HIFI ’10 taps the Indian hospitality pulse

HIFI 2010, Specialreports

The recently concluded three-day event brought in diverse learnings and addressed key issues affecting the industry, find Punam Mohandas and Syed Ameen Kader.

The second edition of the Hotel Investment Forum India (HIFI) held in Mumbai from January 12-14, has come up with positive notes for India as a region.

A large turnout of the who’s who of the hotel industry, right from Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt, Carlson and Starwood, to Taj, Oberoi, ITC, Leela and Choice, to name but a few, with a generous sprinkling of developers and designers, once again testified to India’s position as one of the hottest hospitality destinations.

Existing players such as Carlson Hotels Worldwide and Choice Hotels International, who hitherto didn’t have very strong direct presence in India, chose this occasion to announce their plans to buy out larger stakes in their respective Indian operations.

Carlson Hotels announced an increase in its shareholding control in RHW Hotel Management Services, which runs the Radisson brand in India, by buying a 74% stake of private investor Umak Investment Company, while Choice Hotels, which owned 40% stake in Choice Hospitality India Ltd (CHIL), acquired the remaining 60% stake in the company, making the Indian arm its wholly-owned subsidiary. Clearly, the moves indicate India’s emergence as a strong market for building hotels.

Although the other major companies didn’t announce any fresh expansion or acquisition plans at the event, almost all attendees we spoke to came up with the answer: “We remain focussed on India despite the slowdown.”

The three day event started with a special session on ‘Powerful e-marketing strategies to put head into beds’ and had industry panellists such as Bradley Edman, area director, sales and marketing, Marriott Hotels India; Phillipe Garnier, vice president sales, APAC, Hilton Worldwide; Cyril Ranque, vice president, partner service group, Expedia; Himanshu Singh, managing director, Travelocity India; and Ashwini Kakkar, vice chairman, Mercury Travels.

Everyone agreed upon the emergence of IT as a strong platform for marketing. On the question of whether hoteliers should prefer e-marketing over traditional marketing, panellists agreed that one needs to have a mix of online, GDS and physical marketing.

Singh chose to call it as ‘marking in the digital age’ rather than e-marketing. Hoteliers on the panel said that the emergence of blogs and social network sites has armed millions of consumers to make their own community and air their views very quickly, so it’s important to handle this carefully.

“Hoteliers can see such blogs and social network sites as a wonderful platform to do their PR work for their hotels,” said Ranque.

This thought was echoed in another session on the last day, when Vikram S. Oberoi, joint managing director, The Oberoi Group, said that direct business (through the website and online marketing) had decreased far less than that from other sources like the travel trade.

Neel Raheja, managing director, K. Raheja Corp, substantiated that statement by saying that facebook and suchlike are creating online communities, thereby actually reaching out to people.

Chanda D. Kochhar’s – managing director and chief executive officer, ICICI Bank Limited – talk on The Bankers Outlook on Incredible India had a full audience listening attentively and appreciatively. Concurrent breakout sessions were lively and informative.

Vacation ownership as a development model was illuminating, with Ulrich Wolffram, Head of Operations, Mahindra Holidays & Resorts India Ltd. declaring that this was a most resilient business, and the fastest growing segment in hospitality.

Other points of discussion came up in subsequent sessions, such as MICE being the area of new business, or that Pune as a market is over supplied, or that hotels and the travel trade need to work more closely together to drive business to India.

The speakers and panellists were experienced hoteliers of standing, and the sessions therefore proved to be not only interactive, but informative, for many. Certainly a well organised event, the networking breaks were plentiful and welcome as it allowed hoteliers from across segments to liase and interact, and that after all, apart from being educative, is what these events are all about.

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