The Big Churn

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - Brunch - - INDULGE -

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

INTERNATIONALISATION

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

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