Wellness and Business of Weddings Will Continue to Spur in 2019 : Hospitality Experts

There are few trends that were witnessed this year. For e.g., the concept of ‘experiential stay’ has come up where guests no longer want just a room to stay in. BW Hotelier spoke to various industry veterans, to know how the year 2018 was for them, and what trends are they seeking in the coming year.

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Anshu Sarin, CEO, Berggruen Hotels
Anshu Sarin, CEO, Berggruen Hotels
Aditi Balbir, CEO, V Resorts
Aditi Balbir, CEO, V Resorts
Abhishek Goel, MD, Regenta LP Vilas
Abhishek Goel, MD, Regenta LP Vilas

2018 WAS definitely a boom year for the hospitality industry. Being a sunrise period for the budget hotels, to increased profitability of the luxurious hotels, the industry has shown a great shift. This year the domestic inbound travelling has shown an upward graph which means Indian holidaying has changed amazingly. From just vacationing at grandparents’ homes for the summer and winter holidays, people are now travelling to discover new places and experience culture and cuisine. This is opening up new opportunities for the hoteliers. There are few trends that were witnessed this year. For e.g., the concept of ‘experiential stay’ has come up where guests no longer want just a room to stay in. BW Hotelier spoke to various industry veterans, to know how the year 2018 was for them, and what trends are they seeking in the coming year.

Vivek Bhalla, Regional VP, SWA, IHG

2018 has been a great year for us, and 2019 looks equally promising. We have made significant progress with a number of signings and openings across the region for our business in SWA.  2018 has been the ‘year of Holiday Inn brand family’. We recently signed Holiday Inn Udaipur Urban Square - the 9th signing this year under the Holiday Inn banner in SWA. Last year, we partnered with SAMHI to rebrand approximately 2000 rooms, 14 hotels (operating and under construction) within their India hotel portfolio, to Holiday Inn Express hotels. In the last couple of months, we have opened three hotels in Gurgaon, Bangalore and Chennai from our partnership with SAMHI and will be opening additional 6-7 Holiday Inn Express hotels by the end of the year, which will significantly expand our presence pan India. We have also signed a portfolio deal with Lotus Trans Private Limited for 4 Holiday Inn hotels spread across the Buddhist Tourist Circuit. This year we are introducing a Holiday Inn Resort in Kolkata - Holiday Inn Resort Kolkata NH6, and we also marked our debut in Agra with the signing of Holiday Inn Agra MG Road. These recent partnerships and signings have helped us build a great momentum in the midscale market in India and we are closing the year on a great note.

We will continue to work towards growing our presence across segments through our portfolio of brands including the Holiday Inn brand family in the midscale segment, Crowne Plaza in upscale and  InterContinental in the luxury segment. We are also keen to bring our new brands into the market – Hotel Indigo, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, voco and Regent Hotels and Resorts. However, we remain focused on driving high-quality growth; placing the right brands at the right time with the right partners. We have been recording strong performance in India with double-digit growth for the last couple of years, and we hope to continue this momentum in 2019 as well.

Anshu Sarin, CEO, Berggruen Hotels

This year, we introduced our brand promise of “Your Happy Stays” which is an extension of our commitment to enhancing the guest experience. In line with this, each of our hotels have a Chief Happiness Officer who drives the guest experience ensuring a personal touch. We have also introduced initiatives such as #OwnYourGuest empowering our team to go the extra mile.

At Keys, the turnaround was possible because along with the softer elements, we also took some conscious steps to improve our operational efficiency. We have introduced powerful technology for distribution, digital outreach, design thinking. A strong focus on revenue management has helped us deliver better yield across all channels. 

With the rise in millennial travellers who are driving transformation by redefining luxury in the hospitality industry, the segment is up for a change. They look for seamless experience at an affordable price. Being a young and dynamic team, we understand this and are well-equipped to cater to the needs of the hour.

One of the forthcoming opportunities we see in 2019 is the promising growth in spending capacity of the SMEs. The rise of corporate travel programs in SMEs has compelled hoteliers to design offers and discounts to match their budget.

India recorded a booming tourist arrival reaching 10 million in 2017. Travel and tourism is going to be one of the major direct contributors to the growth of total GDP of the nation. Today’s travellers are in a quest to explore the cultural roots and dig the layers of a destination to have an authentic experience. They desire an insta-worthy experience and captivating backdrops for their Instagram feed.

Keys Hotels has identified personalization as a key trend for 2019 amongst these young travellers. We are laying the groundwork accordingly to match their purpose of travel. Applications like AI and automation help us in collecting data and analyzing guests' preferences to enhance our service and staff interaction at various touch points.

Aditi Balbir, CEO, V Resorts

One of the major shifts we saw was Indian travellers being much more receptive to the idea of 'experiences'. Earlier, experiences and activities were used interchangeably, but people have started to realise that while a jungle safari is an activity, a picnic on a riverbed or a rooftop candlelight dinner are unforgettable experiences. 

 We've also noticed that travellers are much more open to the idea of visiting offbeat, quieter locations, to immerse themselves in the local culture (like Sattal), with unique local activities, local cuisine, and local staff to complete the experience.

This New India that we're living in, we now see more solo women travellers, and more independent travellers who don't need tours or companies but plan their trips themselves, and that is a good direction to be heading in.

As incomes rise, this sector is growing in a very healthy way, and you can see India becoming almost a self-consuming country. I think domestic tourism is going to outpace the foreigners soon. 

Transportation is still the biggest issue that this country is facing - train reservations are sketchy, cabs and buses are unreliable and expensive, and infrastructure is missing.

Sarbendra Sarkar, Founder and Managing Director, Cygnett Hotels and Resorts 

2018, has been yet another milestone year with a lot of development. We have registered 6% growth in business. Till date, we have 30 alliances and five hotels at varying stages of pre-opening in Jaipur, Gangtok, Nainital, Tinsukia & Itanagar. It is because of our aggressive growth strategy that we are expanding in India and the neighboring countries. We at Cygnett believe in building long-term relationships and that is why we are always in motion to introduce new hospitality concepts to maximize value for our customers and investors.

"Improve, Expand and Innovate" is going to be our motto in 2019. We are aiming high to develop and operate hotels in international markets such as South Asia, Middle East & Africa. To turn this vision into reality, we are planning to put remote offices in certain countries like  Cambodia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Myanmar & Indonesia to initiate development."

Abhishek Goel, MD, Regenta LP Vilas

Increasing relevance of online reputation management- Customer awareness has grown manifold and hotel selection now is backed by research of a plethora of reviewing platform from Google to Trip Advisor to OTA’s. With ever growing competition it is now imperative to have good online presence backed with a great reputation.

Can’t be oblivious to social media anymore- With a majority of travellers (Indians now has the second largest Telecom base behind China) on mobile and active social media users, it is very important to have social media presence of the property on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc. Promotions through paid medium has thus increased manifold which has benefits of targeting specific users (based on preferences) and knowing the actual impact of the promotion based on quantifiable metrics like “viewership”, “likes”, “Engagement” etc. which wasn’t possible with either print or outdoor media.

The wedding affair and the trend of destination marriages- This year has seen a plethora of big budget star weddings happening across the world. For a wedding destination hotel like ours, this has meant that people are now increasingly spending more freely on weddings and are scouting for options outside their native place. The demonstration effect at work they want to spend on the swankiest of outfits to the most opulent of setups and décor. This has meant great business for wedding planners and designers as well.

Wellness- For our hotel specifically this category has seen an increased interest and spend in the last year. With the rising middle-class people are finding different avenues to spend and have become increasingly conscious of their body and mind. A weekly trip to a spa is now longer restricted to the affluent or a select few and now is being availed by all sections of the market with varied price options. Wellness and beauty will only go up from here.

Most of these trends will continue in the coming future as well. Online reputation and presence through social media, reviews and bloggers insight will continue to be key differentiating factors from the herd. We are seeing automation in food and production and service in the far east, but I don’t think this will become a popular concept in India since we Indians always like the personal attention whether that is goes into preparing the dish or in service from the steward. Organic food and sustainable food will continue to rise and that is why a lot of well-paid Indians are quitting their jobs and going back to farming to meet the needs of this ever-conscious consumer.

As I mentioned, wellness and the business of weddings will continue to spur. Profitability will depend on the differentiation of the product.

Recreational getaways are really catching up and I feel this is where the industry will move from here. Due to massive city pollution and work load, Indians are taking the off-beat road and going to places which a few years before seemed not marketable. For example, a lot of resorts which have come up recently in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand are doing well since travellers are comfortable to chuck crowded towns like Mussoorie and Nainital in lieu of the serene beauty and calm at such places. We should see an increasing investment in the North east, Hill states and the Western Ghats by hoteliers.



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