IHG plans include 150 hotels within the next 10-15 years in India. In the pipeline are nearly 40 hotels, which are slated to open within the next three to five years
It is a commonly known axiom that being good is not good enough – particularly in the fiercely competitive environment we exist in. An ability to excel is a major driver of business growth. Successful professionals, including those in the hospitality industry, have recognised that the concept of excellence is at best elusive, hard to define and even harder to realise, particularly in the hospitality industry.
However, many flourishing hotel brands have risen above the norm – they have translated their concept of excellence into reality through practical measures that stem from having a long-term vision for their hotel, supported by clear business goals. The Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) is one such hotel brand that has become a global benchmark in its own right. It has achieved this through strategic business choices, stressing on product quality and skilful human resource management. Most importantly, an effective leadership is required on this journey to excellence, someone who must set the precedent and inspire a motivated and thoroughly dedicated team. Shantha de Silva, Head, Southwest Asia, IHG, fits the bill admirably.
In conversation with Today’s Traveller, Shantha de Silva speaks concisely and articulately about IHG’s success, its USP and future plans. He begins by dwelling on IHG’s growth trajectory over the past couple of years, particularly their performance in 2016, and the reasons for their spectacular success.
“A major strategy to generate high-quality growth focusses on strengthening IHG’s diverse portfolio of differentiated brands,” states De Silva. There is a fine portfolio of products belonging to the IHG brand in the country, which includes 11 Crowne Plaza, 11 Holiday Inn, two InterContinental and five Holiday Inn Express hotels, comprising about 5,500 rooms in all. With 29 hotels across India and a pipeline of 36 more hotels to come, IHG bags an impressive report card.
Moreover, with the launch of its 2017 Trends Report –‘The Uncompromising Customer: Addressing the Paradoxes of the ‘Age of I’– at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, IHG is fully cognizant of the fact that as a global brand it must address the complex, sometimes opposing needs of today’s customers in order to fulfil their expectations. It does this with alacrity and delivers a superior guest experience as its key focus.
A significant milestone, informs De Silva, is the IHG Rewards programme, that helps attract guests to the hotels. “We have over 100 million guests who are registered loyal members of the programme and that helps us to bring our hotel to them and them to our hotels, which helps us drive performance. We have also launched our National Sales Office, so for the first time, we have dedicated professionals selling our portfolio of hotels in India,” says De Silva.
When questioned about the National Sales Office, De Silva explains, “The National Sales Office has been instituted to leverage the strength of the brand’s portfolio, whose numbers have catapulted from four to thirty properties. It has been done so that customers can access one centralised source for their booking needs, to reach a wider audience and to help drive performance.”
However, De Silva concedes that IHG’s piece de resistance is its people. “IHG’s talented personnel play a critical role in providing consistently high standards of guest service and delivering each brand promise, thus cementing a winning culture,” he affirms. De Silva clarifies how this is initiated at every level. “At the recruitment level is the ‘I-Host’ programme, which inducts people into the industry after a 12-month training programme, after which they graduate as supervisors. An ‘I-Grad’ programme for graduates includes an 18-month programme, after which they qualify as assistant managers or managers,” he shares.
Moreover, 30 IHG Academies across India have affiliated with educational institutions to impart training to people and encourage them to engage with the hospitality industry. Over 1,800 persons were trained last year alone. Maintains De Silva, “The strengths that we have in our people and the investment we have made in the development of their talents has helped us in our performance, it has underpinned guest experience, employee recognition and also our revenue delivery. IHG was in the top spot in the list of great places to work in India.”
Another feather in IHG’s cap is a loyalty programme for corporates – the IHG Business Rewards, which rewards corporates, bookers and companies for their loyalty to IHG brands and hotels. “For outbound business and leisure travellers the IHG Rewards programme comes as a boon, as they can access nearly 5,000 hotels globally to receive benefits and recognition. The programme is member-friendly, in that the benefits that accrue to the receiver are not only through hotel stays, but a wide range of exclusive and attractive redeemable choices,” he discloses.
De Silva throws light on IHG’S product line, which he says is a “mix of both business and leisure, with a healthy mix of domestic and international travellers. Key cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru would have 60-70 per cent international travellers, while secondary markets could have a 50-50 per cent ratio of international and domestic travellers.”
When it comes to challenges faced by the brand, De Silva acknowledges, “Infrastructural development is a key challenge, but I am confident that the government’s focus on new airports, amongst others, will help the industry to grow. Another challenge is the dearth of skilled talent, which we are addressing with our programmes for training personnel to be absorbed by the company.”
When queried if depressed room rates pose a challenge, De Silva is optimistic, saying that room rates would stabilise once occupancy stabilises. “It is also dependent on other factors, such as the proliferation of different kinds of hotels, as well as the summer versus winter demands,” he asserts.
The future is bright for IHG. De Silva informs,” Our plans include 150 hotels within the next 10-15 years in India. In the pipeline are nearly 40 hotels, which are slated to open within the next three to five years.”
What’s more, De Silva sees an increase in international players in the Indian market and concludes on a positive note, maintaining that this will strengthen the industry, make it more robust and people oriented.