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Hilton hopes to bring ‘Waldorf Astoria’ brand to India

Andre Gomez Andre Gomez

Andre Gomez, Head of Operations - India, Hilton Worldwide, feels that India offers opportunities across segments.

Hilton, which opened its first hotel in India under a management contract in 2009 and currently operates 15 hotels, is focused on establishing its presence at key destinations in India.

How do you see the emerging scenario of the Indian hotel industry?

We believe India offers an exponential opportunity for sustainable growth. Currently the capacity in the country, in terms of hotel rooms, is about ten percent of what you would find in more mature markets around the world. Additionally, demand continues to grow and at a greater rate than capacity addition.

Which segments - luxury, mid-market and budget - has the maximum growth potential? Which of your brands is going to see the maximum growth?

As a continuously growing and evolving market India offers opportunities across segments. The metropolitan cities have the capacity to absorb additional inventory and aggressive economic growth in other regions and cities make these markets important. Additionally, the religious circuits present tremendous opportunities for budget and mid-market hotels.

Hilton, with a strong brand value in India, operates just 15 properties here. According to your website, no hotel was opened in 2013 and 2014 while two hotels were opened in 2015. What is the reason for the slow pace of growth?

‘Hilton’ brings with it a powerful global lineage and that alone entails a huge responsibility not only for us but also for owners of hotels that we operate. Since we opened our first hotel in India under a management contract in 2009 our strategy has been focused on establishing our presence in key metropolitan cities, tier two markets where we could have an early mover advantage among international hospitality companies and across market segments in which we operate. Our effort has also been to establish a deeper presence in key markets. Hence, we entered Bangalore by opening two hotels. We manage two hotels in Gurgaon. We entered Jaipur with the launch of Hilton Jaipur, and we also signed an agreement for another hotel in the city. As a result of this focused strategy, currently we have a robust pipeline of nearly 20 hotels and more than 2,500 rooms. Contrary to your statement, we opened four hotels in 2013 and another four in 2014.

Of 13 brands, only 5 are present in India. Is there any plan to bring some more brands? Can you also share with us the Group’s expansion plan? Which cities and brands are on your radar?

Presently, we operate 15 hotels and resorts across five brands and 11 cities in India. Our brands that have a presence in the country include Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Conrad Hotels & Resorts, DoubleTree by Hilton, Hilton Garden Inn and Hampton by Hilton. We launched our luxury Conrad Hotels in the country with the opening of Conrad Pune earlier this year. The response to Conrad Pune has been exceptional. We would like to bring the legendry Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts brand to the country. We are also exploring opportunities for the Curio.

Some cities we have identified for expansion include Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Ahmedabad, Gurgaon, Goa, Cochin, Jaipur and Surat. Additionally, we are keen to explore opportunities that the religious circuits present.

Are you going to own and develop hotels or the expansion will be driven by asset light strategy?

Our strategy is asset light and our key proficiency is hotel management and therefore we will continue to focus on acquiring management contracts. We are also open to entering into a franchised agreement; however it must be with the right partner with the expertise and experience to operate hotels successfully. Presently, most hotels and resorts in our India portfolio are managed.

What are the challenges that you are facing in India in terms of development?

One of the major challenges is the acute scarcity of trained, experienced and motivated talent. We see this primarily in emerging markets. However, we have a robust strategy in place to attract talent, especially youth, and provide them with learning and development opportunities. In India, we also have a partnership with ‘Room to Read’ and we have formalised a Job Shadowing Programme to educate up to 300 girls on opportunities in the hospitality industry. As part of our Open Doors commitment to positively impact at least one million young people by 2019 and better prepare them to reach their full potential.

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