Driving On the Front Foot

Arif Patel, VP of Sales, Marketing, Distribution & Loyalty for AccorHotels takes his experiences in cricket and applies them to his sales strategies.

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ARIF PATEL, draws parallels with cricket whenever he can. It’s not surprising, when you learn that Patel was quite serious about the game and played as a wicket keeper.

“You have to think constantly when you play,” Patel told us, when speaking to BW Hotelier on the completion of a little more than a year on the job. And it is perhaps this creative playful bent of mind which has made him grapple with problems and bring in changes with surprising results.

The first area that Patel spoke about (and he was justifiably guarded about giving away too much by way of strategy) was the digital marketing and sales area and how the whole approach was changed.

“I have a very young team of disruptors and we’ve been able to take bold decisions and cause disruptions,” Patel told us.

“I was looking at the data and said asked why web penetration was so low? I realised that India didn't have a credit card penetration. Even if people have credit cards, they don't have enough credit limit,” he said. Patel saw that none of the international hotel company's brand sites were capable of taking debit cards, paytm or mobile wallets and bank transfers.

“So, why have restrictions? I felt you're restricting people who want to stay with you but don't have a card. I removed the credit card element from our website. Free booking. Free cancellation. No string attached (this is Point of Sale India for India). We started this in August 2016 and it took one month to ramp up. We did this on aggregator sites as well as our own brand sites,” he said. The result? Business has grown 110 percent in revenue. The surprising part of the whole exercise is that cancellation levels have stayed the same as when credit cards were required to make reservations. “We were underestimating the consumers,” Patel felt.

To absorb the additional risk, rates were increased, with AccorHotels RevPar growing by 8 percent, in comparison to the 4.1 percent growth average in India.
But for Patel, growth isn't just in terms of figures. It's about doing something which is sustainable for all the stakeholders, by which he meant everyone, from owners, the hotel company as well as employees.

“We recently launched a cross selling program which is rocking. Employees are happy. I always said that the cost of acquisition is still cheaper. It's a ready-made lead which is coming to you. Just convert it and I'm paying the employee directly. It's open to all employees who can refer business to sister hotels,” he said explaining another scheme which benefits both the hotels as well as individual employees.

“I want to bring disruption in our loyalty program. In India, we are at the inception stage, which is a good thing. On the sales side, we are doing something 'thoda hatke' than other companies. It's something which is sustainable and a little different the way you manage segments. It's ready to launch,” he added.

One of the things that Patel felt sad as a hotelier about was that average rates in India is still at the $100 level.

“We give far better service than anywhere else. We will change that. I don't know why we still have static rates in India. It has to become dynamic rates. We've started in Chennai and it's been accepted by in large. I say give static discount, not static rate,” he said.

Things will get more exciting and disruptive, he promised.


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