The Big Churn
AFORTNIGHT OR so ago, Vikram Oberoi, who heads the Hotel Association of India (HAI), invited me to speak at the organisation’s annual convention. I’ve spoken at HAI conventions before and always feel that I make a fool of myself each time by giving basically the same speech on every occasion.
This time around, the HAI had the bright idea of getting Priya Paul, head of The Park Hotels group (and, full disclosure, an old friend) to engage me in conversation on stage. Priya asked all the right questions even though I suspect I may have given the same old answers.
Here, for those of you who are interested in hotels, is a broad summary of what I said.
With global chains seeking to open luxury hotels in the country, Indian hoteliers cannot escape the turbulence
The HAI consists of the big boys of Indian hoteliering (Oberoi, ITC, Leela, Taj, Park, etc.) so I am not sure they were thrilled when I told them that they would be a less and less important part of the Indian hotel scene as time went on.
The big change in Indian hoteliering over the last decade has been the invasion of the global hotel chains. In the old days, even when a hotel had an international tie-up or is dying to open here. There were something like 25 Hyatts at last count, a slightly smaller number of Marriotts and those are just the chains whose hotels I am familiar with. Hilton, Accor, Holiday Inn/Intercontinental, Starwood and the rest have a substantial Indian presence.
This affects the Indian hotel scene in two crucial ways. First of all, it means that the four or five big chains now have high-quality, heavyweight competition. Secondly, and there’s no getting around this, when it comes to international sales and marketing, the foreign chains have a massive advantage. It isn’t just the loyalty programmes (though that’s a big factor), it is also that the global giants understand the new world of Internet sales much better than their domestic rivals. For years, the Indian chains bragged about how big they were. But now, compared to their foreign counterparts, they seem like minnows.
MY FATHER’S HOTEL
Ever since the late 1980s, when the likes of Ian Schrager and André Balazs reinvented the modern hotel by adding hipness and lifestyle to the mix, the big global chains have been conscious of the need to appeal to a younger demographic. Their concern is that smaller, trendier places appeal to young people much more than the Hiltons and Sheratons of old.
Ever since Starwood took the hip hotel formula and successfully corporatised it with the W brand, hoteliers have realised that hip hotels can actually be mass produced, if you know how to do it. Yes, there will always be the achingly-hip people who will seek out the independent small hotels that are in vogue, but for the vast majority of younger people it is enough that a hotel tries to be hip. How many guests at a W hotel even recognise that it is part of the same chain as Meridien or Westin?
Nearly all of the global giants now have a lifestyle brand in their portfolio. Hyatt opens the first Andaz in Delhi later this year. Marriott has tied up with Ian Schrager, the originator of the hip hotel concept, to open Edition Hotels. And so on.
In India, we haven’t felt the need to create our own hip/ design hotels. Only Priya Paul has even understood the concept and her contemporaries have usually missed what she is doing. Indian chains have had it easy because the growth