Developing the possibilities
The Hotel Build 2018 conference elaborated on commercial challenges, operational efficiency and the ongoing dominance of technology in the sector
The hotel industry constantly yearns for innovation, with each hotel brand and operator seeking ways in which they can differentiate themselves to gain their own unique space in a very crowded marketplace. Technological tools have undoubtedly established themselves as the game changers in this sector and thus the discussions at Hotel Build 2018 forum, that was held last month at the Westin Gurgaon, inadvertently focussed on some imperative topics such as emerging trends in hotel design, cost-effective build techniques, adoption of smart construction methodologies, etc.
Beginning the forum with her opening address, Gurmeet Sachdev, director, ITP Media Group India, delivered a brief overview of the hotel industry and a brief gist about other upcoming knowledge initiatives such as BEAMS 2018 and the Marriott Global Design Asia Pacific Confluence.
Sunil Khatwani, VP & Business Head, System AC Division for LG, then took the stage to present about the innovations and research taken up by the company in the HVAC segment. Given how critical air conditioning systems and equipments are to hotel buildings, his presentation listed out all the varying products in its portfolio that cater to properties diverse in scale and functions.
The first panel discussion moderated by Mandeep Lamba then commenced, witnessing a session with leadership experts, who deliberated on the direction and outlook of the industry as a whole.
Before starting off with the discussion Lamba illustrated a case study exercise that they had conducted with some of the hotel management students to visualise the hotels of tomorrow. The exercise shed light on how technology can be integrated to completely automate guest experience – right from the pre-arrival to the check out stage and also through post departure. Stating his own opinion about the change in how hotels would operate 15 years from now, Lamba says that “Though we think that hotels shall eventually transform from the way they function today, I believe that companies aren’t yet responding to the requirement of change at the pace that is necessary. In the past decade or an half, I’ve found that hotels, more or less, have been the same.”
On a contrasting note to this opinion Ajay Bakaya expressed that “Completely eliminating human touch from the hospitality experience, in my opinion is never a good idea. The picture that you’ve envisaged might be for the next-gen millennials, who in most could be antisocial and self-contained individuals, but not necessarily the happiest. The second factor that I’d like to mention is the cost effectiveness of these technologies. Hoteliers have never been at the forefront of embracing technology. It’s always imperative for them to vet out the advantages of the same against its cost. Without justifying these factors, we will not see hotels blindly implementing these systems as a fad.”
Concurring with Bakaya, Raj Rana continued this thread, stating, “Human life, in general, can never be completely driven by technology. Advancement in artificial intelligence may help us progress in that direction, but it needs to be extremely thorough before we can let it govern our day-to-day lives. For example, a robot may be programmed to infer that a Mr Singh is only from Punjab; but in reality he could very well be a non-Punjabi speaking individual from any another state. Such cultural nuances, which play an important role in hospitality, are not only objectively driven but also need subjective analysis. Until that does not happen, technology, in its actual adaption in hotels, will struggle. As with any other business, Alok Verma also emphasised on the ROI factor of any new introduction.
Moving away from guest experience, Deepak Uppal, shed light on how automation has helped streamline equipments and systems operations and performance. He said, “Technology has definitely been a disruptor in every field. Hotels too aren’t an exception. From HVAC systems to lighting to motorised curtains – every equipment is transforming in its function. And as time goes by, cost of these equipments is constantly dropping while digitalisation is rampantly evolving. This has helped us assimilate vast data and pre-empt critical decisions – be it for maintenance or upgradation.”
Being the youngest on the panel, Prashant Aroor aptly explains the two main domains that technology is divided into: “One is for the back end functions, which have aided hotels in saving energy, reducing cost, automating routines, etc. The second domain is the front end system that interacts with the guests. On this, I think, hotels must not be at the cutting-edge, unless you are a brand specifically catering to tech-brats. Otherwise, while we all want to believe that people only stay at single chains wherever they travel, the truth is that they always shop rate and every hotel has a different level of technology. If people have to learn to use technology for one night, it’s an irritation rather than a convenience. hence, its better to adopt digitalisation as and when it seeps into use amongst households in general.” With this Lamba concluded the session having collated diverse ideologies and opinions on the topic.
The second panel discussion moderated by Ashish Rakheja, continued on the same thread, but delved deeper into the construction and design methodologies adopted by hoteliers. Opening the session Rakheja spoke about an observation that he’s made through the years: “The conventional time period for a hotel construction, one that I’d grown up with, was six to seven years. This has now changed to 24 months and, of what I know now, the future handover period, that’s already in process, is six months.” Given this, he asked the panel members about their views on the emerging trends and challenges that the industry is facing in terms of the design and construction.
Being the only designer on the panel ,Rohit Jain responded to this by stating that “Though there are faster construction techniques being introduced in the industry, I still believe that hotels take a minimum of two years for completion, because there are multiple factors involved in the process – one is of course the time it takes to coordinate finances. This hampers and delays the time it takes for us to plan and design.”
Adding on to this Vikram Choubal also mentioned that statutory requirements too pose immense problems in the country – the absence of a single-window clearance also elongates the delivery period.
Heading one of the fastest growing brands in India, Cyrus Madan shared his experience: “If you remove regulative processes, pre-construction and post-completion licensing and approvals, one can actually build a 2,50,000 sq.ft hotel within 36 to 48 months. Handover period also can differ from state to state – for example, one has more advantage in Delhi, than in Mumbai, as it’s a bit more stringent there.”
Bringing in the whole construction process together, Amitabh Tyagi revealed that, “The difference between how projects were built earlier and today is that, earlier people use to first start building the structure and then took up interiors and later moved on to MEP. This was a very inefficient process. However, today, there is a lot of emphasis that is being given to integrated design management, even before actually commencing escalation. This has resolved quite a lot of issues and extensively optimised the construction process thereby cutting short the execution phase.”
Onto this Sanjay Dhingra quipped that architects and designers take up lot more time, than given, to submit their designs and further on make several changes constantly, causing unnecessary delay. He adds that “Ideally, the final design should be provided by nine months and then construction can accordingly be completed within the next 18 months.”
Responding to the first part of Rakheja’s question about the emerging trends, Dhruv Hoon observed that, “The biggest trend that we are currently witnessing now is conversions. These are not the typical Greenfield projects, where you had the ability to go to the drawing board at the very beginning and work things through the way you would have ideally liked them to be. However, half of what we are doing today are hotels that are either Brownfield or they are industry hotels that has being converted to one of the other brands.”
The panel then further went on to discuss the benefits of BIM for the industry and why its adoption is still at a nascent stage in the country, advantages of pre-fab structures, the cookie-cutter approach to design, etc, before concluding the session.
In the ensuing presentation, Vidhi Godiawala, business development manager, Central & South Asia, STR, made an insightful presentation titled ‘India in numbers’. The address shed light on various critical statistics in hospitality.
The final panel discussion of the day bought together CIOs, CTOs and chief engineers to delve on the role digitalisation plays in the working and maintenance of a hotel. Moderated by Shree Bhandari, the first question he put across was “how can hoteliers chart requirement and accordingly implement technology at the early stage of projects?”
Illustrating the same with an example Prem Thakur, explained that “Before we talk about deciding on the required technology, we first need to understand the product. For example, we are presently working on a project with the Prestige Group. This is the pilot project for us where BIM is being implemented. With the help of 3D models created on Revit for the same – we are now able to visualise the entire building, with its corridors, ceilings, even shafts, etc. – to the extent that the owners are also willing to experiment to build a complete room offline in a factory and just bring it to site and tuck it in. Thus, this is one technology that definitely should be integrated at the conceptual stage itself as it helps reduce cost, saves a lot of time, reduces discrepancies, and creates defined synergies between all the stakeholders involved in the project.” However, despite having the right teams and consultants, he adds that due to our Indian mindset, nobody wants to not adapt new things, and challenge change. Hence, we haven’t been able to reap the full benefit of BIM yet.
Mirroring Thakur’s thoughts, Vipin Khandelwal also suggested that we need to break the resistance and embrace the changing shifts in technology, because this is the way forward – to build better and sustain in the future.
The conference ended with resounding success in its aim to exchange knowledge and debate number of issues.