We Try and Focus on Being Locally Relevant: Sheraton

Sheraton's global brand leader Hoyt H Harper II talks to Forbes India about the company's focus in India

After studying law I vectored towards journalism by accident and it's the only job I've done since. It's a job that has taken me on a private jet to Jaisalmer - where I wrote India's first feature on fractional ownership of business jets - to the badlands of west UP where India's sugar economy is inextricably now tied to politics. I'm a big fan of new business models and crafty entrepreneurs. Fortunately for me, there are plenty of those in Asia at the moment.

We Try and Focus on Being Locally Relevant: Sheraton

Hoyt H Harper II
Profile:
Global brand leader, Sheraton Hotel and Resorts
Age: 59
Education: Carthage College, Wisconsin, USA

Q. Where does the Sheraton brand fit into your overall India strategy?

Sheraton is Starwoods’ global powerhouse. It is usually our first brand in emerging markets. So, in Bangalore for example, we got Sheraton in first. We look at India as a great growth opportunity. We have been there since 1976. Essentially, we contracted our brand to ITC with the transition from Sheraton to our Luxury Collection.

Q. How many hotels will you have, say, five years from now?
We have seven projects under development as Sheraton and we are looking for more opportunities. We have a lot of opportunities to convert existing hotels, but we are being very selective in that process. We want to make sure we have the right hotel and the right location.

Q Five years ago would you have imagined that you would have grown faster in India?
We thought we’d probably have a few more [hotels]. In China, going from site visit to contracting to breaking ground and opening takes two or three years lesser than in India. We understand that.

Q. Global hotel chains have had problems with understanding the Indian customer. What has Sheraton learned about the Indian customer?
The big difference between us and our competitors is that we have been there a while. We try and focus on being locally relevant. We hire locally and we train our associates to provide locally relevant services. Most of our hotels cater to local and international guests. It is a good balance—food and beverage is one of the key elements. For example, we have a three-meal restaurant in most of our new hotels called Feast and within the confines we have international cuisine and we have American breakfast cuisine and we have local cuisines. We try and make everyone feel like they belong. With outbound travel from India increasing, we are using our team in India to educate our hotels overseas on how to make those guests feel at home.

Q. How has Sheraton benchmarked itself against your competitors in India?

We have the advantage of having strong sister brands [Westin, W and Le Meridien] and we share best practices. And so, if something works, the best thing we can do is emulate it. We keep close tabs on our competitors as well. We have a history of being innovators while Marriott has a history of copying what has proved to be successful. For instance, the Link at Sheraton with Microsoft was so successful that our sister brand Le Meridien created their own version called the Hub.

Q. It costs about the same to set up a hotel in developing markets as it does in developed markets. But the room rates are very different. How do you resolve that anomaly in your business?

We manage our hotels and we don’t own them and so the key is working with owners who have a long-term view of what their asset will deliver. In the US, you have owners who buy a hotel and want to flip it in a few years and so the short-term performance is critical to them. In India, we are blessed with owners who take a longer-term view and that changes the dynamic.

The reporter visited the Sheraton Brand Summit in Seattle courtesy Starwood Hotels.

(This story appears in the 18 April, 2014 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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