As the room-sharing economy and boutique hotels make inroads in the Indian hospitality space, hotel chains are constantly looking to reinvent themselves. Lounge spoke to industry experts and hoteliers to find out how your hotel experience will change this year:

Local flavour

Today’s travellers seek ways to immerse themselves in a destination and its culture. “Hotels that weave in the destination and curate indigenous encounters through cuisine, art, architecture, and rituals are gaining preference," says Dipak Haksar, chief executive officer, ITC Hotels and WelcomHotels. ITC hotels already offer destination-discovery programmes such as “Food Sherpa", where a hotel chef takes guests on a culinary tour of the city. “Creating unique experiences will become a key differentiator in a crowded marketplace," says Haksar.

Travellers want to mingle with locals, and hotels will need to facilitate that. Jean-Michel Cassé, chief operating officer, India and South Asia, AccorHotels, says, “At Novotel hotels, we are introducing opportunities for our guests to mix with locals through activities such as yoga sessions, guitar lessons and art classes to make our hotels more sociable places for locals and visitors alike. We will also create shared workspaces and invite local entrepreneurs into our hotels to work and socialize."

Tech support

The growing use of technology in the hospitality sector is a no-brainer. “Hotels are now incorporating technology to up the overall experience of the guests. It is thrilling to have your hotel door opened using a unique code on your phone and not a traditional key," says Peter Kerkar, group CEO, Cox & Kings Ltd. Adarsh Noronha, Senior Sales Director , Oracle Marketing Cloud, India (which provides cloud services to Taj Hotels), agrees. “In the coming years, a tech-driven experience will become central to a hotel’s success. From booking, to service, to check-out, technology will transform customer experience phenomenally. Think Web check-in, key-less entry, room customization, pay-by-app, etc.," he says.

ITC Hotels’ Twitter handle offers concierge services via social media.
ITC Hotels’ Twitter handle offers concierge services via social media.

Free internet has already become de rigueur, but high-speed internet for multiple devices is what today’s tech-savvy traveller expects, says Sharat Dhall, chief operating officer (B2C), Yatra.com. It’s all about anticipating customer needs, and transferring control from the hotel to the guest, according to Haksar. “ITC Hotels was the first in India to introduce ‘Welcom-e-Butler’, an iPad-based room control and entertainment solution that gives the guest a vastly enhanced in-room experience," he says.

Getting social

Millennials, increasingly driving the change in hospitality, expect to interact with hotel brands in real time. “Feedback from millennials is taken seriously by hotels given that this generation will rule consumerism in the future," says Kerkar. This is where social media has been a game changer, moving beyond content sharing to actually influencing decision making. “People are sharing their experiences almost real time, so hotels need to be right on top of what kind of experiences their guests are talking about and respond rapidly to that," says Dhall. Several hotels now offer concierge services via social media with very prompt response rates, notably ITC Hotels (@ITCHotelsCares) and Hyatt (@HyattConcierge).

AccorHotels has taken it one step further. “As a part of our digital transformation, we are very adept at ‘social listening’ across all platforms, such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. As an example, we are able to listen in to the conversations with key words like birthdays or anniversaries and with geo-fencing technology, can use those inputs to help individual hotel teams go the extra mile in creating guest delight," says Cassé. Similarly, at Taj Hotels, the Taj.Live Command Centre hosted at the group’s Mumbai office, tracks social media mentions in real-time and assigns tasks directly to the respective hotels and team members, reducing customer response time significantly.

Design first

Standard hotels with cookie-cutter rooms no longer cut it with Indian travellers. “Travellers are looking for individualization—they want a hotel that stands out from the crowd," says Cassé. Internationally, AccorHotels has launched an “open house" concept with Jo&Joe (a luxury hostel with a living room and kitchen space) and invested in two existing lifestyle brands—25hours Hotels and Mama Shelter, all of which are highly individualized, themed hotel options.

Another design change that we are likely to see is the hotel business centre making way for co-working spaces, says Dhall, while Kerkar believes a nature-inspired design that tries to minimize the hotels’ carbon footprint is the way to go. “A design that would let in natural sunlight (thus saving electricity), grass walls, open passageways for breeze and including abundant nature in the backyard; the future lies in sustainable infrastructure," he believes.

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