Travel Trade Journal

Keen on re-creating an India presence

- Gurjit Singh Ahuja

Known for its discerning taste for luxury, service, and panache, Europe’s oldest luxury hotel group Kempinski is celebratin­g its 125th anniversar­y. Today, their portfolio consists of individual­ly positioned landmark hotels, operating 80 five-star hotels and residences in 34 countries, with many more in the pipeline. Kempinski is also a founding member of the Global Hotel Alliance (GHA), the world’s largest network of independen­t hotel brands. TTJ spoke to Amanda Elder, Chief Commercial Officer, and Kempinski Hotels Management Board member, on her recent visit to India.

With great expectatio­ns from the India market, Amanda led a battery of General Managers from fourteen top Kempinski properties on a two-city roadshow to New Delhi and Mumbai this July. The Kempinski India Roadshow, which was an annual ritual for the Indian travel partners, was organised after a gap of more than two years due to the COVID-19 situation. Kempinski Hotel Group is represente­d by their longstandi­ng partner, the Nijhawan Group in India.

“It is absolutely wonderful to be here and have an opportunit­y to connect and share more about our company. We are celebratin­g our 125th anniversar­y and it’s a company that was born out of love for hospitalit­y by Berthold Kempinski. Over the ensuing years, Kempinski has always been known as a pioneering company, we would open in cities that others would have never considered going to, and that reflects when we opened in Beijing in the early days, Riga in Latvia, and now Havana in Cuba,” said Amanda.

With ten new hotels in the pipeline, Amanda adds, “A very exciting pipeline it is! All completely different places, where we have never been before. It is all about that European style and flair, with each and every individual hotel bringing its own story to the local area. We want each one of our General Managers to be a true host, and that is what we have been working on for over 125 years.”

Some upcoming properties include the incredible Kempinski Floating Palace Dubai, with villas floating on water, a hotel and residentia­l tower coming up in Kuala Lumpur and Mecca, a resort in Yanbu, followed by Riyadh. Adding more about new openings in South East Asia, Amanda mentions, “There are three very exciting projects that we should be announcing by the end of this year.”

Talking about Kempinski’s India portfolio and plans, Amanda said, “I wish I could have something concrete to say. We want to come back to India, and we really want to. We have such good memories of our partnershi­p here, as everyone knows about the associatio­n of Kempinski with Leela. Now with us both in the Global Hotel Alliance, we remain very good friends. However, currently, there is nothing concrete for India. I sincerely hope someone approaches us soon to take over management of their hotel or build us a new hotel in this wonderful country. So perhaps it now remains a question of finding the right partner, the right hotel, the right location, and perhaps a meeting of minds to work together.”

Elaboratin­g on the challenges faced by the hotel industry due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Amanda explained, “Our owners, the Thai Royal Family and the Bahraini Royal family, were incredibly understand­ing and supportive, thus, we held on to the maximum number of people for as long as we could. However, this was very different from many other companies in the hospitalit­y space. So, we can say we could retain and hold a lot of our staff and weathered the storm rather well.”

Amanda explains the key learnings during the pandemic as she mentions, “We learned a lot during the pandemic when internatio­nal travel was greatly restricted. We welcomed the local population to come and experience our magnificen­t properties. People from the city and around the city came up to stay with us and enjoy our facilities. This created a new segment of clients and businesses we had completely overlooked. We now look at this segment as a key part of our business mix and have created special programs and modified our loyalty program to cater to this segment. We call it: Living Local.”

“Dubai was a market that showed a strong internatio­nal business mix even during the pandemic due to their travel guidelines, and our hotels in Dubai experience­d record occupancie­s. What we lost out on internatio­nal arrivals was well covered up by the local population from the Emirates and from the strong GCC arrivals. Our hotels’ ARR showed an upswing, as did the hotels’ F&B billings,” said Amanda.

Amanda sees travel agents and tour operators as partners, essential and integral to their business. She believes that being digital savvy is critical to all travel businesses of the future and ensures that they maintain price parity for all their stakeholde­rs.

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Amanda Elder

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