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Thursday, 09 May, 2019, 09 : 39 AM [IST]

‘In India we are looking for individual-owned hotels with the right fitment’

Leading Hotels of the World (LHW) considers the travel trade as an important channel for their business, and currently has 55 members as part of the by-invitation VITA programme in India. Deepak Arora, Director India, The Leading Hotels of the World (LHW) speaks to Disha Shah Ghosh about the trending destinations, sales strategy and possibility of adding new hotels from India to their network.
Q What kind of priority does LHW accord to the Indian market in terms of global pecking order for revenue generation?
India prospects are promising because of being an emerging market with the fastest growing major economy. Between 1996 and 2016, the CAGR of outbound tourism expenditure for India, at 23% was higher than that of China at 17%, so signs are already pointing to a boom. Thus, the priority level is high and optimistic, though currently in terms of revenue we are at the bottom compared to our other global offices, but the most potential country.

Q What kind of growth in terms of percentage have you recorded from India in 2018 and which regions or destinations have been preferred by Indians?
We have been seeing a continuous growth out of India for the last five years. In 2018, LHW reached USD 1 billion in revenue generated for our hotels, a new company record. 2018 has been our best years in terms of revenue generation from India to our hotels as well. We recorded an overall growth of 45% as an office; while the travel trade segment grew 30% over 2017. The most favoured destinations are Switzerland, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Netherlands, and Spain.

Q What is your strategy to engage with the travel trade partners in India? Elaborate on your VITA programme.
We have been continuously expanding in the Indian market and have created a synergy to boost the expansion. Travel trade is an important segment for us, since most individuals who can pay USD 600 per room night often book through their preferred travel agents; hence we launched VITA – Very Important Travel Agents program (in 2016). VITA is our way of making the travel advisor the hero in the eyes of their customers. Under the VITA programme, there are benefits in service for customers and recognition for the travel agents. VITA agents also have access to special India only rates along with VITA amenities. Currently, we have 55 agents who have been invited to be a part of this exclusive by-invitation only target based programme. New agents are added only based on their potential. The list of agents is monitored, and non-performing agents, would have to unfortunately lose their VITA status.

In addition to VITA, we conduct sales calls, bi-annual sales mission (wherein hotels from different countries visit India on a week-long trip for sales calls and networking sessions), create e-flyers, informative e-communications, press releases, and host exclusive familiarisation trip to our hotels wherein our travel intermediary experience LHW’s hospitality.

Q How are you competing with the other hotel consortiums in the luxury space?
LHW comprises more than 400 hotels in over 80 countries, being the largest hotel consortium. Our members embody the essence of their destination and offered varied styles of architecture and design, and immersive cultural experiences, delivered by passionate hoteliers. More than 88% of our portfolio is family-owned and nearly 95% is independently managed.

When our President and CEO asked, one of the hotel owners’s why he wanted to join us, the answer was, “Because I don’t want to lose my identity.” We at LHW never encroach on a hotel’s identity rather we preserve it. This is our mission and USP.

Our focus is being even more customer-centric. It’s about moving from a customer-friendly mode to a sharply-focused one on that one client’s wants and desires. That is the luxury business and we are leaders in it.

Q Besides the main metros of Mumbai and Delhi, are you planning to tap into the Tier-II markets which have emerged as growth engines for travel?
While the curious travellers from metro cities like Delhi and Mumbai continue to grow and explore newer destinations, there is a surge of luxe travellers from Tier-II cities. These customers are happy to look beyond and focus on new destinations. There is a burgeoning desire from them to explore uncommon destinations, to become the ultimate discerning traveller.

Q Any plans to add more properties from India to the LHW network?
Before we add hotels to our portfolio we look at insights on what makes a successful “leading hotel”. Our business model fits well with individually branded hotels that are family-owned versus institutional ownerships and other chain affiliations. When we find this right amalgamation along with our other parameters, and the hotel is referred from an existing member, it can then be considered for inclusion. A hotel must be in the luxury category, demonstrate remarkably uncommon attributes and meet the most exacting standards with respect to accommodations, service, cuisine, staff and an applicant is considered by our LHW Executive Committee who then votes on the acceptance or rejection. In India, we are currently looking for individualowned hotels with who we see the right fitment.
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