Premium luxury hotels need to be more customer focused than ever before: Rajneesh Malhotra, Chalet Hotels

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November 12, 2020 3:05 PM

With festive cheer all around, the green shoots of recovery seem to add its golden hue for India’s travel and hospitality segments. Earlier, Cleartrip had told The Financial Express Online that Indian travellers are ready to pay a premium for a safe and comfortable stay, thereby showing their preference for five star properties. From an […]

At Lakeside Chalet – Marriott Executive Apartments in Powai, Mumbai we have observed a rise in demand.

With festive cheer all around, the green shoots of recovery seem to add its golden hue for India’s travel and hospitality segments. Earlier, Cleartrip had told The Financial Express Online that Indian travellers are ready to pay a premium for a safe and comfortable stay, thereby showing their preference for five star properties. From an Asia-Pacific perspective, a recent survey known as the Inmarsat’s Passenger Confidence Tracker indicates that nine in 10 of Asia-Pacific airline passengers are set to alter travel habits and more importantly, about a half are planning to travel less. This brings a pertinent question from an Indian context: Will the onset of pod travel and staycation and enjoying weekend getaways turn muted once the festive cheer is over?

In conversation with The Financial Express Online’s Swapna Raghu Sanand, Rajneesh Malhotra, Vice President – Operations & Asset Management, Chalet Hotels Ltd says, “As we enter the year end festive season, the consumer sentiment has improved and we expect a positive rub off on the industry in general. We expect the end of the year 2020, to be better than its beginning! ”

In his opinion, a steep recovery can be expected once a reliable vaccine is produced. He further adds, “Recovery will be faster than most predict, once a solution in the form of a vaccine or reliable treatment for COVID-19 is in place.”
2020 has been an unprecedented year. How do you review the year so far and COVID-19 impact on hotel bookings in India?

2020 has been an extremely challenging year for the hospitality and travel sector in general. The beginning of the first financial quarter witnessed covid-19 induced restrictions that took a heavy toll on the industry’s business and operations during April till July 2020.

With lockdowns easing and travel restrictions slowly and cautiously lifted, the general sentiment has improved, bringing a positive change for travel, tourism and hospitality as well as other economic activities.

People’s understanding of the situation has improved and they are better at adapting to the change with necessary precautions and less fear.

This trend in general has led businesses on their path to recovery with a positive impact on the hotel sector.

What are the top trends for next year in terms of India’s hospitality segment? In your opinion, what are the key challenges ahead?

The impact of the pandemic both on sentiment of people and how companies react to the ongoing situation continue to remain key challenges for businesses. Companies have had travel restrictions in place since March which are expected to ease out in the next few weeks/months. It is essential for businesses to get back to normal ASAP which again will have a positive rub off on overall economic activities. Obviously a lot depends on what turn the pandemic takes and we hope the vaccine will be out soon which will expedite the whole recovery process.

Top emerging trends in the industry include:

Adopting technology faster than ever before.

Digital solutions designed to enhance customer experience, minimize human contact, and all technologies aimed at promoting health & wellness are being adopted at a faster pace by the hospitality industry.

The pandemic has also forced hoteliers to rethink their strategy and consider reducing fixed costs and shift a few traditionally fixed costs into the variable bucket and make operations leaner, smarter and more efficient.

Other key challenges for the industry remain the continued travel restrictions on International travel, rebuilding public confidence and sustain operations during these unprecedented low business volumes. Industry would depend a lot more on government initiatives to promote travel and tourism.

What constitutes the new normal for hotels and guests now?

Besides hotels, you also have serviced residences that you are looking at.

Do you expect heightened demand for such residences than hotel rooms?

The new normal has led to minimal interactions between guests and hotel staff for routine operational tasks. For instance, check-ins, ordering in, dine-in and check-out everything is shifting to digital with contactless processes. Lot of smart technology is being introduced in guest rooms and public areas, for example, keyless entry into rooms, controlled gadgets in rooms, and focus on health and safety measures like improved air quality, etc.

At Lakeside Chalet – Marriott Executive Apartments in Powai, Mumbai we have observed a rise in demand.

People trust global brand’s ability and commitment to maintain the highest possible standards of health, hygiene and safety thereby leading people to choose branded serviced apartments over individual apartments for their stay in the city.

In your view, what transformation can you foresee for India’s hospitality segment in early 2021?

As mentioned earlier, tech will play a vital role in hotels.

The innovation will be expedited in this area and hotel chains will be quick to adopt technology that is aimed at improving guest experience, reducing costs, optimizing overall operations and enhancing efficiency of services.

Significantly, staff training takes center stage with ever changing protocols around safety & hygiene.

5. In your opinion, what should premium hotels and resorts do beyond health and hygiene to bring their customers back?

At present for all hotels, topmost priority is health, hygiene and safety of its staff and guests and ensuring that there is no compromise in that aspect.

Today, premium luxury hotels need to be more customer focused than ever before. It has become crucial to continuously design improved, personalized/customized offerings compared to the past, in order to rekindle the need to visit hotel/restaurants and have a good time.

Hotels have to continuously enhance their offerings to attract customers and stay focused on their target customer’s ever changing needs.

In an extension to re-imagined services, it is also essential for hoteliers to incorporate sustainability and environmentally responsible business practices which not only fulfills the expectations of customers but all our stakeholders.

Can you share insights about your current occupancy rates? Also, when do you expect it to evolve?

We clocked around 25% Occupancies across our portfolio in the Quarter that ended in September 2020 It is expected that the last Quarter of the calendar year 2020 will be better for the industry in general.

As travel restrictions are eased and international travel is expected to restart early next year, we expect the demand to grow steadily and 2021 would be a year of “rebuilding” for most businesses.

When do you expect hotel occupancy to get back to its normal cycle?

We definitely expect travel to pick up in India. We are seeing signs of improvement in travel and occupancies have seen a positive uptick as domestic airlines have been allowed to operate at 70% capacity.

As businesses get back to normalcy and work-related travel resumes the demand for quality hotels in Tier-1 cities is bound to go up. Chalet Hotels’ portfolio of hotels is strategically spread across key metro cities and is well poised to benefit from the first wave of business recovery as it happens.

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