We Endeavour to Benchmark Ourselves against Larger US-based Vacation Ownership Players and Become Better: Kavinder Singh, CEO & MD, MHRIL

The company has recently undergone a lot of updates in terms of sustainability, new destinations to make their products even more experiential for the modern-day traveller, further expansion plans, etc., details of which Kavinder Singh, CEO & MD, Mahindra Holidays and Resorts decoded in an interview with BW Hotelier.

MAHINDRA HOLIDAYS and Resorts India Ltd. (MHRIL), a leading travel company founded in India in 1996 has been a leader in the timeshare business outside of the US. The company has recently undergone a lot of updates in terms of sustainability, new destinations to make their products even more experiential for the modern-day traveller, further expansion plans, etc., details of which Kavinder Singh, CEO & MD, Mahindra Holidays and Resorts decoded in an interview with BW Hotelier. Excerpts:

Please brief us about how the decades have been for MHRIL, and the various products offered by MHRIL including Club Mahindra Holidays, Club Mahindra Fundays, Club Mahindra Bliss, etc., and how these are directed to a different set of travellers i.e. family, corporates, leisure, etc.

In September 1996, the Mahindra Group decided to enter the hospitality and resorts business. It was a well-thought decision by the Group to invest in the sector since ‘timeshare’ as a concept was relevant for our country to enjoy high-quality affordable holidays for Indian families. One key insight for us was that timeshare concept allows families to spend quality time with each other and this resonated well with the Indian ethos of family bonding and spending time together. At that time there were players who were not able to bring the element of trust, Mahindra brought much-needed trust and the rest is history.

From a single resort destination in Munnar in 1996, we have now grown to around 2,45,000 members. Our partnership with Resorts Condominiums International (RCI), allows Club Mahindra guests to pick and choose a vacation from a bouquet of 4,500-plus affiliated resorts worldwide. The acquisition of Holiday Club in 2015, which owned resorts across Finland, Sweden and Spain, further opened doors for our guests in 33 resorts in Europe and made us the largest player outside the US. All of this has made us India’s leading vacation ownership company in just over two decades of entering the business.

Our company's flagship offering, Club Mahindra Holidays (CMH), focuses entirely on families and lives by the credo: 'Good living, happy families’ for our members and guests. I feel proud of the fact that our company has been able to create a culture of regular family vacationing amongst our members for the last 21 years.

The core proposition of CMH is to offer our member families a holiday for 7N/8D every year for 25 years and create memorable experiences, regardless of the destination. We offer a range of varied experiences at the resort, from cultural activities to gourmet sessions, adventure activities to art workshops – delighting everyone at the same time!

Club Mahindra Bliss, our second offering, is a point-based product designed to offer flexibility for people above the age of 50 years. It offers points based flexible holidaying options for tenure of 10 years. We launched this product in 2017 and have received an encouraging response. It fits in well with the growing segment of these travellers who are both time rich and money rich.

Club Mahindra Fundays is our points-based offering for corporates. This product works as an employee engagement program for organisations and is used by employees to holiday along with their family. It’s a great way of propagating work-life balance by the HR teams in these organisations. Some businesses also use it as a distribution engagement program by offering it to the sales channel team members.

Being the largest vacation ownership company outside of the US, what measures and developments are you considering maintaining the position?

Our endeavour is to benchmark ourselves against larger US-based players and become better. Mahindra Holidays has therefore been following a three-pronged strategy to consolidate its position as the largest vacation ownership company outside the US. First, we are rapidly working to create new resorts and expand our resort network and provide unparalleled experiences in and around those resorts.

The second aspect of the strategy is to create a seamless consumer experience journey by creating intuitive touchpoints through the lifetime of members. These touchpoints are proactive and digitised to a large extent.

The third tenet is to deepen the experience ecosystem and thus create a differentiator against other direct or indirect competitors within the holidaying space.

Please brief us about the acquisitions and affiliations carried by MHRIL over the years.

Our long-standing association with RCI, a holiday exchange network with over 2 mn members across the world, gave us a global footprint, allowing our patrons to choose from over 4,400 resorts. Club Mahindra offers a complimentary RCI membership, which is valid for a limited period.

As mentioned earlier, the acquisition of Holiday Club Resorts in 2015 was one of our major milestones. The main objective of this acquisition was to use this as a platform and evaluate expansion options in Western Europe. Today, we own 95.16% of the Finland-based company that has resorts across Finland (25 resorts), Sweden (2) and Spain (6).

In 2016, we invested in Xoxoday Enterprise, a technology platform company engaged in providing an employee engagement platform. The mainstay of their offering is curating experiences and offering them to employees. The primary reason for this investment was to participate in the ever growing space of experience consumption and to curate such experiences and offer them to our members. We have been successfully providing 2600 experiences in 30 cities for the last one year. All this is being offered to our members through our website and mobile app.

What are MHRIL’s efforts towards sustainability? How do your resorts cater to the responsible modern-day traveller?

Sustainability comes in various forms and sizes at Mahindra Holidays. It also includes generating employment opportunities and alleviating poverty. Let me share a few examples.

Close to our property at Coorg in Karnataka, there is a tribal village called Surlabi. Here, the people subsist on the sale of local honey, spices and vegetables grown on their land. When our Coorg team realised that the honey produced – locally called Kala – was of a unique variety and was to be found only in this village, we began supporting the villagers. Last year, around 60 villagers were provided with pots to initiate apiculture. The objective of doing this was to help the villagers to increase the production of honey and thereby, improve their income. And, of course, Club Mahindra also helps the villagers to find buyers for this unique produce.

Then, there’s another project in Kumarakom, Kerala. Last year, our local team facilitated a training session for the local, rural women in the vicinity of the resort. This was to encourage organic farming of mushrooms and other vegetables and reduce usage of chemicals and poisonous pest control measures. We promoted the sales of their produce to neighbouring resorts and other markets, ensuring income generation for the female members.

We are India’s first hospitality company to join the global campaign RE100 and EP100. By signing on to both, we have reinforced our commitment to achieving our renewable energy and energy productivity targets. We believe these initiatives are in alignment with our mission of ‘Good Living, Happy Families’.

We have recently begun powering Club Mahindra resorts with solar energy. In its first phase, the project is being implemented across eight resorts in five states. Over the next 25 years, we predict savings of more than INR 77 crores in power costs across all eight resorts. We will continue to adopt sustainable practices to further reduce our carbon footprint. The company was bestowed with the prestigious Golden Peacock Award for Sustainability in 2017.

Which are the key locations where MHRIL set up their resorts in India and abroad? Why?

 Our endeavour has always been to create the best experience by creating exotic resorts for our members. Over the years, we have expanded our network to cover some popular tourist destinations in India such as Goa, Rajasthan and Kerala. At the same time within these popular destinations, we have created new destinations such as Munnar, Kumbhalgarh, Binsar, Naldehra and Ashtamudi. As far as our resorts outside India are concerned, we are focused on catering to the outbound Indian travellers, especially connected to destinations serviced by low-cost carriers (LCCs). I mean destinations such as Dubai, Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur. We have also gone ahead with inventory arrangements in Orlando, a popular family tourist destination in the United States. Our endeavour will continue to be to create resorts at destinations preferred by Indian families.

What are your expansion plans to add more resorts to the existing portfolio? What business model/s are you considering to further spread your footprint in India and overseas (please specify countries)?

We are looking at greenfield, brownfield and lease options to expand our presence. In greenfield, we have one project at Assonora in Goa. In brownfield, we have an expansion project in Ashtamudi and a few others in the pipeline. We have also done lease arrangements for three properties in the North East region. Our recent inventory arrangements include three properties in Bhutan.

What opportunities or challenges in MHRIL facing to cater their patrons with experiential products?

We are witnessing a huge opportunity since both the number of people holidaying, and frequency of holidays is increasing. All this is reflecting in enhanced growth within the domestic tourism segment. Additionally, Indian families are also increasingly holidaying abroad. This shift in consumer behaviour is a boon for us and reflects in our new resorts being created. Indian outbound travellers are estimated to be 50 mn by 2020 up from 15 mn in 2016. (Fact base)

To cater to this trend, we are also introducing an array of products to cater to different market segments.

The other trend we are witnessing is the increase in spends of Indian holidaymakers on experiences and therefore our effort is to offer members resort experiences that are unmatched. In addition, we have created a bouquet of experience offerings for our members not restricted to resorts. For example, we provide access at special price to the Rann festival, Kumbh Mela, cruises, scuba diving, in-city experiences such as dining on a helipad, micro-lite flying and many more.

We also recently introduced a one-of-a-kind program for members – Club M Select which includes exclusive deals across 4,00,000 hotels worldwide, 12,000 plus cruises globally, 60,000 plus excursions in 180 plus cities internationally and dining across 300 fine dining restaurants in top ten Indian cities.

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