential and their outlook for the market is optimistic. “As a market, India relies heavily on domestic tourism, and despite the disruption caused by the pandemic worldwide, IHG has been well-poised to capitalise on the market demand. We have also continued to meaningfully expand our presence with new signings and openings across the country over 2020 and 2021. Indian consumers have a strong affinity towards our brands which cater to various consumer segments. Our owners have confidence in us and they recognise the long-term prospects of the sector. This has enabled us to expand our portfolio and we will continue to strengthen our presence by bringing new brands here. Domestic travel market will continue to be our biggest focus area and we will look at expanding our national sales network ensuring rapid growth in terms of both value and volume in the near future,” he reveals. n

This article was published in BW hotelier issue dated '' with cover story titled 'MARCH-APRIL 2022 F&B SPECIAL'


Around The World