Wyndham Hotels & Resorts is the world’s largest hotel franchising company, with over 9,200 hotels and 20 brands in more than 80 countries. Panos Loupasis, Vice President Development, Middle East, Eurasia & Africa, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, talks about the brands expansion plan, role of technology in the hospitality sector and the importance of the Indian market.
The company acquired AmericInn and La Quinta, sold its Knights Inn brand to Red Lion, and announced the spin-off of its hotel business into two separate and publicly traded entities and the addition of the “by Wyndham” tag to its 20 brands. Tell us more about this and what’s in store for 2019-20 in terms of expansion.
Through a network of approximately 822,000 rooms appealing to the everyday traveller, our mission is to make hotel travel possible for all – that’s why we have a brand to suit every kind of guest, wherever and however they want to travel all across the world. 2018 was a year of important milestones for us. Just over a year ago, following the spin-off from Wyndham Worldwide, we became Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, an independent, pure-play hotel company, we are now more flexible than ever and laser-focused on smart growth, development of our franchisees and elevating of travellers’ experiences. Last year, we also took the decision to endorse all brands in the portfolio with the powerful ‘by Wyndham’ hallmark, as well as the acquisition of the La Quinta brand – further strengthening our position in the mid-scale segment.
As the third largest travel economy in Asia, according to WTTC, India a very important part in our growth trajectory. From just eight hotels in 2010, today we have a growing portfolio of 41 operational hotels all across the country. Our development strategy in India is focused on expanding our footprint beyond metros into secondary and tertiary cities, as well as potential leisure destinations. Our development pipeline for India includes plan to open 24 additional hotels by 2025. This year alone, we have opened new hotels in Kapurthala, Bangalore, Jaipur, Lucknow, Gandhidham and we have plans to introduce additional seven hotels by the end of next year. Our growth plan for India will particularly focus in the mid-scale segment, with the expansion of our Ramada by Wyndham, Howard Johnson by Wyndham, Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham and Ramada Encore by Wyndham.
Do you think so many brands create confusion in the market? Why is it important for a hotel company to have so many brands?
I believe the hospitality industry will continue to see consolidation, with not only the growth of large players but also through diversification with new products and offerings. For instance, globally we have a portfolio of 20 hotel brands. Each of these brands is uniquely positioned from the budget, to the upper-upscale segment, with a distinct brand identity and clearly defined offering. However with more options available it is important to provide guests with an overarching connection between the brands. This is why our Wyndham Rewards loyalty programme and the recent addition of our ‘by Wyndham’ hallmark to our brands are such important initiatives for us.
In terms of technology, please elaborate on the new initiatives that the brand has taken in the last on year. Is back-end technology equally important as guest-facing technology?
We are one of the first global hospitality players to roll out a cloud-based central reservations and property management system, helping our hotels manage daily pricing and inventory more effectively and efficiently. Guest facing technology is just as important. Incorporating any form of in-room technology can drive positive guest satisfaction. We are mainly focusing on voice commands for certain room types, as well as expanding in-room entertainment offering to include more content and mobile streaming.
How important India as a market for you? Which of your brands is doing the best in the market?
India is an integral part of Wyndham Hotels & Resorts’ global growth strategy. The Indian market is extremely cost sensitive, providing an excellent fit for mid-market hotel brands like ours to grow. We have well established mid-scale brands, such as Ramada by Wyndham, Howard Johnson by Wyndham and Days Hotel by Wyndham. Ramada by Wyndham is currently our largest brand in India, with 31 hotels, accounting for approximately 75 per cent of our portfolio.
This year alone we have opened Five Ramada by Wyndham Hotels in Kapurthala, Lucknow, Bangalore, Jaipur and have recently added Gandhidham.
How challenging hotel sector remain in the present scenario? How do you deal with the competition?
While the growth opportunities in India are huge, the industry continues to experience some challenges in terms of workforce training, high taxation, substantial upfront investment, longer break-even periods and infrastructure challenges. Wyndham Hotels & Resorts takes these gaps in consideration when expanding the footprint of existing brands, as well as determining when to introduce additional brands. Global hospitality chains are expanding in the mid-market segment in India and this space has become increasingly competitive in the last few years. This only reiterates the potential of the market. We believe the mid-scale space will continue to experience strong growth with the upscale segment following closely behind. In India, approximately 40 per cent of our executions are hotel conversions, with an opening timeline spanning from just 6 to 12 months.
What are your marketing strategies?
We leverage a mix of advertising channels to support our brands and hotels in India. During Summer, we are running a 20 per cent discount on stays of 2 nights or longer. We also leverage our award-winning loyalty programme, Wyndham Rewards, which has more than 79 million members to drive repeat stays and trial amongst our portfolio of 20 brands. Last year, we added the powerful “by Wyndham” endorsement to all our brands, uniting them together under the common promise of making hotel travel possible for all.
How have your adapted to guests’ requirements?
We work closely with hotel owners to ensure we maintain the highest quality standards and cater to each guest’s needs to deliver a great experience. As part of our commitment to creating value for our guests, we have Wyndham Rewards – our loyalty programme that is changing the way travellers earn and redeem points at hotels. Wyndham Rewards is one of the world’s most generous rewards programmes with more than 30,000 hotels, vacation club resorts and vacation rentals worldwide. Recently named the number one hotel rewards programme by readers of USA TODAY, the programme offers over 79 million members around the world a generous points-earning structure. Members can earn a guaranteed 1,000 points with every qualified stay and may redeem points for a wide-range of rewards, including free nights at any of more than thousands of hotels, vacation club resorts and vacation rentals globally through partnership with Wyndham Destinations.
Earlier this year, we added more than 900 La Quinta hotels to our Wyndham Rewards portfolio, expanding the list of destinations where members could earn and redeem points and lowered the cost of free nights at thousands of our hotels to just 7,500 points per night.