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Hospitality

Published on: Oct. 4, 2021, 1:06 p.m.
It’s ALLSAFE first at Accor
  • Raffles delivers memorable, luxurious experiences

By Suman Tarafdar

The past 18 months have been disastrous for the hospitality sector – for some. Others have seen record occupancies. Yes, depending on whom you ask, the impact on the sector has differed. While certain leisure segments and destinations have seen people flocking to them as soon as they unlocked, perhaps a better gauge is to look at hospitality majors. One of India’s largest groups, French hospitality major Accor, which has hotels spread across segments, from luxury to budget and a pan India spread of destinations, is a good indicator of the health of the sector in India.

What interests just about everyone is the direction and velocity of recovery. “The impact of the pandemic in India has been dynamic, with every state recovering at a different pace,” says Puneet Dhawan, Senior VP, Operations, Accor India & South Asia. “It is still hard for anyone to predict when our industry will completely recover. Just like we witnessed encouraging signs of recovery after the first wave, the recovery after the second wave has also been reassuring. We believe that the primary target for the industry as a whole right now is bringing back consumer confidence and placing a magnified focus on safety and hygiene.”

In 2020, India witnessed an occupancy drop of 47 per cent, resulting in a revenue per available room (RevPAR) decline of 55 per cent, says Dhawan. Markets like Bengaluru and Pune were the most affected markets with a RevPAR drop of 68 per cent and 61 per cent respectively.

Dhawan points out that the pandemic has shifted many perspectives, including how people travel and look at luxury brands. “It has set in motion a new era of conscious luxury. We are seeing a return of luxury travel across the globe, in countries that are opening up. Things are looking up for the luxury segment, especially because after all the uncertainty that people have been through due to the pandemic, now they are looking for ways to indulge in extravagant but mindful experiences. Additionally, the mid-scale segment is seeing strong recovery in terms of occupancy. Our hotels are doing robust occupancy due to a mix of both leisure/staycation business as well as business continuity groups.”

Hope = staycations, DIY kits

The reason for hope – Dhawan points to the demand for a break, giving rise to hitherto overlooked segments such as staycations – in the same city! “Weekend getaways and same city staycations have become demand drivers, and our strategy is to continue to focus on that. Staycations are building blocks that give more confidence to guests to travel for longer periods once they have the satisfaction that they are safe.”

Domestic market will continue to be a key driver as it has been in the past few months, admits Dhawan. “There is a demand for both mainstream and offbeat places – we are seeing a spike in occupancy across India on weekends versus weekdays, which should continue.”

Another saviour has been food, though in an altered form. “F&B played a huge role to help the industry stay afloat during the lockdown,” according to Dhawan. “Currently as the situation is improving, we are seeing an improvement in occupancies and witnessing simultaneous growth in the F&B segment. Takeaway and delivery was already in demand and now with the gradual increase in occupancy, we can see the in-house consumption improving significantly as well. There is ample opportunity for innovation on the F&B front, a lot of which we have seen in the recent past as well – dark kitchens, food delivery, DIY kits etc. We also saw a trend where chefs would personally go and prepare a meal for a personal gathering of ten or so people at the comfort of their homes.”

Tech to the rescue

Technology is playing an ever-greater role in shaping hospitality. “Technology is being embraced at every level, from room bookings, to check-ins, check-outs, and payment procedures, digital posters, and digital menus, automation in revenue management, digital training etc,” points out Dhawan. “At Accor, we have implemented ALLSAFE, the safety and hygiene label across all our network hotels. It is a global cleanliness and prevention standard developed with and vetted by Bureau Veritas, a world leader in testing, inspections, and certification. All our hotels are required to adhere to these standards which represent some of the most stringent cleaning standards and operational protocols in the world of hospitality.”

Another change is the introduction of the Accor Key globally, which provides a contactless guest journey, by providing guests access to their rooms without a physical key. “Additionally, we collaborated with Microsoft to launch ALL CONNECT, a new hybrid meetings concept supported by Microsoft Teams that will enable guests around the world to adapt to the new ways of working,” reveals Dhawan. “This new offering will enable corporate customers and meeting planners to combine physical in-hotel meetings with virtual interactions across multiple locations simultaneously.”

Future events

One of the most impacted segments is events – business or social – also the bread-and-butter for city business hotels. “We strongly believe that nothing can replace face to face meetings and with more and more people getting vaccinated, those meetings will return in a gradual manner,” says Dhawan. “Till the time that happens, virtual and hybrid event concepts will be a safe alternative. To encourage demand, one of the key factors in 2021 will be flexibility on commercial terms & conditions, given that these are unique times. Moreover, as international travel restrictions continue, domestic business will be driving MICE revenues for the near future. While we can expect sporadic demand in segments like weddings and sports, movement in industries such as pharmaceuticals, electronics, automobile, sports, manufacturing, movie production houses should witness a faster rebound Q3 onwards. Business continuity bookings are primarily driving demand, however, domestic SME market has also recovered quicker than anticipated.”

Of course, the pandemic has also delayed hotel openings, pushing up costs. “The three major openings we have scheduled for this year are Raffles Udaipur, Novotel Chandigarh Tribune Chowk followed by ibis Vikhroli, Mumbai,” reveals Dhawan. “Owing to the pandemic, they have been delayed by approximately 9-12 months.”

Betting on luxury

If Udaipur already wasn’t a strong contender for the wedding capital of India, it has just added another reason. “We strongly believe that the future of luxury hotels in India is very bright,” says Dhawan. “Raffles is the tenth brand that Accor is introducing in India. We are the only international hospitality brand present in Udaipur. There is a promising future for luxury brands in the region and there are discerning customers that are actively looking for memorable, luxurious experiences which a brand like Raffles delivers.” Indeed, Six Senses is opening not far away in October, while other luxury brands such as Anantara are slated to open in the near future in Rajasthan.

To communicate the Raffles benchmark, we are targeting all the segments – corporate, travel management companies, leisure, meetings and events, weddings, and entertainment, stresses Dhawan. “Raffles is an iconic brand. It caters to the niche audience that has been travelling across the globe for effortless world-class experiences, visionary designs, impeccable hospitality, remarkable service and priceless moments. Over the last few decades, the brand with new locations across the world has managed to attract a clientele that would travel to experience Raffles hospitality.” Enticing launch offers for A Royal Escape were communicated to the luxury segment within India through CRM [Customer Relationship Management], social, and other paid avenues. In 2019, group CEO, Sébastien Bazin had said one third of the group's pipeline in India would be in luxury. Another Raffles is slated to open in Jaipur in 2022. Banyan Tree, another brand that Accor acquired, is also slated to open in India, after an aborted attempt in 2012. Incidentally, 35 per cent of Accor’s global pipeline of rooms is in the luxury/upscale segment.

Global view, local view

The €1.6 billion hospitality group, which started operations in 1967 in Lille, France, now operates 5,139 hotels with a room inventory of over 750,000 rooms. It has another 1,209 hotels in the pipeline, and employs 266,000 staff in 110 countries, according to its Integrated Report 2020. The group operates 40 brands, and is globally committed to moving to an asset light model.

India still represents a relatively minor part of the group’s global operations. Accor presently has 52 operational hotels in the country (about a per cent of the global total), translating to about 10,000 across 10 brands. Another 17 hotels are expected to open over the next four years. It had grander plans, announcing in 2012 that it would reach 90 hotels by 2015.

Recalibration of plans and leadership, coupled with inevitable project delays in India, has seen the group not reach its own targets. In April, Marc Descrozaille, COO of India, Middle East & Africa at Accor said, “India is a key market for the company and the recent spike in Covid cases has not impacted their expansion plans,” adding investments in India were for the long run.

Still not the size of competitors such as Marriott and Indian Hotels, both of which have well over 100 hotels in the country, Accor however has successfully introduced many of its global brands into the Indian market, and enjoyed particular success with its upscale (or midscale, depending on country!) Novotel and budget brand ibis. For the latter, it has a JV with InterGlobe Enterprises (operator of Indigo, India’s largest airline) for InterGlobe Hotels, established in 2004. The newer hotels of both the brands are sporting refurbished looks, designed to make the stays more engaging. In 2019, Accor had announced its focus on expanding its luxury, lifestyle and premium brands portfolio in the country such as Banyan Tree, SO/, SLS, Delano, Mondrian, Hyde and Tribe.

As Bazin puts it, “the targeted expansion of our network is still the cornerstone issue in securing our long-term future.” Dhawan too is optimistic. “The increase in occupancy levels and various campaigns around vaccination bring us a lot of hope. Taking cues from other parts of the world that are gradually opening up, we can say that vaccination will be the foundation of recovery.” Despite hiccups, that indeed seems to be the way forward, for Accor and the world.

ACCOR’S BRANDS IN INDIA

FAIRMONT (Jaipur 1)

GRAND MERCURE (Bengaluru 2, Gandhinagar 1, Mysuru 1, Vadodara 1)

IBIS (Bengaluru 1, Chennai 3, Coimbatore 1, Delhi NCR 3, Hyderabad 1, Jaipur 1, Kochi 1, Kolkata 1, Mumbai 2, plus ibis Vikhroli opening soon, Nashik 1, Pune 2) 

MERCURE (Chennai 1, Goa 1, Hyderabad 1)

IBIS STYLES (Goa 1)

NOVOTEL (Ahmedabad 1, Bengaluru 1, Chennai 3, Delhi 1, Goa 3, Guwahati 1, Hyderabad 2, Khopoli 1, Kochi 1, Kolkata 1, Lucknow 1, Mumbai 1, Pune 1, Vijayawada 1, Visakhapatnam 1; Chandigarh opening soon)

PULLMAN (Delhi 1)

RAFFLES (Udaipur 1)

SOFITEL (Mumbai 1)

The group also manages the Bheemli Resort in Visakhapatnam

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