A Hotelier India Exclusive Interview: IHCL makes the right SeleQtions
Puneet Chhatwal, MD & CEO of IHCL, in an exclusive interview, talks about the launch of SeleQtions, the hospitality group’s curated hotels that are sliced in time, with a sense of history and place, and offer immersive experiences to travel connoisseurs.
Speaking exclusively to Hotelier India, Puneet Chhatwal, MD & CEO of IHCL says, “We are looking at creating a clean brand-scape’, with no confusion between Taj and the other brands from the group. At IHCL, we reimagined the first Ginger, followed by Vivanta, and then found that there was an overlap between Vivanta and Taj properties. We wanted to clean up the brandscape and ensure that none of our properties have an overlap.”
So when IHCL decided to opt for management contracts with well established properties, an accepted way to expand footprint and networth without making any major financial investments, the hospitality group launched SeleQtions. “Getting into management contracts will help us not just expand our footprint but also leverage and monetise IHCL’s strengths such as branding, distribution, sales and marketing networks. The hotels under SeleQtions are well-established in the marketplace, so they don’t have to stay in the pipeline for three to five years as it happens with hotels we are constructing from scratch. They allow us a quick six-months turnaround. The move to management contracts is in line with our strategy of margin expansion of 8 per cent.”
The hotels in the impeccably curated list include President Mumbai, a 287 room hotel in the heart of south Mumbai; Ambassador, New Delhi, an INTACH-listed heritage building; Blue Diamond, located in the historic and upscale Koregaon Park neighbourhood; Tajview, Agra, with views of the iconic Taj Mahal; the colonial era heritage property Savoy in Ooty; Cidade de Goa on Vainguinim beach with intimate alcoves and overhanging balcaos; and The Connaught, Delhi, close to the major historical landmarks in the capital city. By 2022, IHCL is looking at expanding their SeleQtions portfolio to 50 across the subcontinent.
“We want to capitalise on the opportunity of having so many well established properties in India. Hotels such as Pinewood in Shillong or Hotel Patliputra in Patna can be possible targets for SeleQtions. They were good 30 or 40 years ago, they are good even today. Currently, we have 12 properties but want 50 hotels in operation within five years. We start with two hotels in Delhi and one each in Mumbai, Jaipur, Agra and Pune. The segment will be upscale and upper upscale as that will help us with our pricing as well. We have to have the flexibility to not let pricing be a challenge,” informs Chhatwal.”
Since protecting the legacy of the original property forms the nucleus of SeleQtions, IHCL is not looking at indulging in any major branding exercises. The properties will display a small signage under the hotel name inside, stating that it is a ‘SeleQtions by IHCL’ property. The refurbishments will also be very minor.
“You should not be more Catholic then the Pope,” says Chhatwal. “These brands are very strong in the local market, whether it is President in Mumbai, Hotel Connaught, Delhi or Cidade de Goa. It is a win-win situation for both the property owners and IHCL. SeleQtions protects the legacy they have created over the years.”
The property owners benefit from IHCL’s extensive distribution and marketing networks and the expertise in running global hotels that it brings to the table. “Hotel business is a tough business and the younger generation of the promoters who set up these properties may not want to work that hard or may want to benefit from IHCL’s vast distribution and sales network and marketing strategies. We have a network across 100+ destinations across the world, of which 85 are in India, which they can leverage,” says Chhatwal.
IHCL will also bring their faultless service standards to the properties under SeleQtions. The employees will be trained by the Taj in core values such as trust, awareness and joy, and in ‘Tajness’ or the core spirit of the group. “We bring a highly qualified professional staff, besides our sales and marketing collaterals, website platform, online marketing, social media campaigns, our loyalty programme, and future growth possibilities to the table for the properties we include in the SeleQtions portfolio,” emphasises Chhatwal.
For end-consumers, who are seeking new experiences along with the convenience offered by big hotel groups such as IHCL, it is a match made in heaven: they get a seamless stay experience, including facilities such as booking through the Taj website, earning loyalty points and being part of the Taj Innercirlce, combined with local experientials in which these properties excel. “The customers’ experience stays the same, but the convenience of the brand is provided by IHCL.”