Our growth driver in the country has been the Holiday Inn Brand Family: Sudeep Jain

Over 97 per cent of the IHG portfolio in India is now open. The Holiday Inn Brand Family, which includes Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express, have worked extremely well for the market which is primarily driven by domestic tourism. In an interview, Sudeep Jain, Managing Director, South West Asia, IHG shares more…

How was 2020 specifically for InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), globally vis-a-vie India?

At the peak of the crisis, many of our 5900 hotels around the world, including India ran at the lowest levels of occupancy ever seen and others had to temporarily close their doors.

However, with easing of local restrictions across markets, we are on a path to recovery. We are now welcoming guests back to our hotels with the assurance of a clean and safe environment, whether it is for a hotel stay or for social events such as weddings, anniversaries, birthday celebrations etc. 

Despite the challenges that the industry has gone through this year, we have witnessed continued confidence from our owners and partners who believe in strong mid to long terms prospects of the sector. As a consequence, in India, we continue to expand our presence across cities and have signed hotels across brands in the last six months including a Crowne Plaza hotel in Lucknow, a Holiday Inn Resort in Sakleshpur and most recently, a Holiday Inn hotel in Greater Noida. 

What has the revival been like for InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), in India? How many of your hotels are operational right now? 

As we expected, with easing of local restrictions across markets, domestic tourism is coming back first. Our hotels have benefited from this development as people are choosing to stay with us for their vacations or staycations. 

Additionally, since the easing of Covid-19 related restrictions, our hotels have successfully hosted many smaller weddings and other social events for occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries. We were quick to adapt to health and safety regulations for social gatherings, understand changes in guests’ requirements and respond with suitable, safe offerings to meet their needs. With further easing of restrictions and increased capacity limits expected in some markets, our hotels are receiving more enquiries and bookings for the remainder of the year and for Q1 2021, as well.

We have also been innovative in our thinking in order to be well positioned to meet new demands of our guests. In the last few months, we introduced offerings such as co-working spaces, food home delivery service and dial-a-chef service which have been very popular with our guests. 

Over 97 per cent of our portfolio in India is now open and welcoming guests.

Kindly support the revert with average group Occupancies and RevPAR. Occupancies and RevPAR for 2020, or for the last three months of 2020. 

Our Global RevPAR fell by 53 per cent, which was a sequential improvement from the 75 per cent decline we reported in quarter two. Our global occupancy improved to 44 per cent in Q3 vs 25 per cent in Q2.

What all measures did you take to lower the operating costs of your hotels in India, keeping in mind the current scenario?

It has been our priority to provide the right support and protection for our hotels and owners, alongside the plans and programmes needed for a recovery. At the peak of the crisis, our market-tailored fee relief packages, and options to defer payments was warmly welcomed by our owners, providing the flexibility they need to use cash in other ways that protects their business during this difficult time. Globally, we also paused renovations and relaxed our brand standards to help lower hotel operating costs for owners. Having more flexible brand standards allows them to save money, for instance, closing buffets, reducing airport shuttle services and deferring non-essential technology upgrades.  

What are the trends that you are noticing among travellers in the revival stage?

More so than ever, safety and hygiene are the top priorities for every guest as well as us. Our hotels are working to best practice Covid-19 specific training and operating procedures as per our industry leading IHG Way of Clean programme, aligned to regularly monitored advice from global health bodies and local authorities. Our Global Cleanliness Board is working with new partners, Cleveland Clinic, and long-time collaborators Ecolab and Diversey, to develop and implement new sustainable science-led protocols and service measures in our hotels. 

At the onset of the lockdown and restrictions, people had to cancel or postpone their travel plans; with easing of restrictions, they are now keen to resume travel and make up for lost opportunities in the last few months. This pent-up demand is resulting in an increase in domestic travel and we are specifically witnessing an uptick for leisure stays, with more and more people choosing to go on staycations or domestic vacations.

In the current scenario, we have also adapted our business to include relevant offerings and have made sure we stay connected with our guests and cater to the current trends. Through many of our restaurants in India, we have introduced the home delivery service for customers who do not want to step out, but still want to enjoy a quality meal with their loved ones in the comfort and safety of their homes. We have partnered with food delivery aggregators to make sure we have the right reach.  We have also provided Dial-a-chef services to families to create a fine dining experience at home for special occasions.

Which of your brands do you think will further drive your growth story in India? Any new openings scheduled for 2021 in India?  (Need Inputs)

Our growth driver in the country has been the Holiday Inn Brand Family, which includes Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express. These brands have worked extremely well for the market which is primarily driven by domestic tourism. 

Holiday Inn Brand Family continues to remain at the core of our growth strategy in India for the coming years. In fact, with a low cost of development, these brands make for an attractive investment choice for our owners, which might be a priority for many at this time.

Next year, we will be opening Holiday Inn Chandigarh Zirakpur and Holiday Inn Goa Candolim amongst others.

What will be high on the agenda for InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) in 2021? What kinds of developments & challenges are you expecting in 2021? When do you think we will see the true revival of the hospitality industry? 

Safety of our guests and employees with highest standards of cleanliness will continue to be our topmost priority. As more visitors start to travel again, the concern for cleanliness will remain universal. We want guests and B2B partners to feel confident in booking an IHG hotel, comfortable in the knowledge that we can consistently deliver a safe, healthy, and clean stay. 

While we know that 2021 will bring recovery with several vaccine candidates being delivered across the world, the revival of the sector will be gradual. However, long term prospects remain strong and we will continue to expand presence across markets, open and sign new hotels. 

We will also continue to work closely with our owners and partners to find bespoke solutions to their individual needs and support them through gradual recovery and revival of the sector. 

Our aim as a company is to come out of this crisis much stronger. An important factor towards this ambition is to have the right talent with right training to cater to the needs of the evolving customer, as we progress through the Covid-19 crisis to recovery, and we will continue to invest in this area. 

Being an international conglomerate, how do you compare revival of hospitality in India vis-a-vie other international markets? What learnings can India imbibe from other countries?

As expected, with easing of restrictions across the world, domestic mainstream leisure travel is returning first. This is good news for the tourism and hospitality industry in India as the market is primarily driven by domestic travel.

However, universal rules and regulations would help in adapting to the current scenario more efficiently. It is important to enforce key mandatory regulations especially with regards to wearing masks, social distancing, proper hygiene measures etc. which will help further build consumer confidence.

How would you as a leader and visionary encourage people to keep a positive mindset and carry on?

In a challenging situation like this, I believe it is important to constantly communicate with honest messages and stay engaged with colleagues on a regular basis to help them keep a positive mindset. 

I also strongly believe in the power of teamwork – it is important to encourage colleagues to work together to find solutions and make the most of a situation. The recent crisis has highlighted that every challenge is an opportunity to learn and grow and together, nothing is impossible to overcome. 

Lastly, it is important to remember the value of taking regular breaks and being mindful of physical and mental wellbeing.

What do you feel can be done to grow brand ‘Incredible India’ especially post Covid-19?

India as a destination has a lot to offer to both domestic and international travellers. To encourage more people to explore the country, it is important that we make it easier for people to travel within India with development of better infrastructure. It is encouraging to see that there has been a lot of progress in this area in the last few years and we hope the momentum will continue in order to solidify India’s position on the world tourism map. 

Also, a country as diverse as India is home to a number of unique destinations. Promoting these destinations with domestic and international audience is sure to generate more interest and tourist footfall.

From an investment point of view, further ease of doing business will add to the attractiveness of the market.

This article was published in BW hotelier issue dated '' with cover story titled 'BOUNCING BACK - FROM SURVIVAL TO REVIVAL ISSUE VOL 6, ISSUE 6'

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