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‘Indian market is ready to welcome more of our iconic brands’

Wednesday, April 4, 2018, 16:38 Hrs  [IST]

Wyndham Hotel Group has expanded their footprint in India and in the regional market by forging strong partnerships both exclusive and non-exclusive in the last few years. From just a handful of hotel properties in 2010, the group has grown to a commanding presence with 35 hotels at the end of 2017. The hotel group has also signed 15 new hotels in the region in 2017 alone. Deepika Arora, Regional Vice President - Eurasia, who has been steering Wyndham Hotel Group’s expansion spree in the regional market, in an interview with Hospitality Biz spoke on company’s future plans which include bringing the ‘iconic’ brands from their international portfolio into the market.

Q How was the year 2017 for Wyndham Hotels in India and in the regional market? What kind of business trends did you see emerging in the market which would favour/affect adversely occupancy/ rates, etc. going forward?
2017 was another year of robust growth of Wyndham Hotel Group. We saw significant growth across our portfolio, through the opening of 11 new hotels in India and neighbouring countries. Two-thirds of these new openings were in India, re-enforcing our presence in the country’s rapidly growing mid-market hospitality segment.

Our hotels in the region performed at par with the industry on indices such as occupancy rates, ARRs and RevPAR. We also performed well on quality audits, customer reviews as well as our Wyndham Rewards loyalty programme.

In addition, during 2017 Wyndham Hotel Group expanded its pipeline of new hotels in the region with 15 new signings. We also signed a non-exclusive development agreement with Nebula Infraspace LLP to develop hotels under the Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham® brand. Under the agreement, we plan to develop at least 20 hotels across India over a period of 10 years. Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham is our extended-stay brand, offering guests a home away from home. The brand will be well-positioned to cater to the extended stay needs of travellers in India visiting pilgrimage circuits, leisure destinations and second home locations. The first Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham hotel will open in Dwarka.

Overall, the outlook of the hospitality industry in India looks positive. India has always piqued the interest of tourists from far corners of the world to explore its diverse landscape, rich history, ancient architecture, multi-cultural society, food and religion, low-cost wellness, sports and even cinema. In addition, a thriving economy has boosted business travel and also led to a bourgeoning middle-class with disposable income giving momentum to domestic travel especially in the secondary and tertiary cities besides the metros.

The Indian market is becoming a lot more competitive with global hospitality chains expanding their footprint, which reiterates the potential of this growing market. We see an increasing demand for stay options that meet international standard at great value and believe that the mid-scale space will continue to experience strong growth with the upscale segment following closely behind. With a growing and diverse portfolio of hotels along the length and breadth of this exciting market, Wyndham Hotel Group is strongly positioned to meet this demand.

Q What is the current portfolio that Wyndham has in the India market, and what kind of growth and expansion are you looking at in India in the next couple of years?
Wyndham Hotel Group currently has 35 operational hotels with 3,258 rooms under the Ramada, Ramada Encore, Howard Johnson and Days brands in India. We aim to have 75 operational hotels in India by 2020 and plan to further expand our footprint in other high potential countries in the region by exploring new opportunities.

Wyndham Hotel Group’s range of brand offerings is varied and flexible to meet the expectations of today’s dynamic traveller. As part of our development strategy in India, we are looking to expand our footprint into secondary and tertiary cities as well as potential leisure destinations. Our upcoming openings will add leisure locations like Kasauli and Lonavla; pilgrim destinations like Dwarka (Gujarat); and business locations like Ghaziabad, Trivandrum, Bhubaneshwar and more to the existing portfolio. Our goal is to ensure that wherever across India or the region travellers want to go, they can find a Wyndham Hotel Group hotel to meet their needs and their budget.

Q Wyndham’s India portfolio is quite limited and dominated by mid-market brands. When can we expect more premium brands from your portfolio coming to India?
India’s hospitality industry is experiencing an up-cycle and the next spurt of growth is expected to come from the mid-market segment. The Indian market is also extremely cost-sensitive offering an excellent opportunity for mid-market hotel brands such as Ramada, which is well established in the country along with our other existing brands like Howard Johnson and Days.

Having said that, we also feel that the Indian market is ready to welcome more of our iconic brands and in the next two-three years, we will be introducing our namesake brands such as ‘Wyndham Grand’, ‘Wyndham’ and ‘Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham’.

Q Wyndham is one of the few international hotel companies which do franchise business in India. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the model in the Indian conditions?
As a hospitality powerhouse, Wyndham Hotel Group adopts two global business models - we are a franchiser of hotel brands but in many markets we also have a large hotel management business. We are happy to work with partners on a franchised or managed basis, depending on their business model and market of operations and what makes sense for the individual partnerships

In India, the franchise model has worked well for us and enabled us to establish a firm foothold. We grew from eight hotels in 2010 to 35 operational hotels to date. The owner relationship is always key for the success of the franchise model. Investing in forging trust by providing support and guidance to attract and retain customers is a common and an on-going endeavour. We work closely with each and every new hotel owner to introduce them to the brand’s philosophy and the basic brand standards to keep a consistent look and feel. However, in some cases, we do allow for certain customisation to cater to the local requirements or market dynamics.

Q As hotel distribution is disrupted by modern technology including mobile, social media, etc. what kind of investment is Wyndham Hotels planning to make to stay ahead of the trends?
Wyndham Hotel Group is constantly innovating and researching to ensure a seamless guest experience. Technology is an integral part of this objective and the group has undertaken a global technology transformation. We are one of the first global hospitality players to roll out a cloud-based central reservations and property management system streamlining processes for managing pricing and inventory, helping our hotel owners and staff to manage daily pricing and inventory more effectively and efficiently.

Q Wyndham Hotels was in the race for acquisition of mid-market chains in India in the past. What is the current outlook of the company to acquisition opportunities to consolidate your position in the market?
Acquisitions have enabled us to complement our portfolio and accelerate our global scale. As a publicly-traded company, we do not comment on rumour or speculation, and therefore are not able to address the topic of any potential future acquisitions.

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