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With the recent acquisition of the Sarovar Hotels, Louvre Group of Hotel has now taken a giant stride in the mid market segment in India. Now, with close to 100 hotels in India, Vimal Singh, Managing Director, Louvre Group of Hotels (South East Asia) speaks about the way forward in this market.
How will the recent acquisition of Sarovar Hotels impact the Indian mid-market hotel industry?
The acquisition of Sarovar Hotels is going to create a large international platform for mid market hotels in India. It provides a large distribution channel for existing Sarovar Hotels. Mid market is a high growth market segment and since we have over 100 hotels in this segment, we will have major impact on the global distribution system, sales and marketing and reservations pipeline.
This portfolio acquisition of a management company could be the turning point for the Indian hospitality industry. What is your take on this?
International chains have already consolidated their local positions by acquiring India based master franchise to acquire the balance off share to make it a wholly subsidiary of a parent company. In the international market acquisition of a management company is not unusual. However, we acquired an Indian domestic brand to create larger foot prints, unlike the other hospitality brands.
How do you want to bring alignment between these two groups?
We are currently working on bringing synergies between both the brands and we see tremendous opportunities in distribution, reservations, sales and marketing and all back end operations.
What is the overall expansion plan of Louvre and Sarovar in India?
We are looking at mutual growth for both Louvre Hotels and Sarovar. We will continue to nurture and provide support to each other and take the experience and the depth of both the organization to expand the brand within the region and globally. For instance, Sarovar has hotels in Africa and we are going to use that platform to grow our brand in African region and similarly Sarovar will be using Louvre platform to grow the brand presence in various international markets.
Apart from Golden Tulip, Louvre Hotel Group has five other established brands globally, any plans to introduce these brands in India market?
Louvre is planning to introduce the 3 more brands in India – Première Classe, a limited-service budget hotel that focuses on comfort, connectivity and convenience Campanile and Kyriad are the other mid-market brand that we will bring to the region soon.
In the recent years there have been a lot of acquisitions in the hospitality industry, is this the way forward?
Hospitality as an industry has been changing by day. The hotel companies are getting larger through mergers and they are driven by developing greater distribution platform, brand loyalty and customer acquisition so they can offer a wide range of brands and prices to the customers. Louvre Hotels Group is a subsidiary of Jin Jiang International Holdings Co., Ltd. and with the acquisition of Sarovar Hotels; currently we have over 100 million Loyalty members which is a huge pipeline for our business both globally and in the region.
Combining über luxury with sustainability, Soneva has emerged as one of the leaders in the global luxury travel space.
What is the overall philosophy of the brand Soneva?
We are a family business managed by me and my wife Eva. We focus on the “One Owner, One Operator, One Philosophy, One Brand” strategy. We are not interested on the asset light strategy. The asset light model doesn’t fit with the luxury brands. Over time this will help us to standout. Our philosophy is slow life. In this we are combining luxury, wellness and sustainability. We offer our guests luxury by minimising the impact on the planet. The acronym for Slow life is Sustainable-Local-Organic-Wellness, Learning-Inspiring-Fun-Experiences. The luxury for 21st century travellers is rarity; people are looking out for experiences which are rare. We are providing such unique experiences. We are also combining luxury with wellbeing.
What are your future plans for the Soneva brand?
We introduced luxury travel to Maldives in 1995 with the launch of our first property Soneva Fushi. Now we are 20 years old. In the last three four years we are making quite a lot of upgrades to the existing properties. We want to continuously evolve, so our immediate plan is to keep upgrading our properties.
Apart from this, we want to do a bit more in the Maldives along with our existing infrastructure. We are launching the Soneva Jani on October 28, 2016. This property is situated on a lagoon and it contains six islands. The total area of this property is about four to five kms. We would like to do two more concepts in the Maldives which will be within close proximity to Soneva Fushi. These concepts will not cannibalise on Soneva Fushi or Soneva Jani. At the moment we wouldn’t like to disclose the concept. They will be complementary and not competitive to our existing properties in Maldives. They will be high end products. Soneva in Aqua is a very successful brand as of now. We also want to increase the number of super luxury yachts in other locations.
We are also looking at other locations like Oman, Bali, Japan, Ibiza, and London in future to setup properties. We have a strong leisure component in these cities and our major focus is in the leisure segment.
Who are your investors?
We have roped in a private equity firm with a stake in our company from the Shanghai Government; they have created a private equity firm with 10 of the state owned enterprises. They will want to exit their shares in the next five to six years. Our agreement with them is more investments in our existing assets.
Thailand is aggressively pitching for luxury tourism in India, Do you see a growth from India in your Thailand property?
Soneva Kiri Resort comprises 35 vast pool villas on beach level, hillsides or cliff tops, all overlooking the Gulf of Thailand. The highlights of this property include the open-air Cinema Paradiso, a home-made chocolate and ice cream parlour, high-tech Observatory, manta ray shaped children’s Den and the spectacular Treetop Dining Pod. Travellers from India are doubling every year to all our properties, including the Soneva Kiri. The property is visited by a lot of Indian travellers.
Do you see any opportunity to open up a resort in India?
At the moment we are not looking to open up properties in India. There are still a lot of opportunities in the Maldives. Maldives is much less restrictive, in terms of the visa facilitation. Also, there are a lot of international flights from all the major cities into Maldives. So as of now our priority market will remain the Maldives.
Which are the segments that you are looking at? Do you cater to the MICE as well?
Families are our major segment as we have the big residences. Now we have built the Den which is entertainment for the children. Soneva as a brand is very strong in the family market. Apart from this we cater to honeymooners and the weddings segment. We are witnessing a trend where we get multigenerational groups where we see the grand children coming with grandparents. We also cater to the MICE segment, but very small groups. We have the eight bedroom villas which can cater to such groups. We also have small conference facilities.
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