Successful handling of lockdowns helped InterGlobe Hotels grow significantly post-Covid: CEO J.B. Singh

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Successful handling of lockdowns helped InterGlobe Hotels grow significantly post-Covid: CEO J.B. Singh
Credit: © Reuters.

Panaji, Oct 15 (IANS) As normal life resumed after the shadows of Covid lifted from across the world, opportunities beckoned galore for some of the hardest-hit sectors like travel, tourism, and hospitality - if they were ready to grab these to bolster and expand their business.Those who had managed to keep their head high, somehow, during the pandemic, had an extra advantage. InterGlobe Hotels (IGH) cites some decisions taken at the time that helped the group in growing exponentially post-Covid.

IGH President and CEO J.B. Singh, speaking exclusively to IANS on the sidelines of the recent launch of ibis Styles in North Goa's Vagator – the second ibis property in Goa and 23rd in the country, listed the three-four key decisions that propelled the group's survival amid lockdowns and unhindered growth in the post-Covid era.

He also cited the group's present approach and what its core focus is.

"Since January-February of 2020, Covid had started spreading in several parts of the world and by then, several countries had started taking preventive measures such as lockdowns. Realising that such restrictions would also be implemented in India, we geared up to finalise the strategy to tackle the situation that may arise if lockdowns happen here. We decided that we will not shut our properties completely and utilise the (lockdown) period for maintenance," he said.

"Further, we also finalised a zero revenue budgeting and other action plans to deal with the halt in business operations. We kept our properties that had guests open and in the remaining ones, our maintenance crew kept running the rooms. Our staff stayed at hotels, air conditioning facilities remained operational, and housekeeping staff kept kitchens and rooms clean... This kept our buildings in a very good shape," Singh added.

"We were the first (during lockdowns) to offer our services to doctors, nurses, and other paramedics at very very attractive rates. We worked actively with the government. Even when other hotels were shutting down, we shifted their guests to our hotels... Not that it made us money, it generated very low revenue but what it did was, it kept our buildings and staff engaged," he said.

IGH, which joined hands with Accor (EPA: ACCP ) in 2004, currently has 28 operational properties across the country while another two will come up within a year or two.

The IGH and Accor joint venture was floated with a focus on establishing 100 per cent compliant mid-market hotels that serve quality accommodations with India-centric facilities.

About the JV, Singh said: "We were looking to enter into the hospitality sector and the space that we identified was the mid-markets as everybody was developing all the high-end hotels or the so-called luxuries. We believed that Indians need quality accommodation and thus, we went forward to partner with Accor, which was an established brand."

"At InterGlobe, we believe in JVs as they bring in all the technical and business expertise and give us all the know-how to bring in best practices in the country," he said, adding that Accor has been a globally established brand that excelled in this space with its ibis brand, so IGH partnered with them.

"The purpose of the JV was to bring the ibis brand to India and grow it here. But the brand needed tweaking to Indian standards and that we did in our properties in the country.

"Our focus has been that the brand must be Indian consumer-specific. So we kept it like that. Be it the Indian breakfast, tea or the other things, from day one, we focused on facilities that are India-centric," Singh stressed.

"We didn't go to many of the touristy spots, which is typical where most brands go. Ours a very urban brand, we have properties in 14 cities -- Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Bengaluru…

"We are an urban brand, which is very trendy, very young, and very upmarket, with properties at AAA locations. As far as leisure is concerned, we are in two or three markets and we have done very well there, whether it is Jaipur or Goa…," he added.

On the design philosophy of the latest ibis Styles in Goa, Singh said: "We keep looking at our designs. We keep the designs of our properties in line with international trends and add Indian elements to them. So, if you see our designs, they are very lively -- not just the Vagator property but all of our properties."

"We keep our design very edgy. So that people feel very engaged and want to be there again and again. We bought art in our rooms; it's all emerging artists' art. We have a very senior curator to finalise the art and we don't do this for revenue -- we don't sell art, it is only to promote emerging art. And bring the Indian travellers closer to the emerging art scene in India. We just showcase the art. So, our design is more based on that. It is trendy, it is edgy, and it is engaging," he added.

About special facilities that are being offered at ibis Styles Goa, Singh said: "The most important is the location and that's critical. So, Vagator today is one of the best districts on the leisure side. If you see our location, which has the road on both sides, it's kind of a walking distance from a trip location. So, number one is location. Besides, there is a lot of focus on food. You know, Goa is all about eating out. We want to offer the best food within the building."

"Also, we've got a great swimming pool, we've got an infinity edge, we've got a kids pool, the rooms, the bathrooms are very nicely designed. We've got a state of the art gym. We put in the best equipment there. We also have a conferencing facility here. We will also be putting EV charging over here which we are doing across all our hotels. So, sustainability is big for us. Our 10 hotels are already wired up with EV charging and soon will have 14 hotels that will have EV charging stations," he added.

About upcoming properties, he said that IGH will be opening its fifth property in Mumbai that will come up at Kalinga by early 2024. Besides, the group will launch its seventh hotel in Bengaluru which will be ready by early 2025.

"ibis Styles Vagator is our fourth opening in the last 18 months. We have a total of 28 hotels plus these two (Mumbai and Bangalore) under construction. So, we are at the moment committed to 30 hotels," Singh said in response to a query about the group's progress post-Covid, adding that the recovery for the hospitality sector has been "very good".

Asked how sees the contribution of the hospitality sector to India's economic growth in coming years, Singh said: "Everybody has a multiple to GDP and hospitality will have an important role in it. A study published recently says that tourism, the whole tourism market including hospitality, is going to grow from 200 billion to 500 billion in the next five years. It has a 6 to 10 per cent contribution to the economy."

Is IGH also focusing on Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities?Singh responded: "We are open to it, but we are not actively perceiving it. For us, there are a couple of criteria to start a business. Business must remain healthy, so we go into markets where there's clear potential. Location is also critical."

"When you go to Tier two, Tier three cities, you obviously need to get land, offer farmers attractive rates; that's how development happens. Currently, we remain focused on urban business traffic where demand is clearly present. However, compliant buildings, AAA locations and the demand, if anything passes that test, then we will go there," he said.

(Shashank Singh can be contacted at shashank.s@ians.in)

--IANS

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