Silver lining on the tourism horizon

Guest experience and detailed hospitality are the primary focus at WelcomHeritage Hotels, says CEO Abinash Manghani

For 25 years now, WelcomHeritage has been representing the finest traditions of heritage hospitality and tourism in India with a 

unique portfolio of palaces, forts, havelis and resorts across 35 destinations. The journey began in 1997 as a joint venture between ITC Ltd and Jodhana Heritage. WelcomHeritage, over the last two-and-a-half decades has traversed from remodelling architectural marvels of heritage palaces and havelis to more recent additions of Nature resorts and wilderness retreats to conserve and appreciate the country’s natural heritage. 

“Keeping in mind the ethos of modern India and travellers, we have created and curated small luxury boutique stays and resorts amidst scenic and varied landscapes of mountains, coffee plantations, riverside resorts and heritage cities. Every property we’ve crafted has a unique USP with each having its own distinctive style and character, thus giving them an edge over their competitors,” says Abinash Manghani, CEO, WelcomHeritage Hotels, adding that the endeavour is to create a special balance between local traditions and modern-day requirements thus creating best-in-class authentic experience without losing the heritage ethos, in some of the country’s most inspiring settings. “Guest experience and detailed hospitality are our primary focus,” he says.

The journey, shares Manghani, has been challenging yet a fulfilling one. “We started with a mere five hotels and today we have 40 properties under our portfolio. From havelis and palace hotels, even one where a 320-year-old temple resides to shikaras in Kashmir, enchanting wildlife retreats to authentic cultural immersions in exotic locales across the country such as Leh and Manali, WelcomHeritage takes immense pride in showcasing the brilliance of India’s diverse heritage,” he adds.

Despite industry-wide challenges caused by the pandemic, WelcomHeritage’s outlook for 2022 seems set to build upon the success of the past year as it has added properties in Shimla, Allahabad and Bera. Talking about the plans for 2023 and the next five years in terms of properties, destinations, number of keys and business, Manghani says, “Continuing our brand expansion within the country, we have three planned openings in 2022, including WelcomHeritage Azora in Fort Kochi, WelcomHeritage Ayatana in Ooty and WelcomHeritage Parv Vilas, Kasauli Hills in Solan. When operational, these properties will add 101 keys to the existing inventory of 944 keys. We plan to have 65 hotels by FY 2025-26 with 2,500 keys in all. We are looking at expansion in south and east India, to complement our strong presence in the north.”

From a tourism perspective, there is something for everyone in India – from rich cultural and historical heritage to the variety in ecology, terrains, natural beauty and cuisine diversity spread across the country. But even India’s all-time high tourism numbers are nowhere close to tourist heavy destinations like France, United States, Spain and China. Sharing his views on the scope for growth in India’s hospitality sector, the WelcomHeritage chief says, “Despite setbacks in the pandemic years, the Indian tourism and hospitality industry has emerged as one of the key drivers of growth among the services sectors in the country. India offers geographical diversity, attractive beaches, 37 world Heritage sites, 10 bio-geographic zones, 80 national parks and 441 sanctuaries. According to pre-pandemic reports, by 2028, international tourist arrivals into India were expected to reach 30.5 million and generate revenue over US$ 59 billion. However, domestic tourists are expected to drive the growth, post-pandemic. (Source IBEF)”

To reach out to newer audiences and target new sectors in domestic travel sector, Manghani advises:

  • Using local SEO for e-commerce – focussing more on search engine optimisation for local audiences and geography-based keywords
  • Promote local attractions, culture and tradition
  • Work with regional/ local influencers – Considering surge in online searches for local travel blogs, many hotels are focussing on collaborating with regional influencers (or locally based micro influencers)
  • Promoting staycations or short breaks within or in nearby locations
  • Flexible booking policies – Travellers want to stay within drivable distance of home, and they want to be able to book less than 30 days out – or even within the same week

Manghani is optimistic about the future and expects to achieve at least 30-40 per cent of the business from inbound in Q3 & Q4 of FY 2022-23. “Pre-pandemic, 80 per cent of the business was from inbound. At present, the outlook is that inbound tourism will begin with a moderate flow by January 2023 onwards. Domestic remains the key to growth in the medium term,” he shares.

This article was published in BW hotelier issue dated '' with cover story titled 'BW HOTELIER - THE TALENT POOL SPECIAL'

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