India wasnt an easy market to penetrate

Written by Ajay Sukumaran | Debojyoti Ghosh | Debojyoti Ghosh | Updated: Oct 31 2013, 10:42am hrs
Luxury hotel chain The Ritz-Carlton, which runs over 80 properties worldwide, is set to open its first hotel in the country in Bangalore on Thursday. Herv Humler, president & COO of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel, which he

co-founded in 1983, tells Ajay Sukumaran and Debojyoti Ghosh that it has taken the group nearly a decade to enter India, but is confident of the growing demand for luxury to fuel growth. Edited excerpts:

Why are you starting your India business with Bangalore

It was not by choice, but a business decision. This is one of the locations we looked at and it happened that we were able to develop it faster than other potential locations we have been looking at in India. It was important for the Ritz-Carlton Hotel to be present in India and in Bangalore we saw one of the great corporate cities. We were pleased with the location of the hotel and the market is also doing well. There may be a slowdown in India, but the luxury business is doing quite well. There are about four hotels in the luxury business category in this city and it is encouraging.

The second property is coming up in Gurgaon. Whats next

Yes, of course, you have heard about it. There may be other locations where we may come in early. Im not ready to make any announcements. Right now, we are looking at finalising our contract. But I would want to be in Mumbai, New Delhi and other destinations that are important for the Ritz-Carlton as we have been exploring this market for many years now. We want to be here and engage with developers and investors who understand the luxury aspect of the brand as we need financial commitment to build a luxury hotel and a great location. We want to be in India because many of our worldwide accounts have offices in this market and we want to keep them with us.

It took you 10 years to enter the Indian market. Why

Yes, we did explore the market for 10 years but it wasnt an easy market to penetrate. India already has great luxury hotels, big names and some iconic brands. It did take some time to enter the market, but now we are pleased. We will also be there in other locations that we will be announcing. The two other locations are also well positioned. But what is important now is that finally we are here.

Globally, the Ritz-Carlton is known for its rich and famous customers. Will India be more of a luxury-business destination, considering that the leisure traffic in Bangalore is minimal

We are in the five-star business. We want to focus on the global affluent luxury type, as we call it, and in order to do that we have to build hotels that reflect luxury. That is part of our strategy. We have an iconic brand that has always been associated with service. We have to make sure when we build a hotel in Bangalore, or New York, Dubai, Beijing or wherever in the world, that there must be a great sense of luxury to it.

How has the economic slowdown globally over the past few years affected luxury brands such as yours. What different strategies have you taken to counter that

We did have an economic slowdown in 2008-09. We did slow down on the corporate side, people travelled less, corporations were watching expenses. But on the leisure side of it, we have done extremely well. In fact, we did more leisure rooms during the economic slowdown than we ever did in the history of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Thats because the luxury customer can afford to go on vacation three to five times a year. I always say the Ritz-Carlton is less prone than any other hotel company to have a recession.