‘Secluded locations are seeing an uptick on bookings’

BW HOTELIER talks to Sarbendra Sarkar, Founder & MD of Cygnett Hotels and Resorts, about the brands strategy and plans to thrive in the current times.

How many properties have you opened now and how are these properties faring currently—occupancy, etc.?

We have reopened 16 properties so far! Currently from a group perspective we have a 40 per cent occupancy rate and we are anticipating for that to increase to 55 per cent in the next couple of weeks. After reopening the initial response was lukewarm. However, we are happy to note that our booking graph is slowly moving up. Business Hotels in metros are indicating consistent booking numbers.

Also, we have observed that the North East and the East region are faring better than the other locations. Right now, Lucknow is doing very well for us right now!

Furthermore, we are already in talks with our partners on the MICE front even though it may take up a couple of months more for the segment to open up.

What are the major operational changes that the group underwent before re-opening?

Following the prevalent sentiment—our topmost priority at the moment is health, hygiene and safety of our staff, guests and partners. All our operational transformations are a result of this sentiment. Here’s what we did:

* Implemented stringent hygiene standards set by the World Health Organisation as well as the local/central health agencies across all our properties. We worked with our L&D teams to initiate a program titled, “Health & Safety Assured”. This program observes all guidelines set by the above-mentioned bodies thus, ensuring a comfortable guest experience. 

* Deployed technology for a “contactless” experience—updated our ‘Property Management System’ to provide contactless check-in & check out using mobile apps.

Introduced QR coded menus and upgraded in-house dining menu to include immunity boosting cuisine.

* Initiated rigorous training sessions for our staff and partners on hygiene, sanitation and social distancing.

Reached out to our target audience via clear messaging across customer touch-points on all the policies and protocols that we put in place to ensure their comfort and safety first. We have designed a campaign called, “We will travel again” enunciating our operational protocols and how we are doing everything in our power to ensure that they have an amazing stress-free travel experience.

Which states or cities are seeing rapid revival and why do you think these geographies are recovering faster?

As mentioned previously, we have seen an incline in bookings in the cities and in the North, North East and East locations. Right now the group has 43 per cent occupancy and things are beginning to look optimistic. 

Our leisure properties and properties in Tier 2 and 3 cities have not seen a surge in occupancy so far but are now slowly beginning to come out of the shadows as people are getting away for weekends and staycations are catching on.

These geographies provide perfect locations for a quick weekend getaway, while being ‘secluded’ in a sense, especially for the city-folks. I believe this is the reason these locations are seeing an uptick on bookings.

How is your brand managing to grow in the current economy? What is your strategy?

Well, like all brands out there, we are pushing the boundaries and trying our best to innovate and provide a safe and fun experience for all those who trust and book to stay with us!

To ensure guest satisfaction, we pay special attention to our guests; their needs during the stay as well as their experience post checkout to understand whether they had a comfortable stay with us, what made them happy and what did not. This has helped us improve our services at every step. 

We also pay close attention to our target audience online booking behavior. This data has helped us analyse their needs better and be at all touch points with the right communication to enable them to understand what Cygnett stands for. 

We have taken our communication plan to the next level and have primped all our digital platforms. We interact with our customers regularly—we have activated mailers, online chat mechanism (website), WhatsApp as well as personalized calls to our database. 

Furthermore, we have introduced offers such as free nights, discounts, etc. depending on the customers’ duration of the stay and the property that is being booked. These offers are region specific and change often as per demand. We have also initiated loyalty programs. We are working on integrating with other partners to provide our loyal guests with benefits across a wider hotel options. We are hoping that this move will enable our guests to redeem amalgamated points with third party partners as well. Currently, we are in talks with a US-based company to start a worldwide loyalty program that can be redeemed in any of our properties or partner properties across the globe.

In short, I would say that understanding the core need of our existing and potential customers and upgrading ourselves to meet their demands is what is working for us.

How is Cygnett braving through the current pandemic?

We are doing our best to navigate the current circumstances effectively. Being cognizant of the current market sentiment, we are doing everything in our power to ensure health, safety and hygiene! We have also designed a couple of initiatives to instill trust and confidence in our customers. The initiatives are:

Safety Protocol Drive

Hygiene Assured Drive 

These initiatives coupled with our robust online strategy as well as the programs that I have spoken about earlier have helped us slowly increase occupancy in our operational hotels.

Could you shed some light on your growth and expansion plans for the future?

For the immediate future that I foresee, the priority is definitely ensuring safety, comfort, health and hygiene of our guests, staff and partners. In all this, we intend to ensure sustainability above all else.

Right now, our plan is to stick with our core business—stay and F&B. We have implemented some brand realignment strategies and introduced some new hospitality concepts to aid us through the current tide.

Besides, we actually launched a brand called “Cozzet” for the budget segment in Amritsar, Punjab. It has less than 40 keys, is cost-effective and is a flexible model that can be adapted easily. It is great for an owner, who is looking at minimum cost but high returns.  As the markets improve further we will have better clarity in next steps.


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