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Monday, 08 July, 2019, 12 : 53 PM [IST]

‘We are looking for asset-light growth in South & South East Asia’

Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels is firm on track to expand its footprint in India across varied brand categories and foray into the larger South and South East Asia regions through management agreements. Moreover, densifying their presence in key locations is a crucial strategy for this expansion plan. Priya Paul, Chairperson, Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels Limited in a tête-à-tête with Disha Shah Ghosh speaks about the inbound potential of India and the destinations under the UDAN scheme for their growth plans.

Q As a leading light of India’s tourism and hospitality industry, what are your views about India’s inbound potential?
India receives 10 million inbound visitors. In terms of international leisure travellers, we are falling behind our competitors. Despite efforts like the ease of visa, improvement in air connectivity, we are nowhere close to our potential when it comes to international leisure.

It is noteworthy that our country has made rapid strides in infrastructure development in the last decade and the perception about India in the world has improved. This, I hope, will fuel inbound traffic to India in the coming decade. We have better hotels in all our destinations. India is no longer seen as a tough destination to travel, and increasingly there has been a trend among foreigners to come here for a four-day vacation or for a special experiential tour for yoga, wellness, etc. I see huge growth for inbound in the coming years.

As far as our hotels are concerned, our focus has been on the domestic business since we have a history of over 50 years. Having said that, we do get a large number of international travellers to our properties. Our hotels in Delhi and Bengaluru record 35% of foreign travellers; and our focus is on business as well as leisure segments.

Q The CRZ notification 2018 has been approved by the Union Cabinet. The notification will lead to enhanced activities in the coastal regions for tourism development. What are your views on this?
Protecting the environment and ecology is paramount. For India, to have a competitive beach tourism business and take advantage of our huge coastline some of the CRZ norms need to be reviewed. This will make our beach resorts much more competitive with the rest of the world. Why would someone stay in a resort which is a kilometer away from the beach? Beach destinations across the world have resorts dotting their coastline. That’s the experience people want and if we are aiming for our product to be at par with the rest of the world, we need development conducive to the environment.

Q The UDAN scheme by the MoCA has opened areas for business investment in Tier-II & III markets. What is your plan to tap this opportunity?
The UDAN scheme is outstanding and it’s time we make all our defunct airports operational and improve air connectivity. This will help the economy as well as improve business opportunities. We have realised that we want to have a footprint in the Tier-II and III cities since the next phase of growth will come from these markets. Therefore, we have created a new brand called Zone by The Park, which have 11 properties across these destinations. It is an upscale, design-conscious and price-conscious brand. It is young and vibrant in design with strong food & beverage offerings. Because of our history and lineage, the properties under this brand have banqueting facility which customers in small towns require. It’s a uniquely created Indian brand in the four-star category. These are all management contracts and we decided to grow faster with the asset light model. Another five will open this year, and we will go up to 20 hotels soon.

Currently, we have Zone by The Park properties in Raipur, Coimbatore, Jodhpur, Jaipur, Bengaluru, and Chennai. Some are city-centric hotels, while some are in the catchment areas. In the next year, we will open a few more in resort locations.

Moreover, densifying brand presence is crucial. As a group, we have 3 properties in Bengaluru, and 2 in Jaipur. We see multiple brands in one location as a crucial element for brand recall.

Q What is your investment and expansion plan?
We have signed Zone by The Park in the East and are exploring opportunities in the North East now. We have opened Zone by The Park in Kolkata. It is a property we have taken on lease from the West Bengal government in New Town adjacent to the Biswa Bangla Convention Centre. In Serampore, we are opening a six- room boutique property. This property was set up by the Danish East India company government in 1768 (India’s first hotel). It has been renovated and handed over to us on lease by the Danish government. It includes our flagship Flurys bakery, and the six rooms will be opened by the middle of this year. The whole area was called Europe on the Ganges back then since there were no good places to stay.

As far as the Park Hotels are concerned, these are primarily city-centric design-led properties. We have opened one in Juhu (Mumbai) which is a management agreement and one in Indore.

As far as The Park Collection brand is concerned, we have 2 hotels in Goa, one right on the beach and one near Baga River. Both properties offer 30 rooms. The property in Serampore comes in that collection. The fourth property in Chettinad will be opened soon.

In South and South East Asia, we are looking for asset-light properties for growth, provided we find the right partners. Plans are afoot for expansion in Delhi and NCR, and we also have a property coming up in Pune.
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