GHA’s 20-year milestone: India emerges as key player in global hospitality

Global Hotel Alliance (GHA) helps brands expand their global reach, drive incremental revenue and reduce dependence on third-party channels, says CEO Chris Hartley

UAE-headquartered GHA, the world’s largest alliance of independent hotel brands, marked its 20th anniversary this year. GHA’s stellar performance in India is indicative of the industry’s sharp upward trajectory, with revenue generated by its 13 Indian hotels across three brands (Leela, Araiya and Oaks) hitting a record US$68 million revenues in 2023, up from a previous pre-pandemic (2019) high of $65 million, while the number of GHA Discovery members residing in India also reached new heights, topping more than half-a-million (540,000), up 21 per cent on 2022. Indian members also spent more at GHA hotels in India and around the world than ever before, generating a record $60 million in hotel revenues, up 46 per cent year-on-year and surpassing the 2019 total of $41 million.

GHA CEO Chris Hartley was in India to celebrate two decades of existence as also its association with The Leela Palace, Hotels and Resorts over the last 17 years. In an exclusive interview with BW Hotelier, Hartley shares his views on opportunities for further collaboration and growth between GHA and Leela and future plans. Excerpts

How has Leela’s involvement enriched GHA’s mission and objectives since the partnership began 17 years ago?

I visited India for the first time in 1996 and met Captain Krishnan Nair, the founder of The Leela Group, who shared his vision with me about how India would rise in the coming generation to be a leader in travel and tourism. The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts was inspired by his strong belief in India’s ability to compete with the world’s premier travel destinations; and he was dedicated to the pursuit of excellence and advancement of tourism in India. Much of what Captain Nair envisioned nearly three decades ago has become a reality as travel and tourism has soared in India, putting on the cusp of being a global powerhouse in the sector.

The Leela was the one of the first brands to join GHA 17 years ago which already demonstrated their belief in the benefits that an alliance of independent hotel brands can offer. Through membership of GHA, brands expand their global reach, drive incremental revenue, and reduce dependence on third-party channels, all while maintaining management independence and individual brand positioning.

The Leela boasts a portfolio of 11 hotels across India, all sharing the GHA Discovery loyalty programme. More recently, we have seen other GHA hotel brands, Araiya Hotels and Resorts and Oaks Hotels, Resorts and Suites open hotels in the country while Anantara will open its first hotel in Jaipur this year. We are planning for the addition of more brands to our network in India in the near future, further diversifying our choice of hotels in the market. 

Looking ahead, what opportunities do you see for further collaboration and growth between the GHA and Leela?

We will continue to work on joint activities such as sponsoring and hosting events in India to bring industry leaders and innovators on a common platform to discuss emerging trends, challenges and opportunities in a market forecast to generate 80-90 million international trips annually by 2040. 

Our primary goal is to join forces with The Leela to explore untapped opportunities in India. Teaming up with a local airline would be one opportunity or collaboration with a local bank in India, which we have done successfully in other markets, opening GHA Discovery membership benefits up to their customers.

Looking at our research Indian members, are planning numerous leisure, staycation and business trips for the year 2024. Furthermore, analysis of member data has revealed a curiosity among the majority 50 per cent of Indian members to venture into new destinations, particularly drawn to culinary and adventure experiences. This interest is often sparked by personal recommendations, social media, and travel publications. 

As you celebrate this significant milestone in your partnership with Leela, what message would you like to convey to Leela’s leadership team, employees and stakeholders?

We are enormously grateful to Anuraag Bhatnagar, their CEO, and the entire team at The Leela for the wonderful collaboration with GHA over the years. GHA success is built on the long-term commitment and engagement of its member brands, and Leela has been an exemplary partner over the years. The Leela brand’s values truly represent India’s natural hospitality culture, and that’s what differentiates our alliance. People who come to India want to experience the country, the people, and its culture, and as a homegrown brand Leela exemplifies that in a way no international brand is able to do, offering GHA’s customers a truly local experience in India, which makes GHA Discovery a richer programme. 


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