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‘With 30 brands, we offer hospitality experience at all price points’

After the coming together of Marriott International and Starwood Hotels, they held their first joint promotional sales mission in India. P Krishna Kumar met with Ramesh Daryanani, VP - Global Sales (Asia Pacific - excluding Greater China), Marriott International during the sales mission in Delhi to understand their sales strategy for the India market.

Monday, April 17, 2017, 15:08 Hrs  [IST]

Q What strength you expect in your sales pitch as a combined force – Marriott and Starwood properties?
After the integration of Marriott International and Starwood Hotels, this is our first sales mission in the region where we have our combined company portfolio of hotels to meet with our customers under one roof.

The integration has helped us to convey to our customers in a collaborative fashion that we are a hotel company that can meet all your travel demands wherever you are and at whatever level of experience you are looking at. The conversation today starts with saying we have 30 brands which one you like? Where would you like to go? The whole conversation changes when you have 30 brands in your portfolio offering hospitality experiences at all price points.

Q What is the kind of footprint Marriott and Starwood together hold in India at present?
We have 84 hotels in India under 15 different brands. We have a combined inventory of 18,000 hotels in India now, which makes us the largest hotel chain in the country in terms of inventory. In terms of number of hotels we are slightly shy to the Taj. As far as projects under development are concerned, there are 80 hotels that are in the pipeline. These are across the spectrum. We have recently opened W Goa, which is the first W brand in India. Another recent addition was Westin Pushkar. In the days ahead, you will see us going into cities like Siliguri, Coimbatore, Belgaum, etc.

Fairfield by Marriott Lucknow

Q With technology changing the consumer booking behaviour dramatically, how relevant the conventional are sales missions for hotel companies?
We have broken up the whole sales strategy into two. One is the B2C approach and the other one is B2B approach. In the B2C aspect what has changed over the years is our increased investment into digital and social channels. As a result, we have witnessed 49% growth in mobile bookings alone over the years. Although Indian consumers are yet to catch up when it comes to digital bookings compared to developed markets, the trend is growing here as well. It is a trend that we feel will continue to grow. On the B2B side, India is a high touch market and relationships are quite important here. Therefore, we have invested a lot in setting up a robust sales structure in this market. We have different layers of sales team from the global to the property level which helps us to offer a single point of contact to our customers. Conventional agents are very relevant in this market, specially where customers who need customisation. I still see the traditional side of the business still continuing.

JW Marriott Mussoorie
Q What is your strategy in driving direct business to reduce the intermediaries?
Own website is the most cost-effective channel and therefore is a major focus for us. Lot of research and investment has gone in driving direct traffic in the last few years. Our loyalty programme is the most significant one in that direction. The effort is to acquire as many members who want to hear from us and get benefited from that membership. We try to offer value to our loyalty members who book directly on our channels. We have made big enhancements to our websites taking feedback from our customers over the years.

It is also our focus to give customers opportunity to share their experiences through various social channels. A lot of content get generated at the hotel level – in room, F&B, public areas, in destination, etc. - all that can be seamlessly shared through instagram, facebook, twitter, v-chat, etc. We have invested a lot in enabling sharing of experiences through these channels.

However, it is difficult to attribute a figure to the switch that is happening from different channels to our own websites and applications in emerging markets, but growing loyalty base shows increasing inclination to use direct channels. We have 8 million loyalty members in the Asia Pacific region and growing year on year. We offer better rates to the range 10 to 15% as well as offer value adds with bookings.

Westin pushkar

Q Despite improvement in occupancies, the flat growth in rates in Indian hotels is a challenge for people associated with hotel sales. How do you look at this challenge? Challenge varies by market. In markets where supply has saturated, like Mumbai, the attempt to push ADR has been constant, and we had some amount of success as well. Our hotels carry 25% premium in the market compared to our competitors even today. That premium is the result of our success in driving occupancies as well as rates. Markets which are still grueling under over supply, it is a challenge to drive rates. But even in those markets, although ADRs haven’t increased to the level we wanted to, we have been able to win those markets as well. Classic examples are cities like Raipur, Bilaspur, Mussoorie, etc., where we were the first international brand to move in, we were able to deliver quality experiences customers haven’t seen before, and able to command a premium over the competitors.

Q How the brand equity that Marriott has been able to build in this market helped in driving business to your properties outside India?
In terms of outbound travel, we have seen double digit growth from India to our properties outside India. Even recent GBTA Stats has put India as fastest growing corporate travel market after China in the Asia Pacific. We have done quite well in that segment, as lot of travellers predominantly in the Project Travel side; have shown their preference to stay with us. That’s where we are seeing big advantage because of our large footprint in markets like the US. We have multiple brands to choose from in markets like the US. In the MICE travel also we have seen significant growth from India market. Corporates are keen to differentiate themselves from the competition by providing better experiences to their partners and associates. They are also moving away from the tried and tested destinations in South East Asia and looking at Europe, Australia, etc.

Even Fiji is a new destination that India market can look at. We are the largest hotel operator in Fiji now. With improvement in connectivity, especially with the code sharing between Jet Airways and Fiji Airlines from both Singapore and Hong Kong, it is one of the newer bespoke destinations that we want to push in this market.

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