Creating Fond Memories for Guests

Seasoned travellers often prefer to completely immerse themselves in local culture and natural surroundings, during their travels. Luxury hotels can greatly facilitate such objectives of tourists. A recent survey conducted by SLHW has revealed a rise of 62 percent in luxury travel. Ashok Malkani explores the rising popularity of luxury hotels in India and what the customers expect from these hotels.

The global luxury hotel market has over the last couple of years, enjoyed a positive growth. This can be attributed to the fact that the turmoil created by the global financial crisis has receded and the number of high net worth individuals (HNWIs) has been increasing globally. But it is not all plain sailing for the luxury hotel segment either. Luxury hotels now, more than ever, need to innovate as their discerning clientele continues to evolve.

One fundamental challenge facing this segment is that the definition of ‘luxury’ is witnessing a shift all over the globe. With the affluent consumer segment becoming increasingly diverse, their expectations from the luxury hotels are also evolving.

While some high net worth guests continue to place great emphasis on a property’s proud tradition, rich heritage and long-established conventions, others demand innovation, personalisation and flexibility. With information being so readily available through endorsements on social media, luxury travellers, on an average, are now more knowledgeable than ever before.

In this scenario, luxury hotels cannot afford to rest on their laurels. They have to constantly keep evolving in terms of hotel facilities, room design, staffing decisions, etc. They need to give special heed to design, wellness, staff and personalisation.  In fact, hotels of diverse types need to give extra emphasis on these factors, especially in this age of increasing numbers of smart, widely travelled and evolved guests, but their crucial role in luxury hospitality in the post-modern hospitality industry of India simply cannot be overstated. 

Thoughtful original design with reference to lighting, textiles, sculptures and paintings are of great importance in the realm of luxury hospitality.  The luxury hospitality properties must also offer amenities that nurture the quality of life for the guests. This means health focused spas, advanced air and water filtration, circadian lighting systems, professionally trained staff, etc.

Trends in Luxury Hospitality

Sujeet Kumar, General Manager of Sheraton Grand Bangalore Hotel at Brigade Gateway, stated, “The hotel industry is evolving in multiple ways, owing to the growing competition in the market and the ever evolving expectations of the millennial guests. The most foreseeable trend in the near future is the upgradation in the use of technology and how it defines guest experience.”

“With mobile check-in apps, guests now can expect to check-in before arriving at the hotel; technology also allows guests to feel more connected, where they can simply drop a text on the app to communicate any requirements to the hotel associates. The rooms are likely to get a technology upgradation as well, with remote controlled upholstery, motion sensor bathroom fittings and voice activated technology to adjust room temperature, lightings and television. Another one of the upcoming luxury hotel trends is an emphasis on local experiences, where hotels are curating excursions for guests to indulge in the nuances of the destination,” he elaborated. 

“The tech-savvy guests expect swift and personalised response to their requirements, and high levels of customised service. In keeping up with the guests’ expectations, hotels are becoming increasingly competitive in providing the value added offerings. With standardised offerings across hotel chain and brand, we at Sheraton Grand Bangalore Hotel at Brigade Gateway believe in the phrase of ‘experience marketing’, where we strive to create small, but significant moments for a guest to have a truly memorable stay. Associates are suitably trained to ensure high levels of service delivery, with discreet personalisation,” affirmed Sujeet.  

 “Luxury hotels are becoming all about space and art deco designs. The trends will be ensuring flawless services and personalisation of stays,” declared Ayesha Bhalla, Market Director of Sales and Marketing, Marriott Suites Pune. 

“The luxury guest today is well travelled and expects discreet service and efficiency. Ensuring her/his preferences are looked after and taken care of is of utmost importance for luxury hotels,” she pointed out. “At Marriott Suites Pune, we believe that the small things make the big difference, and this is communicated at all touch points with the guests at the hotel,” Ayesha stated. 

“The rise of boutique luxury hotels will be something to look forward to in the coming future. The idea of providing personalised experience, customised as per guest preferences, will rule the notion of luxury hotel segment in the country. The luxury hotels in India will go an extra mile to create a destination experience for the guests. Secondly, to create such memorable touch points, technology will play a key role and will be a game changer. Going forward, I believe growing focus on the role of technology within the travel and hospitality industry will go a long way in not only marketing the hotels to their potential guests but also in enhancing guest experience through innovative tech methods which can help to create a wow experience for the guests,” disclosed Sachin Malhotra, General Manager, Grand Mercure Mysuru.

“The luxury hotel aspires to offer an incredibly lavish experience to the guests. It is all about the opulence and privilege enjoyed by elite set of people. Each and every aspect of a luxury hotel offers or should offer a grand experience. The idea of personalisation to attain guest delight is picking up pace and hence the hotels in the luxury segment are working towards creative and innovative initiatives to enhance the stay experience of each and every one of their guest,” he explained.  

“We at Grand Mercure Mysuru believe that two pillars of guest delight are surprise and personalisation. Hence, we create Senses & Stories for our guests in many offerings and gestures that have strong elements of local stories, delicacies and a strong influence of surprise and personalisation. As a signature, we have a traditional welcome ritual named as ‘Mysuru Swagatham,’ where we introduce the five major senses & stories of Mysuru to the guests namely  local fragrance, drink, trade, language and local music. Similarly, our team becomes story tellers on the details about local cuisines, history of local dishes and other such experiences that we create for our guests,” Sachin articulated excitedly. 

Personalised Services

Even if the technological infrastructure of luxury hotels is better than superb, they need to give lots of room for personalised services.

The luxury needle is moving from American psychologist Maslow’s second hierarchical need, ‘Esteem,’ where consumer luxury has traditionally stayed, to the top slot: ‘Self-determination.’   And this the guests can achieve only if they are provided personalised service.

Personalisation is the latest buzzword. The hotels that get it right, according to experts, stand to gain a lot. Hospitality industry, as everyone knows, is highly competitive and what each traveller wants will vary. Personalisation gives you a chance to tailor each guest experience according to her/his needs, tastes and preferences. 

A study commissioned by Sabre Hospitality Solutions, and conducted by Forester Consulting, found that majority of the travellers were not loyal to any one hotel, and hotels needed to focus on creating personalised experiences from customer data to get travellers’ loyalty. 

 “As far as Marriott Suites Pune is concerned, we are able to attract increased footfalls due to our exceptional services and personalisation of experiences,” offered Ayesha.  

Different hotels have come up with techniques which do/will enable them to offer services that the guests will remember for long.

“We believe that our associates make all the difference to the guest experience, so we start with training of our associates to be able to preempt guest needs and empower them to handle guests’ requirements. Personalisation of services can be as small as ensuring that your morning coffee is ready for you at the exact time of your preference to ensuring that every guest coming in for an event organised by you leaves with a smile,” stated Ayesha. Associates’ recognising the repeat guests is also a subtle but very effective form of personalised hospitality. 

“At Marriott Suites Pune, we are all about creating memories. We take special care of guests whether they are holidaying with their families or traveling for business or staying in for extended periods of time. Each guest stay is customised to ensure that we take care of the guests’ needs and they keep coming back with us to create more memories,” she elaborated.

 “With nearly all the luxury hotels in India focusing towards prompt & attentive service delivery, carving a USP for a luxury hotel in the country is becoming more and more aspiring. Having a background history of the guests along with their preferences gives the hotel a huge advantage. Being a part of AccorHotels, Grand Mercure Mysuru has an advantage as our guest history is sharing at a common platform for all Accor brands, covering all regions of the world. This helps our guest relations team to create meaningful experiences based on guests’ preferences, thereby making our guest experience incredible,” revealed Sachin.

“At Sheraton Grand Bangalore Hotel at Brigade Gateway, we have identified a series of critical touch points which allow us to customise a memorable guest experience. Guests checking-in for Club and Suite rooms are handed over the key card in the car on the drive to hotel itself and are directly escorted to the room for a hassle free in-room check-in. We also have access to guest preference data, which enable us to provide discreet personalisation of in-room amenities, food & beverages amongst others,” articulated Sujeet.

“Additionally, we have multiple feedback system, with swift sharing of incident report for prompt action so that grievance redressal happens while the guest is still at the hotel. Moreover, our guest relations team and food & beverage team further help to  make guests feel special and important at every point of their stay with us,” Sujeet explained.

“For all our elite guests, personalised welcome notes are sent out by EAM – Rooms, or in her absence by her subordinates. The pre-arrival communication works well for Gold & Platinum guests to share their preferences and special requirements prior to arriving at the hotel and also helps the hotel to better manage its inventory with precise time of arrival and number of guests expected,” he stated further.

“The Club Lounge curates special experience for each guest. Specialised check-in while sipping a cocktail or portable beverage of one’s choice; personalised services such as itinerary planning, customised tours, day on day feedback, farewell experience on the day of departure – makes us a  ‘hotel within a hotel.’ The team also shares e-mail with pictures taken with the guest as fond farewell experience with all associates who have served the guest during the stay, as a souvenir,” pointed out Sujeet.

“As a brand philosophy, Grand Mercure believes in ‘Bringing Story to Life’. Hence, all Grand Mercure hotels worldwide focus on crafting memorable experiences for our guests. Going with the tradition of the brand, Grand Mercure Mysuru offers authentic experiences for our guests, which are presented in a refined form by our warm team members,” Sachin disclosed.

“As an experience, hotel has at least eight to ten signature offerings that are focused on the Sense of Taste, Sense of Welcome, Sense of Wellness, and Sense of Culture and Discovery.  This gives a lot of room for us to create memories that are expected to be cherished by our guests forever. Our guest relations team works tirelessly at the background to find the right touch points and customise the same to guest preferences information received. We have also introduced the initiative of departmental delights with an intention to empower our front line team members with an eye to look out for activities that could add to guest satisfaction and delight,” Sachin conveyed.

“Our Guest Relations team is extremely focused on engaging all the long staying guests right from their arrival. Each long staying guest is met on arrival, as per the time of the day and a preference sheet, along with all the relevant details. Guests are also met in their rooms for special occasions with special surprise and wishes from the team. In liaison with our Food & Beverage team , the Guest Relations team also sets up a kids’ area every Saturday for an hour, where all resident children between age 3-9 years are engaged with games, painting , story-telling; accompanied by sumptuous pizzas, fries and shakes,” Sujeet explained. 

“The hotel also hosts long staying guests’ cocktail evening, once a month, where each long staying guest is personally greeted by the General Manager. The long staying cocktail evenings are usually hosted at specialty bars, and signature items of food & beverages are showcased to the guests,” added Sujeet.

“With us, guest preferences are ascertained before their arrival by checking on their past stay experience/s at own or sister properties, or by e-mailing the guest to share their preferences, if any. Some of the features which allow us to offer personalisation are specially curated in-room amenities, personalised stationary and knowledge of food & beverage preferences of the repeat guests,” he aired. 

Yes, luxury hotels in India seem to be leaving no stone unturned to ensure complete satisfaction of their guests, and the travellers in India, in turn, are frequenting leisure hotels more often than was the practice a decade or more ago.

Destinations for Luxury Hotels

India boasts of a plethora of enticing destinations. There are the majestic mountain vistas and the dense jungles, the white beaches and serene lagoons. Then there are grand palaces and temples which attract teeming tourists. Then our country has a lot many business and industrial centers.

So which are the places in India that will attract more luxury hotels and how will luxury hotels attract more footfalls in India are questions, which are expected to engross the minds of the hoteliers and would be hoteliers who are associated or are planning to be associated with luxury hospitality properties.

 “India is a land of vast and diverse landscape with a rich heritage and culture. The country has myriad tourist destinations offering enticing beaches, somber mountains, jungles teeming with wildlife, majestic forts and palaces, great temples, etc.  In the coming years, one can expect luxury hotels mushrooming across those India’s destinations which are offering unique stay experiences, natural unexplored territories or possess ancient culture and heritage,” opined Sachin.

“Today luxury hotels’ scope in the country is not limited to some particular places any more. The buying power within the country allows them to open across the landscape of the country,” pointed out Ayesha.

“It is observed that there is an increasing segment of travellers who are business and leisure travellers simultaneously. This section of the travellers, who combine business trips with leisure days (or travel on ‘Bleisure’ as popularly known in the travel and tourism sector), are an emerging trend. More and more hotels are looking at enhancing business traveller experience with leisure travel options,” Sachin observed.

“In an endeavour to keep up with the tourists’ expectations, hotel companies operating in India are looking at not only tier-I and tier-II cities within the country, but also at lesser explored locations like Spiti, Kurnool, Tawang, Varkala and many more, where theme-based experiences can be enjoyed. The purpose of the luxury hotels operating in these destinations will be to carve out a niche market space to enhance and offer specific experiences,” revealed Sujeet.

 “We at Grand Mercure Mysuru strive to create a destination experience for our guests. The theme-based rooms & suites boost the guest experience and give an insight on the culture and tradition of the destination. Weaving in the local culture and cuisine in the property also helps to draw footfalls to the hotel.  Exposure to Mysuru’s rich cultural heritage and gripping stories of artifacts, local traditions, artisans, etc. helps to create an enriching experience for our guests,” expressed Sachin.

“Hotels operating in these lesser known destinations should capitalise on marketing their day activities and experiences that they curate for corporate and leisure travellers. While corporates consider such destinations for their team building and company outings, leisure travellers want to explore the unexplored or less explored facets of such destinations. Strengthening of food & beverage vertical is extremely important for these destinations, with emphasis on local produce and exotic food. Additionally, ideas can be worked around spa and lounge for optimisation of these hospitality properties,” conveyed Sujeet.

Overall, given India’s current socio-economic dynamics, the business of luxury hotels in India seems to be promising and full of growth potential. Luxury vacations are becoming increasingly popular in India. But at the same time, the luxury hotels’ market in the country needs quick evolution, as this market needs to be responsive to the unsaid needs of very highly discerning group of elite travellers, who are often endowed with rich experience of hospitality of international standards.

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