A global blend to Indian hospitality

The intense taste to travel, or find a moment of respite within the busy schedule of a work tour, has led the Indian hotel industry to traverse beyond its more traditional beginnings. Today, the sector hosts global hoteliers, who have laid their own red carpet for discerning guests.

With a market offering over 1.35 lakh branded hotel rooms, the ‘Indian hospitality’ story is set to read like never before. On the same note, an American hotel giant with a hallowed past going back almost a century, which came to India in 1999, has today evolved into a behemoth of 102 properties, chronicling a glorious tale of its own.

Hotel homecoming

It was over 18 years ago that Marriott International called on India, and set up its first hotel – Goa Marriott Resort – understandably tapping the conspicuous tourist influx there.

Hotels subsequently opened in Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, and Pune, among other cities, as part of a strategy to serve Tier-I city demand. And then, there was no stopping Marriott, which boasts of more than 6,500 properties across 127 countries and territories.

“Today, we operate 102 hotels in India, across 37 locations, translating to 22,000 keys in total. We run over 300 bars and restaurants, and employ more than 30,000 associates. We have grown from one to 15 brands, as a result of organic growth and new assets. Our acquisition of Starwood has also helped,” Marriott International Area Vice President (South Asia) Neeraj Govil tells DH.

In 2016, Marriott acquired rival Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide in a $13-billion deal, bringing the latter’s own valued brands under its control. This development positively impacted the hospitality industry worldwide, while the opportunities it unlocked were felt in India too.

“The two companies were fierce competitors with a lot of similarities. Both operated around eight brands, and offered strong loyalty programmes. Our focus was to emphasise on ‘people’ – both guest and associate. We brought both entities’ associates together, celebrating a joint legacy. In terms of the guest, they were able to benefit from each other’s loyalty programmes,” Govil says.   

In what could be seen as a surprise to loyalty programme members of both Marriott and the erstwhile Starwood, Marriott International recently announced a strategic move to combine rewards from its three earlier separate programmes – Marriott Rewards, The Ritz-Carlton Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest – into a single structure starting from August. 

Following the acquisition, 40 hotels of Starwood came under the control of Marriott in India.

Century property

It was on April 3, 2018, when Marriott opened its 100th property in India, with the launch of Sheraton Grand Bengaluru Whitefield Hotel & Convention Center. Today, Marriott is the largest hotel operator in the country.

“Our growth has been driven by several strengths. Our properties constitute a mix of management contracts and franchise operations, wherein we’ve been able to create a skilled talent pool, which also brings operational excellence,” Govil says.

At your service

Impeccable service is the other name for hospitality in the hotel industry, and more so it is an element of pride and distinction for a global player as Marriott.

The said 30,000 associates who wear the Marriott badge are trained and capable of efficiently handling a multitude of service requirements in the face of bespoke demands from guests, thus ensuring that the Marriott standard is maintained. It is fascinating to learn a few facets of the people behind the scenes.

Marriott International recently concluded its annual employer brand programme – Journey Week – across 600 properties in the APAC region. The series of events aim at attracting new talent, while inspiring current associates to aim high. “Journey week encourages and inspires associates to create their own future and help shape the company, and also show potential employees why Marriott International is an employer of choice,” says Marriott International Cluster Director of Human Resources (Bengaluru) Lizanne Pinto.

Associates from diverse teams – food & beverage, front office, concierge, housekeeping, sales, and finance, among others, work day and night to seamlessly run a property. As part of the week-long programme, associates are allowed cross-exposure of working at different properties, while a few also get to experience working in a department of choice.

Around 70% of all associates in India are millennials, which means a huge industry shift from a few decades ago. As a company wanting to provide associates with a fun work environment, Marriott offers staff recreation zones, places to rest, gyms, and libraries to find some personal break time between work hours. A fit, rested and rejuvenated associate is in the best position to offer the best service.

Founder J W Marriott had famously stated: “If you take care of your people, your people will take care of your customers, and your business will take care of itself.”       

Today, Marriott’s attrition in India stands at 23%, while positive attrition, wherein associates seek to locate to different Marriott properties internally, is on the rise at 15%. Marriott plans to add approximately 19,000 job positions across the APAC region by the end of 2018, while the company would be adding another 3,000 people to its India headcount this year.

Room for growth

India is among a few markets in the world where Marriott International operates over 100 properties; the others being the US and China. Considering the pan-India distribution of guests, 70% of the company’s clientele are Indians, with the average being even more in smaller cities.

“India has a lot of opportunities – with a booming economy, a favourable GDP, investment potential, a growing middle class, and a supportive government. Tourism is a central pillar for the hotel industry, complemented by strong infrastructural growth and connectivity. Moves such Visa-on-Arrival will help attract inbound travel, and also with our loyalty programmes, guests from India can avail our service even when they journey abroad,” says Govil, adding that weddings are strong growth drivers as well.

Interestingly, Bengaluru happens to be the largest location for Marriott in South Asia, with 12 (managed) properties across nine brands – involving Upper Upscale, Luxury, and Select Serve brands.

Marriott expects to open more than 50 new hotels in India, and raise inventory to more than 30,000 rooms over the next few years, thanks to demand for mid-market hotels. Demand is also growing for Marriott’s upscale and luxury brands; the company, for instance, currently has three Ritz-Carlton projects under development in Pune, Mumbai and New Delhi. Besides, it will be bringing properties of its Moxy, Tribute Portfolio and Delta Hotels brands to India soon. Govil informs that during CY2018 (January-December) itself, the company will open 18 hotels in the country.

Meanwhile, Marriott International President and CEO Arne Sorenson has expressed immense confidence in the Indian market. “India has a lot of potential. We will open over 15 hotels this year, and hit 50 in the next three years. At that pace, we aim at 200 hotels over the next five years,” he says.

Marriott International reported global revenues of over $22 billion in FY2017. Its India business has been growing well, with average annual occupancy at over 70%.

When guests check into a Marriott, they’re paying for an experience, and the singularity of that experience. On its part, the Bethesda, Maryland-headquartered hotel group, founded by John Willard Marriott and his wife Alice Marriott in 1927, has been serving India and her guests with finesse since 1999.

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