Marriott Hotels have grown significantly in India, especially after their buy-out of Starwood Hotels. In the last two years, a further steady growth in number of hotels and rooms and brands, has ensured a diversified portfolio.

How has the year been for Marriott? I realise as a foreign entity, you work as per calendar year.

NEERAJ GOVIL
SENIOR VP – SOUTH ASIA,
MARRIOTT INTERNATIONAL

2019 was a busy year for Marriott in India. A good year, all things considered, with some 3000 rooms added, new brands introduced, and our portfolio only got more enriching. Consolidation in some cases, new locations in others. If we divide the year into two halves, the first half saw a strong market share in the business, with double digit growth in RevPar; the second half saw high single digit growth. In the F&B segment, we saw high single digit growth.

We redeployed our sales around a highly successful BonVoy, our loyalty program. We saw our Associate members focused on customer care.

We created a new infrastructure support centre in the South, our first one. Typically, this involves extending support in operations, global design, IT, engineering and culinary skills to our hotels in that region. Earlier, we had only two in India, one in Delhi and the other in Mumbai.

How did this growth in properties pan out, India-wise?

Our location presence during the year was considerably strengthened. We have had significant strength in cities like Delhi and NCR, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Pune. But in Tier 2 cities such as Kochi we now have 5 properties; in Lucknow, from 2 we will soon have 3; in Ahmedabad we have 5; Indore we have 3 already with a Marriott, Sheraton and a Fairfield. And similarly in Goa and in Jaipur, we have seen our portfolio grow across brands.

Where do you see the gaps?

As we grow, we are obviously keen to go to relatively under penetrated areas such as the North East and in many of the resort locations. Incidentally, we have properties coming up in Coorg, Madurai, Shimla, in Nashik and in Mahabaleshwar.

Courtyard Amritsar

How does this growth compare with growth in the Asia Pacific region?

In performance alone, in terms of RevPar, India is one of the leading markets in the region. Comparison with other countries becomes difficult because you could have another country with much fewer hotels and rooms doing a better RevPar. But in totality, India is among the star performers in our region.

Is this growth satisfactory? One can always ask for more, and never get satisfied?

You can always say we could have done more, but overall, I can say we had a good year.

How do we plan for sudden eventualities? Especially in a world where volatility is increasing and travel and tourism can become sudden casualties?

Within Marriott, we have a saying that fish where the fish are! Look around for where the business is! Planning is the key to such situations, a better sense of anticipation, perhaps. Especially, when the world over, demand patterns can be shifting and changing, often without any warning.

How is the Indian market growing for you at your properties?

Le Meridien, Hyderabad

Currently, our Indian component of the overall occupancies are over 80%. This is growing exponentially. We see Leisure as the market of the future, with Indians becoming more discerning, with more propensity to explore, take more but shorter holidays.

How does this compare with industry performances during the year?

I cannot say on the industry performance, except that as a country and as an industry, we continue to be under supplied. We see robust occupancies across the country. People may have expected more business, but we in India continue to do better than most other countries. 

How does 2020 look? Going ahead, do you see the growth remaining steady?

Sheraton Indore

We are living today in an unpredictable world, so it’s very difficult to say. Except that we do know that the first quarter of 2020 will not be as good as the first quarter of last year. Yet, it will grow in high single digit numbers. We see lot of robustness in pockets such as Mumbai, Goa, Pune and Hyderabad. I won’t go out and make any big predictions, though.

As an Industry, what is your advice? How can we as an industry insulate ourselves better?

Conversely, I can only say that we as hoteliers today have to be very responsible, and true to our target customers. Like I said, we have to fish where the fish is. We have to increase our market intelligence, ensure we are delivering our brand promise. And possibly, as hoteliers, will need to sweat our assets more, by constantly re-evaluating market needs, becoming nimble footed – constantly look at facilities that are needed and those that are not.

How is Marriott engaging with the industry, both within hospitality as well as tourism forums?

Marriott continues to play its part in leadership and industry summits and events. We are constantly evaluating market opportunities and remain sufficiently and adequately engaged with industry. Our belief is that as industry, sustainability of our businesses is most critical, and there is this big need to tackle industry issues together. 

– Interviewed by Navin Berry