Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

"Luxury travel in 2021 is going to be domestic travel"

Neeraj Govil of Marriott International on pent-up demand, people opting for five-six smaller vacations, and recovery by 2022

Published: Feb 27, 2021 09:00:00 AM IST
Updated: Mar 17, 2021 04:41:08 PM IST

"Luxury travel in 2021 is going to be domestic travel"Image: Courtesy Marriott

The hospitality sector, one of the hardest hit last year, has entered a phase of recovery. More and more people are now getting out for short vacations or workations at a location within India, given that International travel is still risky and the options are limited. In such a scenario, luxury hotels, even at places that mostly got traffic over the weekend, are now fully occupied throughout the week.

Neeraj Govil, senior vice president, operations- APEC, Marriott International, tells Forbes India about the luxury hospitality trends driving the recovery of luxury hospitality in India.

What are the biggest trends in Indian luxury hospitality today? 

Domestic travel 

There is a real pivot to domestic travel. Luxury travel in 2021 is going to be domestic travel. The ability of the affluent to travel abroad to see the world is now restricted. Luxury travelers are looking for new destinations within the country and embracing short, micro vacations, as the Work from Home trend has enabled people to work from anywhere.

"Luxury travel in 2021 is going to be domestic travel"JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort & Spa 
Image: Courtesy Marriott

We have seen hotels in locations that earlier got weekend or group business, now receive many, many guests during the week. Our hotels in Goa, Mussoorie and Mahableshwar are doing very well post the lockdown. Staycation in cities is also a popular trend. People living in metros are checking in to enjoy the facilities of a luxury hotel. 

Instead of two to three international trips a year, people are now opting for five to six domestic vacations.

Revenge Travel

Until October, people were not venturing out too much and were feeling boxed in, but since November we have seen many more people wanting to get out and indulge in a small vacation. On Republic Day weekend, we saw a lot of that play out. 

Contactless technology 

This has become crucial today as it is playing out in every aspect of a luxury customer’s hotel stay experience. Right from the time of the booking to the pre-arrival experience and check-in, everything has become contactless.

At Marriott, we have the mobile key, which lets you access the room via the code on your phone. Essentially, your phone is the key to your room. 

We are also processing guest requests through online chat. People can order food and different services to their rooms through this service. 

Digital marketing has also become very important as more and more people are spending a lot of time on screens as compared to on traditional media. 

Authentic, personalised experiences

Along with top-notch safety and hygiene standards in a luxury hotel, people are also seeking authentic experiences that are tailor-made for them. To that end, a hotel’s interaction with the guests has increased quite a bit. Guests want to ensure that their personal needs and requests are met, which, in turn, has become an important aspect of luxury service. For instance, they now have a choice to be welcomed at a hotel when checking in or go straight to their rooms. Whatever they want, we are giving it to them. 

Sustainability has become a prerequisite today. What is Marriott doing to become more environment friendly?

Sustainability has always been an integral part of Marriott’s philosophy. Our operating structures are designed to be environmentally conscious. However, in the pandemic there is an increased awareness about sustainability in the hospitality stay aspect as well. 

We are localising our supply chains across the board to ensure that food is not travelling too much. We are also looking at saving water and buying energy from the right sources. Imminently, we have launched residential amenities in the rooms, which help us reduce the use of single-use plastic and eventually eliminate it. Having said that, sustainability is a mindset. It is necessary to get all our partners to understand that we need to be conscious about the environment. Once that is done, the operations become easier. 

Given the trends, what are your marketing and promotion strategies to grow business?

Marketing in the pandemic has really been about enhanced engagement, more connectivity and transparency. 

We are focused on destination marketing. In the past, we have been aggressively promoting India as a destination at various global forums. Now it is about promoting a particular destination in India. For instance, Goa. We have been talking about it not just in the biggest source markets such as Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru, but also promoting it in, say, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Raipur. We are also marketing our hotels, particularly those in the metros, in Tier-1, Tier-II and Tier-III cities, which has gotten a good response so far.  

Moreover, being flexible in reservation, cancellation, check-in and check-out policies is also helping us. 

What is in store for Marriott in India in 2021? Do you have any new launches planned?

Our goal is to ensure that we get our business back, speed up the recovery process and grow the footprint of our Bonvoy programme, which currently has a million members in India.

We are potentially looking at opening Ritz-Carlton Mumbai, JW Marriott in Bengaluru and Westin in Goa and nine other hotels in India. 

How do you see the year panning out for the hospitality sector?

The hospitality industry was hit the hardest in the lockdown. It sometimes can be taking two steps ahead and one step back. We, however, saw pretty good growth in the last quarter. Data shows that pandemic is largely under control, customers are gaining the confidence to travel again, there is pent-up demand, and the macro economy is reviving as well. The second half of the year will see a sharper recovery as compared to the first half and we should reach the 2019 level of business in the second half of 2022.