Expanding Portfolio, driving change

In exclusive interview with Hospitality Talk, Puneet Dhawan, Senior Vice President, Operations, Accor India & South Asia talks about brand’s development plans, India’s G20 Presidency and robust domestic demand.

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What are you most excited about Accor in 2023-24?
2023 will be another strong year of growth for Accor and we are excited to introduce new properties to our loyal guests. We are looking at everything quarter by quarter to stay aligned with changing guests’ preferences and economic scenarios, while focusing on sustained positive business recovery.

We will focus on our corporate travelers—domestic and international. MICE and Weddings segment will continue to play a pivotal role for business for the hotels. International inbound segment revival is giving leisure locations an additional impetus.

The last two years were filled with vigorous learnings that paved the way for vital evolution in the hospitality industry. We entered 2023 equipped with better resources that gave us the confidence to stabilize our business and reinforce our development plans. In the last two years, we opened doors to Raffles Udaipur, India’s first Raffles hotel, offering a fresh perspective on the city of Udaipur and inaugurated the 21st ibis hotel in the country with the launch of ibis Bengaluru Hebbal. We also added our 22nd Novotel—Novotel Mumbai International Airport adding to our footprint in the Maximum City.

Keeping in line with our growth story, we have recently announced the signing of Fairmont Udaipur, set to open with 340 rooms and Fairmont Shimla Fagu with 105 keys. These upcoming properties are committed to offering a place for special occasions and unmatched guest experiences at the most beautiful locations around the country.

Luxury, midscale, or economy—where do you see the most demand?
With the introduction of luxury brands such as Raffles and Fairmont, we are able to solidify our position in the country. Guests are very keen to explore these brands for newer experiences. The recently opened luxury property Raffles Udaipur, has been garnering strong occupancy levels indicating that the Indian market is looking forward to experiencing the world-class luxury synonym to the brand.

We strongly believe that in a dynamic market like India, there is scope across economy to luxury brands. With the change in the consumer buying behavior, the Indian domestic traveler is far more open to exploring luxury properties within the country. This has propelled the growth of the luxury brands within the India marketplace. There is an equal impetus on the business brands as our Indian economy brands continue to grow. Our focus remains to grow our portfolio across various brands within all segments.

How does recently launched Handwritten Collection add to Accor’s portfolio?
Handwritten Collection enriches Accor’s offering in the collection brands within the midscale segment with a curated selection of hotels that exhibit charming and one-of-a-kind concepts. Our aim, beyond delivering a truly authentic guest experience, is to support the growing number of independent and boutique hotel owners looking to boost their global profile, connect with more audiences and grow their revenue without losing their identity. The Handwritten Collection portfolio is expected to reach more than 250 hotels globally by 2030.

When referring to the luxury segment, the Indian luxury traveler now is more discerning and looking at curated experiences to create ever lasting memories. They prefer to choose newer less travelled destinations to satisfy their travel cravings.

How do you view infra developments in Tier III & IV cities and their impact on hospitality industry?
We are optimistic as our well-rounded portfolio of leading hotel brands across the luxury, premium, mid-scale, and economy categories, including Ibis, Novotel, Fairmont, Sofitel, and Raffles, compliment the multi-layered Indian market while supporting our long-term growth strategy. With our presence across cities, we have been able to capture our fair share of the market. We continue our foray into Tier II & III markets as they continue to shine, as they did through COVID while leading recovery.

We currently operate Novotel Guwahati and are actively looking at further business development opportunities in the North East region.

In terms of revenue growth, what are your targets for 2023?
Domestic travel was the driving force for business in 2022 and managed to lead the hospitality wave in the country successfully. Driven by pent-up demand, 2023 will continue to see growth in domestic travel, however we also see international travel coming back. People are on the look out to explore new and untapped destinations as we enter a new year. With more disposable income, we observe a heightened curiosity about the country’s own travel spectrum.

Starting Q2 2022 onwards, we saw a strong RevPAR growth quarter on quarter, which was predominantly driven by our higher average rates. Our hotels made sure to maximise every demand opportunity coming their way, putting us in a strong stead. For 2023, we expect the momentum to continue and the trends for Q1 2023 are indicative of a strong year already. This year we should witness demand come back across all segments—Corporate, Weddings, MICE both in national and international markets.

How has COVID impacted partnerships & associations with respect to hotel signings?
As one of the leading international hospitality operators in the country, we continue to grow our network with our owner partners on the back of a strong development pipeline.

We focused on taking a collaborative approach along with our owners and business partners, and opened our hotels in the right manner, by being prepared to meet with guest expectations. Our approach continues to be people-focused, which includes our team members, our customers, and our owners.

We take pride in having a forward-looking attitude when it comes to new signings and openings, with 10 new hotels being signed across various brands in the year 2022.

Will the room rates continue to soar or will 2023 bring some respite or stabilization?
As per various industry reports, the hospitality sector is on a steady growth trajectory. Hotel occupancy increased significantly over last year and room rates saw a strong increase. The industry is seeing a continued rise in demand, which we foresee will keep the rates growing further.

What strong steps should be taken regarding skilled workforce in hospitality industry?
The talent crunch in the sector is driven by factors on both sides—on one hand, the shortfall in skilled experienced working professionals, and on the other hand, the uphill battle to attract new talent to the future pipeline. We strive to maintain an honest relationship with our team members that results in them placing their trust to continue working with us.

At Accor, the well-being of our teams is our priority, and we want to give them the best possible experience. That is why we offer more sustainable alternatives that align with current trends, Accor’s overall vision and what our team members want.

What role do you see Indian hospitality sector playing in promoting Incredible India in G20 Summit?
India’s G20 Presidency will bring a great opportunity for the tourism and hospitality industry as both inbound and outbound travel are expected to increase significantly in the coming years. It will only further support the cause of the industry showcasing India’s hospitality prowess to the world, while celebrating the country’s rich and varied heritage and diversity.

We are very closely working with the G20 organizing team to ensure we offer customized solutions across our properties as per the requirements for the various meetings and delegates visiting the country.

What concrete steps Accor is taking towards sustainability?
At Accor, sustainability is at the core of what we do, and a lot of conscious effort is made to ensure that our operations are managed responsibly. We believe each of our hotels is a planet, and every action matters. It is our duty to help spread awareness and collaborate with all stakeholders—guests, our team members, our communities, and our partners. With this collaborative approach to sustainable innovation as our primary focus, we launched Planet 21 – Acting here program that endeavors to act for positive hospitality. The program is structured around six pillars: engaging our guests in a sustainable experience, co-innovating with our partners to open up new horizons, working hand-in-hand with local communities for a positive impact, acting as an inclusive company for our people, moving towards carbon-neutral buildings, and striving for zero waste and healthy, sustainable food.

With Planet 21, Accor’s sustainable development program, hotels have committed themselves to work towards a better environment, betterment of society, helping those in need, a healthy lifestyle and much more. Planet 21 is an Accor initiative committed to providing a positive hospitality experience. The program works across four basic priorities of working with its employees, customers, partners, and local communities.

How has technology reshaped future of hospitality industry in past 2 years?
Touchless hospitality and innovation brought in by technological advancements have made operations more cost-effective and enhanced guest experience. To provide a contactless and secure guest journey, we have introduced Accor Key in our hotels globally, that provides guests access to their rooms without a physical key. We have embraced technology to ensure minimization of human contact at every level, from room bookings, to check-ins, check-outs, and payment procedures, and digital menus, automation in revenue management, digital trainings, among others.

We collaborated with Microsoft to launch ALL CONNECT, a hybrid meetings concept supported by Microsoft Teams which enables guests around the world to adapt to the new ways of working. This new offering aids corporate customers and meeting planners to combine physical in-hotel meetings with virtual interactions across multiple locations simultaneously.