Buoyed by the revenge travel-driven surge in occupancies, the gradual return of business travellers and an unprecedented upward spike in the industry bellwether, RevPAR (revenue per available room), hotel chains and developers are busy inking partnership deals and announcing a flurry of new openings.
The momentum for this reinvigorated interest in the hospitality sector, in fact, has come from the industry leaders, with the Indian Hotels Company Limited (better known as the Taj Group) flagging off one new collaboration or completed project every month since 2018, barring the Covid-afflicted months.
ITC Hotels, meanwhile, has just announced the launch of its own luxury marquee, Mementos, close on the heels of the rollout of its boutique hotels collection under the Storii banner and the renewed thrust given to the Welcomhotel brand as evidenced in the recent openings in Katra (Jammu and Kashmir) and Bhubaneswar in the space of three months.
Anil Chadha, Chief Executive, ITC Hotels, articulated the industry sentiment when he said that the hospitality sector had moved from "survival to revival" and the driver of this change was the rush, post Covid 2.0, to leisure locations "from the hills to the seas".
Unsurprisingly, Goa has emerged the RevPAR leader in absolute terms, notching up a 389.8 per cent increase in Q3 2021 (third quarter of this calendar year), in the real estate and investment management firm JLL's just-released Hotel Momentum India report.
This quarter-to-quarter increase, as the report points out, may have been partly because of the low base of Q3 2020, but the country's five other principal hospitality sector markets have seen triple-digit RevPAR growth numbers, from 102 per cent (Mumbai) and 111 per cent (Delhi) to 213 per cent (Bengaluru).
"Brand India has shown its intrinsic strength," Chadha said, pointing to the momentum provided by domestic leisure travellers. With so much positivity in the air, the effect was bound to be felt in new hotel signings and openings - and IHCL, clearly, leads in this department.
Speaking on IHCL's "journey of continuous growth and expansion", its Executive Vice-President (Real Estate and Development), Suma Venkatesh, said the company has signed more than 70 hotels and opened over 25 new addresses over the past three years.
"The growth momentum continued despite the pandemic, and according to a recent report by [hotel management consultancy] HVS Anarock, IHCL achieved the highest number of signings and openings in India in 2020," Venkatesh said.
Adding that IHCL will open "12 hotels this fiscal" (that is, one hotel a month), Venkatesh said: "Our upcoming hotels include those in Dubai, Kolkata, Navi Mumbai and Sikkim, besides Taj Wellington Mews in Chennai, South Asia's first-ever luxury residences managed entirely by women." The IHCL portfolio has 227 hotels, including 56 under development.
According to Achin Khanna, Managing Partner of the consultancy firm, Hotelivate, the country saw 60 new hotel projects being signed and these together represent 8,700 rooms (or an average of 145 rooms per signing).
This number is expected to swell considerably because, as Khanna points out, "November and December are the months when the bulk of the signings take place." And new hotels projects are being signed all over the country. Hotelivate alone has advised on collaborations in places as varied and Noida and Goa, Udaipur and Imphal.
The growth is also drawing the hospitality sector away from its traditional luxury fixation. "The middle-class traveller is an unrealised market," Rattan Keswani, Deputy Managing Director, Lemon Tree Hotels, pointed out. "Thanks to the growth of MSMEs, the customer base for the Rs 2,750-Rs 5,500 average room rate bracket has been expanding constantly."
And this customer segment, post Covid 2.0, now associates branded hotels with safety and security, according to Keswani, who has presided over nine openings in the past 18 months, with the tenth expected in Mumbai before the end of FY2022.
The shifting customer preference, as well as the changing demographics, explains the growing demand for branded hotels in non-traditional markets such as Lucknow, which is seeing a significant growth in weekend travel from Moradabad and Kanpur, and Gorakhpur, where new hotel business is driven by the expanding India-Nepal border trade.
The room for growth in these markets is more than tempting. In the third quarter of this year, supply rose by a mere 9.5 per cent, but demand soared by a whopping 159 per cent.
Hotel developers have been quick to respond to this palpable shift. It becomes clear from the numbers in JLL's Hotel Momentum India report - of the 32 new branded hotel signings in Q3 2021, 16 are in the midscale segment and nine in the upscale category, where average room rates are in the range mentioned by Keswani (Rs 2,750 to Rs 5,500).
Even among the 24 new hotel openings, 10 are midscale and three upscale. Interestingly, four of these hotels are in the luxury category and five are upper upscale - that is, nine out of the 24 new openings, compared with two each in the two categories among the 32 new signings.
The new openings were conceptualised, on average, four to five years ago, when the sentiment was still bullish on luxury and upper upscale hotels. Today, as Keswani put it, hotels are planned taking into account two factors - investment affordability (for the developer) and rate affordability (for the potential customer).
Significantly, all 24 new openings reported in the JLL report are in Tier II and III cities and towns, whereas 28 out of the 32 signings are for hotel projects in these previously under-served locations, which could be as varied as Siliguri and Visakhapatnam, Vapi (Gujarat) and Deoghar (Jharkhand).
"More is in store," promises Chadha of ITC Hotels, pointing to the growth momentum. Khanna of Hotelivate adds that even a third wave of the pandemic won't dampen sentiments, for the hospitality sector, like the rest of the country, is better prepared and both developers and hotel operators are of the view that new projects are long-haul decisions that shouldn't be pushed to the backburner because of short-term crises.
(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)