Q. Where does India figure in your strategy for luxury brands in APAC?
It’s one of our key focus markets for obvious reasons, including the growth of the market and our portfolio. We have 120 Marriott hotels in India of which 26 are luxury; six more luxury hotels are coming soon. We have eight luxury brands, and need to make sure each represents the right thing in India. We’ve faced some delays, but Ritz Carlton Mumbai is likely to open in 2021. We also have the W in Mumbai coming around Lower Parel. You have such a culture of luxury here, and Indian brands here are so powerful. We are fully respectful of that, but global brands are now beginning to emerge in India as well. An Indian consumer wants choice and global experience, and there’s room for everyone.
Q. Is the wedding market a big part of this?
Yes, a big part. We have bespoke wedding programmes for the Ritz-Carlton, St Regis and W in particular. It’s not just inbound, but outbound as well—many Indians look at our properties in Thailand, even as far as Australia, to host destination weddings. It’s an important part of our food and beverage revenue.
Q. How is the Indian customer different from the Chinese or other APAC travellers?
Indians have a different view of luxury, which comes out of a rich culture of hospitality here. But travellers are now also breaking away from that, which lends us huge opportunity. As in China, luxury here is decided by 33-year-olds; in America, it is by 55-year-olds. Our brands have to keep evolving to what younger luxury customers want in India.
Q. What challenges have you had in India?
We’re launching new brands in India, so it takes some work to establish them. We’re starting to educate the market on what a Ritz-Carlton stands for; that a St Regis is about New York-style glamour.
Q. What trends will define luxury hospitality in the 2020s?
Being able to create experiences that are transformational. There’s a big sustainable element that you’ll see hotels doing more—luxury customers expect and demand that. And the experiences must be locally relevant… it can’t be based on what’s happening in Washington, where our head office is.
(This story appears in the 03 January, 2020 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)