Redefining Luxury Hospitality

Over the past few months, the luxury hotel space has not only upped its game by tapping into new opportunities that the pandemic pushed them to adapt but also kept its ‘wow’ factor intact for the guests.

The word ‘luxury’ in the hospitality sector is synonymic to ‘personalised guest experiences’ right from check-in to check-out. A luxury hotel exposes you to the ‘wow’ factor, providing lush experiences which are not limited to the amenities or services but goes way beyond it. The luxury hotel space is very competitive, even before the outbreak of coronavirus, and the brands were stepping up their game to walk parallelly with the evolving consumers. But the pandemic wave brought the industry to its knees, with lockdown and zero revenue system, and the hotels across the globe had to redefine their business models to survive in the on-going crisis.

The spread of COVID-19 has left businesses counting costs and industries pondering on the roadmap to recovery. According to HVS Anarock report, the total revenue loss for the sector in 2020 is estimated at Rs 89,813 crore as against total estimated revenue of Rs 1,58,113 crore in 2019. Additionally, the occupancy rate in 2020 is likely to fall 31.6 percent while Revenue Per Available Room (RevPAR) down by 57.8 percent.

Over the past few months, each and every hospitality brand has come up with their own hygiene and safety protocols to combat the covid-19 outbreak, be it ‘WeAssure’ initiative of ITC Hotels, or ‘Tajness’ initiative of Indian Hotels Company Ltd (IHCL) or ‘SURAKSHA’ initiative of The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts or ‘Global Cleanliness Council’ of Marriott or ‘ALLSAFE’ label of Accor Group etc. introducing the ‘new normal’. These new stringent protocols are aimed to overcome the challenges posed by coronavirus outbreak and the brands have used multi-prolonged approaches in terms of cleanliness, social distancing, sanitisation, innovation, technologies, etc.

New Normal

According to the Executive Director of ITC Ltd, Nakul Anand, the new normal should uphold our ‘Ethos of Atithi Devo Bhava’. He says, “We stand at the threshold of a new normal, witnessing the birth of a society with an unaccustomed relationship to the community: a new tryst with humanity. As society resets its priorities, Health & Hygiene become paramount, ushering in a new era in service. Low or no touch or contact-light sanitised protocols converge with social and physical distancing to establish a new norm. However, limiting contact need not limit warmth. At the core of great service lies an endearing experience.”

Anand, who is also the Chairman of Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism & Hospitality (FAITH) feels that ‘NAMASTE’ is silent yet powerful, distant yet connected and it embodies within itself. “Service can and must always touch the heart,” he adds.

As the lockdown was lifted, the brands have been consistently working to assure and give greater confidence to the guests that their health and safety is the top priority for the hotel. The hotels have included social distancing measure, thermal screening of employees as well as guests, intensive hospital level sanitisation and contactless services.

Saleem Yousuff, Senior Vice President - Operations, South, IHCL further expresses, “The precautionary measures reassure and give comfort to our guests, allowing them to experience our luxurious stays, exquisite dining, intimate gatherings, and rejuvenating wellness therapies, at any of our properties, ranging from city hotels to resorts.”

Innovation & Technologies

Keeping the balance between innovation and personalisation is a major challenge for the luxury hospitality sector. But as the industry inches towards normalcy, cutting-edge concepts that offer exquisite options for luxury consumers are being implemented across hotels to ensure social distancing between guests and associates while ensuring seamless service.

“Whilst the sincerity and genuine care from staff will remain undiminished, our hotels will use new-age technologies to minimise contact, whether it is for guests checking in or checking out of hotels or for dining in the restaurants or in their rooms,” informs a spokesperson from The Oberoi Group.

Digital key cards, digital pre-check in, digital QR based menus and digital payments are a few initiatives to name that have been adapted by the luxury hospitality brands.

Anuraag Bhatnagar, Chief Operating Officer, The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts says, Health and wellness practices will no longer be a nice-to-have in a post-COVID-19 world. All travelers will expect higher standards to ensure their wellbeing, and digital tools will enable and expand existing ‘no touch’ options.”

In-room Dining and Food Delivery

While there are many opportunities available for the luxury hospitality brands to explore but ‘dining’ is a vital element of luxury space that has been disrupted exponentially due to the black swan event.

According to the spokesperson of Marriott international, in-room dining is a preferred option, from a safety standpoint. “We will have contactless delivery of food to rooms. Our restaurants will have reduced seating capacity as space between tables is increased. We will only have à la carte menus in the initial months, buffets will follow but at a later stage,” the company adds.

Also, during the lockdown, the luxury brands tapped into profitable ancillary revenue model, food delivery, to survive. Some the brands like Taj Hotels introduced ‘Qmin’ and ‘Marriott on Wheels’ by Marriott International tied up with Zomato and Swiggy to deliver food with the commitment to ensure the highest levels of safety and hygiene.

Sunjae Sharma, Vice President & Country Head, Hyatt India also asserts, “Exceptional food and beverage experiences have always been fundamental to Hyatt and a crucial part of the excitement of travel. Hence, we have introduced reimagined dining offerings in unique spaces, such as buffet-style meals that are curated and proportioned for each dining table at Hyatt Place Hyderabad Banjara Hills.”

Stay-cation and Work-cation

According to a report by Thomas Cook India, 64 per cent respondents were keen on a domestic holiday. Brands are adapting to the dynamic requirements of both, the situation at hand and customers’ requirements, and are implementing innovative approaches. The new trend of driving to nearby distance for stay-cation or work-cation is highly being adapted by most of the luxury hotel chains to attract the population of 130 crores. 

Kerrie Hannaford, VP-Commercial, Accor India and South Asia informs, “We have seen positive response in domestic travel along with spike in bookings for weekend getaways and staycations across our luxury properties- Fairmont, Sofitel and Pullman. People have started traveling and dining out. We have noticed some people are taking long workcation deals, weekend breaks and celebrating special occasions in our hotels, everyone deserves a little luxury pampering every now & then.”

Stay-cation is a holiday spent within the region, state or country and work-cation is a trip to a new destination where you work from as well as relax.

Bhatnagar also feels that once things go ‘back to the new normal’ people will have an emotional need to travel with people they know and trust and stay where they feel safe. “Personal space has become more important than ever before and we as hoteliers must determine how to give travelers personal spaces they feel they can control,” he adds.

The industry has adhered to the new normal with a forward looking approach and has come up with new strategies to stay afloat.

This article was published in BW hotelier issue dated '' with cover story titled 'BREAKING THE PANDEMIC SPECIAL ISSUE VOL 6, ISSUE 4'

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