Boutique Hotels: The Next Wave of Hospitality

Post-pandemic world will be the golden period of growth for the hospitality industry, opines Zia Shiekh, CEO & CMD, Svenska Design Hotels

It was in 2011 that Svenska Design Hotels introduced their first hotel in Mumbai. Over the last one decade, the chain of upscale boutique hotels from Sweden has grown to a collection of 40 properties across the country, catering to both business as well as leisure travellers. The Svenska hotels are based on the concept of chic and trendy contemporary European designs combined with personalised services tailored to each guest’s unique needs. 

The latest offering from the chain is a five-star luxury hotel in Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh. Owned and fully developed by Svenska, the new property ushers in the next wave of hospitality, which feels Zia Shiekh, CEO & CMD, Svenska Design Hotels, should be concentrated in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. “The metros are saturated,” he opines. 

Talking about the learnings from the Covid-19 pandemic, Sheikh says, “I don’t think anyone could have imagined the destruction the pandemic has caused to the entire hospitality sector. It has been a truly devastating event and with perhaps very long-term impact, especially as business travel is likely to change forever.” 

Another lesson which Sheikh says he has learnt during this phase is the value of lean and mean organisations and also be prepared to handle the worst that could possibly hit. “While a large number of hospitality players will never recover from the prolonged crisis, the ones that survive will reap rich benefits once the demand bounces back. We are already witnessing it in the leisure segment and it is bound to be followed in the business sector, though to a lesser extent,” he avers.

On the role of sustainability in the hospitality industry, Svenska Design Hotels’ CEO & CMD feels, “While hotels have traditionally had very heavy carbon footprint apart from being major waste generators as well as consumer of natural resources like water, gas and coal, it is important we recognise this and as an entire industry, try to reduce our load on the environment. Thankfully, this is increasingly becoming a must-do while earlier it used to be good-to-do.”

At Svenska, waste and sewage is recycled and energy-efficient materials (like high performance glasses on facades) are used. “We harvest our rainwater and encourage guests to reuse towels and linen to not just conserve water but minimise the use of chemical detergents in the laundry,” he shares.

Sheikh is also optimistic that the boutique hotels would be among the first ones to recover from the pandemic. “The reason is that they have smaller inventories to fill and would generally be considered safer places to stay, given the limited number of guests they host. However, at the same time, they will face unique challenges as often they don’t have the financial muscle nor the staying power to compete with well-established larger brands. So the current times are especially tough for boutique hotels and only those that can survive this period will be able to thrive once we are in the post-pandemic world,” he shares.

For youngsters interested in becoming successful hoteliers, Sheikh says that though this is the most difficult time to be one and many youngsters are likely to feel discouraged about a career prospec in hospitality industry, the ones who will stick around and ride out the current crisis will have a lot of opportunities. “The post-pandemic world is going to be the golden period of growth for the hospitality industry. As a result, hoteliers will see their careers prosper and boom in the next three to five years,” he says.

On his future plans, Sheikh says they would choose to remain cautiously optimistic. “We will continue growing via our asset light model which includes not just management contracts, but also brand franchising as well as affiliation under which we provide independent boutique with soft branding without taking away their individuality. This gives these small format hotels with access to not just a larger sales, marketing, branding and distribution platform of Svenska, but also access to global distribution system and RFP platforms, which they lack and which otherwise severely impacts their ability to compete with the established brands,” he puts in.

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