Where the ‘Wynd’ blows

Ignace Bauwens will be leading Wyndham hotel group’s growth across Middle East, Eurasia, and Africa. In conversation with Hospitality Talk, he speaks of his plans for the Indian market and what it’s like to debut as an independent public company.

Anupriya Bishnoi

Tell us about Wyndham’s debut as an independent public company.
Wyndham Hotels & Resorts has announced the completion of its spin-off from Wyndham Worldwide, which has been renamed Wyndham Destinations. Wyndham Hotels & Resorts is the world’s largest hotel franchisor and a leading provider of hotel management services, with a portfolio of 20 well-recognised lodging brands and nearly 9,000 franchised hotels in more than 80 countries. There is still a connection because what we do relates to what we call a blue thread, which has our loyalty programme – Wyndham Rewards. You can redeem these points anywhere, so, with Wyndham Destinations, we still have this connection.

What are Wyndham’s plans for the Indian market?
Wyndham Hotels & Resorts has 3400 rooms in India. Our pipeline is of 70 hotels in the next three to five years for Eurasia; we will double the number of rooms. That’s how confident we are in the region.
We have four brands that are active in India – Ramada, Ramada Encore, Howard Johnson, and Days. We are looking for sites to develop 20 Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham for Eurasia mainly India.
If you look at India as a market and its evolution, the middle class is travelling more. What we need is more midscale hotels of quality. That’s why I strongly believe that the brand that will be successful in India will be Wyndham Garden. This brand has the potential for growth in this market. We are still in discussions; the product is very specific, so we are looking for the right location.

Are you targeting Tier-II and/or III cities as well?
We are absolutely looking into these cities. In our pipeline of 4900 rooms over the next couple of years, there are quite a lot of Tier-II and III cities. These cities have become more important than before. India is such a huge market and the majority is domestically driven. Where you have 8.89 million foreign arrivals, you also have 1.6 billion domestic arrivals. That is why this market is important to us.
Having said that, for us, every market is important. Our duty is to look at growth opportunities all the time. The massive growth this country is going to witness in its GDP in the next 10 years automatically makes Wyndham want to be a key player in it.

How does your loyalty programme work?
Over the years, we have been praised for the simplicity of our loyalty programmes. During a stay in any of our brands, you earn a minimum of 1000 points or 10 points for every dollar spent. To redeem, you need to have 15,000 points. In total, we have 58 million members. We have also launched Wyndham Rewards’ best available rate discounts. People who have Wyndham Rewards can now get the best available rate. Also, you can redeem your points at apartments and vacation homes and not just hotels.

How important is technology for Wyndham?
Two and a half years ago, our global CEO took the decision that we will be one of the first groups to move our central reservation system to a cloud-based operation. We are the first hotel company to have done this. This is how important technology is for us.

A few years ago, people talked about the temperature of water in a hotel. Today, guests look for good connectivity, Wi-Fi, as well as ease of check-in and check-out. Also, the world is moving towards mobiles; if you look at the booking pattern of our guests, they now book through their phone, they don’t sit behind their laptop anymore. Hence, we have everything cloud based to make sure our patrons can enjoy the seamless service.

Do you think technology can replace human touch?
The human touch in the hospitality industry will never go. To make life easier with technology is one thing, but the essence of hotel brands that is possible only through human touch will always make a difference. One without the other doesn’t work.

How challenging is the Indian hospitality market in your opinion?
India is a growth market. Globally, we have a cyclical market and we will have ups and downs everywhere. Every hurdle in our business brings creativity, which helps us move forward. It’s a growing and healthy market and has a lot of potential, that’s why we are doubling our portfolio in the next few years. India, for me, is more of an opportunity than a challenge.