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Future of the Indian hospitality industry in 2021- in conversation with Sneha Agarwal

Sneha Agarwal, Director at Hotel Hillock, shares insights about the hospitality industry


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CoFoundersTown

3 years ago | 8 min read

The hospitality industry in India contributes to approximately 10 per cent of the GDP. Prior to the global pandemic beat, the industry was one of the key portions driving the growth services sector in the Indian economy.

While the coronavirus crisis and the resultant global lockdown carried things to a halt for a while, the hospitality industry is assessing the situation and reinventing themselves to effectively revive the sector in the ‘new normal’ post-crisis world.

Sneha Agarwal, Director at Hotel Hillock, shares insights about the hospitality industry!

1. What were some major trends that dominated the hospitality sector in the 2010s?

I started my professional career in that era and was about 20 years old at that time. I was always very fond of hospitality sector and looked up to Oberoi's as one of the most trending and popular property.

After I decided to get into this particular field, I made my own path and luckily it is a family business so I got learnings from my family itself.

Speaking about the trends, we Indians are so well-travelled and so much accustomed to customisation that we want the place of stay to feel like home, and this is never going to go out of fashion.

Coming from the same industry, I have always tried to deliver the same touch to my customers. So wherever we expand ourselves, and wherever we have expanded so far, one thing has and will always remain the same, “Guest Service Personalisation (GSP)”.

2. How much has the entire hotel industry affected by Covid-19 and whats the current scenario in general?

Pandemic is something that has affected the entire economy and every sector far and wide. The hotel industry is no such exception but looking at the brighter side, since people were staying indoors for such a long time that they now have decided to find an escape and relief.

Apart from this, I’ve always mentioned that it is very good at this point of time because people who prefer to go overseas in the vacations have finally decided to explore their own country which is a good thing for the hotel industry.

We have our hotel in Mount Abu and we can clearly see the difference in occupancy in our hotel during the pandemic which is really surprising and that has allowed us to perform really well during these times. So everything is going well and things are steady.

I believe with the vaccine’s information in the market, people might start thinking positively and will be able to live fearlessly.

3. What new trends could be expected to rule the hospitality sector this decade especially with major changes in peoples habits and working styles?

The hospitality sector is a very established yet a changing sector which can only be known once you explore it.

The future looks extremely bright from a sanitisation perspective. Not only the future, but present as well. This extreme sanitisation and hygiene was only talked in the books and was theoretically taught to us, but now we are actually doing it and putting it into practice for each and every guest who visits us.

Let’s take an example of Japan. Wherever you go in Japan, you will see a completely different level of hospitality being followed there especially in sanitisation and hygiene. Not a single European country is following the level of sanitisation which is being provided in Japan.

So, if we want to learn the best possible way to move forward in this particular sector, we can learn a lot from Japan because they already had germ free items in the market and they were following these rules since long. The majority of their population used to wear masks even before there was a pandemic.

Accepting sanitisation as the new norm and the trend that’s going to stay with us for long. It should have become a habit long ago but it’s better late than never!

4.With the focus on health and safety more than ever, how can technology play a major role in the revival of the industry?

Since the times are changing and we need things to be done at a faster pace, I believe that the rates of the manpower will increase as well.

With that being said, AI is something that every industry is using in one way or another. We are looking at the times where robots are already in the market, so of course, usage of heavy and advanced technology in our industry is no exception.

Not only the technology but the pharmaceutical sector is coming up with chemicals that promise the eradication of germs with 100% efficiency, so it is all about doing what is necessary for collective and sustainable growth.

5. The talks around the potential of hotels through the internet are louder than ever. Will this decade witness new changes which would standout in the hospitality sector?

This is a new age, so something which is easily accessible is more acceptable at the same time. Now, with this increased acceptability because of the smooth accessibility, the traditional methods of marketing and advertising through the big hoardings and billboards is seeing its last days.

People believe in reaching out to more people by spending less now. Marketing through the internet has become the internal system of every organisation and is necessary for each one of us; Digital Marketing is the specific term. Another plus point of digital marketing is that it is easy and is cheap.

What else do we need? This is the reason it is widely accepted and we will see only different wings of the digital marketing coming out in the near future as well that too without any barrier.

Talking about the hotel industry itself, it is viable and makes complete sense for us to make proper use of something which is easily available and lasts longer too.

6. Within the last few years, there has been a growing interest among travellers to experience authentic and unexplored experiences. Will we witness an inclination of start-ups providing personalised-packages? What are the major challenges in such an approach?

When it comes to attracting foreign explorers, you have to provide something which is untapped. I have always believed in sticking to the roots.

What I mean by roots is keeping your authenticity intact and untouched. Now if I tell you that my hotel is going to serve you the best Japanese dishes, it will make no sense because- WHERE IS MY ORIGINALITY? That’s not me, that’s not what I am representing.

On the other hand, if I promise you the most authentic Sarso Ka Saag or maybe Paneer Tikka, that is where I am showing you my true self. Sticking to your forte is something that will take you ahead.

Newer generation or let’s say the newer market has now understood that you don’t need anything from outside to stand out but to sharpen your best skill even more to give that personalisation experience to your consumers.

Staying true to yourself is the key, hence do what you are best at and everything will fall in favour of you automatically.

7. What perception should we have in order to bring a change in the hospitality sector of the tier-2, 3 & 4 cities?

The hotel industry is looking forward to entering tier-2,3 & 4 cities. This is because of the migration that we are witnessing, and it will continue to happen in the coming few decades as well.

Newer generation specifically wants to come out of the villages & towns to Tier-2,3 & 4 cities. So, there is going to be a shift in the population.

Considering the competition, Tier-2, 3 & 4 cities aren’t seeing that much of the competition as Tier-1 cities. For example-What is happening in Mumbai and Delhi is not happening in Ahmedabad & Surat.

So, if someone asks me that where do I want to go for an expansion, I won’t see Mumbai and Delhi as my first option because of the hotel industry there being all about the big sharks.

Hence, for now, I will suggest to focus on your target audience and to penetrate the market where you think that survival is possible. The demand-supply ratio is something that shouldn’t be forgotten even when you are under too much pressure. It is pure economics and that’s how we work.

8. Unless your business is a world-famous hotel that attracts search on its own, most customers will not be looking specifically for you. From a hotel owner’s point of perspective, what can be some ways of getting more visibility online or offline?

Online and offline is another thing, my first and foremost duty is to keep those who come at my doorstep, HAPPY & SATISFIED!

I still believe that word of mouth is the strongest marketing approach and hence if my consumer is smiling after they leave my hotel because they had a great experience with us, that’s a green signal for knowing that you are doing great.

From a hotel owner’s point of view, I believe giving them a personalised yet a satisfactory experience can do wonders for you. I don’t look at widespread publicity, but I do make sure that my customer is happy and is willing to come back.

If we talk about the word of mouth in-depth, it is not going out through the customers but through your staff as well. We have made this amazing college like a canteen for everyone where people can come, relax, order, and eat in peace.

If you cannot treat your staff like a family, you are in the wrong business! Personally, I keep the online marketing strategies secondary.

But still, my mode of persuading the audience would be by showing them my authenticity. I am a torchbearer for Indian hospitality and will always speak that we should show everyone how strongly we believe in “ATITHI DEVO BHAVA”-GUESTS ARE EQUIVALENT TO GOD.

9. What’s the biggest challenge hospitality industry is facing at the moment apart from the pandemic?

Hotels are a “WHITE ELEPHANT.” Until & unless you are not willing to make any investments, you cannot enter this business; this is one of the biggest drawbacks.

Considering the Indian economy, look at the subsidies we have to pay. If you want this industry to thrive in the developing nation like ours, you will have to take major subsidies measures as well. Looking at the current scenario, I am thinking positive about the future of our industry as I believe some good measures will soon be taken into the consideration.

10. What will it take for the hospitality industry to revive in India?

Look at the pace with which we are growing. International players are already trying to get into the market. So looking from afar, there is only one thing that I can say that the future of the hospitality industry in India is very bright.

Now, the younger population in our country is huge, they are the millennials and are the upcoming target audience in turn. Big companies are looking at them to enter the market and expand as well.

11. With so many established players already in the hospitality sector, what would be your advice to any entrepreneur who wants to enter this industry?

DO NOT FOLLOW THE RAT RACE! It will take you nowhere. It might please you for a year or two but ultimately you will start feeling the emptiness of following your passion, so why not do it from the very beginning?

Think out of the box, yet stay true to your roots. Follow the essence of your culture with the touch of modernisation.

A right balance will help you a lot, not only in your professional life but in your personal life as well. Run behind the learning, stay away from the concept of instant gratification and fast success.

That passive aggression for following your passion and succeeding should always be there in every youngster.


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