‘Experiential offerings have taken precedence over typical B&B stays’

Kunal Shanker, General Manager, InterContinental Chennai Mahabalipuram Resort, talks about new trends in the hospitality industry

Kunal Shanker’s journey in the hospitality business started 24 years ago with exposure in Kathmandu, Kochi, Pune, Mumbai, Amritsar, Delhi-NCR and Mahabalipuram. On how his past experiences help him in the current role to drive performance, Shanker says, “I started my career with sales and marketing which helped me develop natural business acumen and become a better enabler and catalyst to empower the commercial teams to strive and drive for business excellence.”

His roles in luxury, upscale, mainstream and business resort hotels helped him hone his business understanding to deliver desired results and a top Revenue Generation Index (RGI). “Divergent approach to luxury market and destination marketing, positioning and operational diligence has been my core strength and helped me immensely while working on the projects in north and south of India.”

At present, Shanker is working towards enhancing the luxury halo of the resort, through means of personalisation, unique service experiences and market perception.


The segment mix is usually FIT leisure, travel groups - corporates, wholesale and socials. Post-pandemic, weddings and FIT leisure have been the main drivers.


“Post-pandemic, social and wedding contributions have been 45 per cent, which is higher than 15 per cent in pre-pandemic period. However, the volume and yield is still mid-range,” he says. The segmentation change has helped the hotel curate intimate destination weddings and wedding staycations. Curated itineraries are planned for destination resorts and vacation retreats. “Guests are looking at destination resorts to plan a wedding-cum-vacation retreat with curated itineraries and there is an increased opt-in for resort activities by wedding groups. As the guest numbers is around 100, it gives us a better chance to extend uber personalised bespoke service,” he says. Studying this pattern, the property has created a Muhuratham By The Bay (intimate wedding and social celebrations).


According to the Third Holiday Readiness Report (June 2021) by Thomas Cook India and SOTC Travel, 70 per cent respondents ranked health and safety as the key considerations. “We have implemented these protocols and invested in strategies to communicate these in a simple way, providing our guests with easily accessible, digestible, accurate, and timely information and facts. We have made our social media chats real-time by being open to answer our guests’ questions with responses which are informative and help their decision-making. Communication is the key,” avers Shanker.

He adds that marketing, positioning and perception will be critical too as there is a demand for “safe and all-inclusive stay packages” as family leisure and private mobility is bringing in more bookings. Guests are looking at drivable leisure locations for short burst vacations tailored with experiences or activities for all ages. In the domestic leisure segment, there is change with mindful and responsible travel by the guests where-in experiential offerings have taken precedence over typical B&B stays.

The resort has introduced value-driven packages like Rewarding Sea-Cation with Anytime Dining, Express Spa, Unlimited Private Bar, Full Day Resort Activities (such as Wellness & Kids Hobby Suite) and more. Another package, Romantic City Breaks is for special occasion celebrations and couples, fitted with private Dine By Design Beach Dinner experience, celebratory amenities and spa. Day Use segments have also seen an uptake. InterContinental Chennai Mahabalipuram Resort was the first to introduce the ‘Unplug Day Spa’ offer with accommodation, spa therapies and Chef’s Special lunch for two. 


F&B is an ever-evolving function in hotels and the pandemic has created a new trend in dining. “Guests have made lifestyle changes and a considerable demography has turned vegetarian. Homegrown and locally sourced or seasonal produce, once a trend, are now the mainstay. Also, increasing number of guests are practising mindful eating with controlled portion size,” shares the GM.


Shanker elaborates these changes have resulted in smaller plates with assisted buffets and outdoor seating with pre-fixed menus show an effective uptake. “We have worked on enhancing the outdoor dining experience at KoKoMMo Tiki Shack by creating rustic beach dine-in with Sandpit Dining. The rise in private room dining preference has resulted in us curating themed set meals from our signature restaurants like Tao of Peng as a part in-room dining, while at the Beachside restaurant, private enclosures have been built on water’s edge to create a one-of-its-kind dining experience,” shares Shanker.

Food home deliveries have been the main revenue earner during the Covid-19 pandemic, he says. City hotels have consciously worked towards this model by working out interesting concepts on Bento Boxes, strengthening aggregator network and creating a self-sustained logistics network. Hotels are now getting in sync-with standalone restaurants in terms of adaptability. “However, we have not opted for this model due to our location and limited demand,” he puts in.


Sustainability plays an important role in the hospitality industry and is imperative for the hotels to create a system which is in tandem with environment. “All our hotels use the IHG Green Engage system, an innovative online environmental sustainability process, that gives our hotels the means to measure and manage their impact on the environment,” he shares. 

The hotel can choose from over 200 ‘Green Solutions’ designed to help it reduce energy, water and waste, and improve their impact on the environment. In 2018, we initiated migration from plastic to biodegradable wares in restaurants which has been completed. We are now working on fixed dispensers for toiletries in the guestrooms and common areas which will be completed by the end of the year. Post-this, we have aligned projects like windmill energy for power sourcing, waste management and recycling and sustainable community employment plan for the next three years. Sustainability initiatives are budgeted in the goalsetting exercise in-keep with the business projections,” he says.


The hospitality industry has been affacted twice by the pandemic and now awaits revival. “Vaccination drives, relaxation on travel mandates, herd immunity and industry policies will play a crucial role in driving the sector recovery. As of now, the analysis recommends 2023 for the overall recovery of the hotel industry, subject to no additional disruptions due to Covid-19 infections and restrictions on travel,” concludes Shanker.

This article was published in BW hotelier issue dated '' with cover story titled 'RESPONSIBLE HOTELIERING ISSUE VOL 7, ISSUE 3'


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