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A peek into India’s booming hospitality trends through ITC hotels’ experience.India’s buoyant economy and its citizens’ growing quest for travel are making it a market to beckon with. ITC Hospitality Group, one of India’s leading hotel companies, is charting growth plans after regaining its pre-pandemic level business. Global Travel Media interviewed Mr Zubin Songadwala, Vice President South and East, ITC Hospitality Group, who sees only opportunities in leading the fast-growing company with ‘Responsible Luxury’ as its tagline.

Here are the excerpts from the interview that highlight the current trends in the hospitality sector.

Which new hotels are coming up under the ITC group in the South and East Indian region? How many hotels are currently functional?

The underway hotels are ITC Ratnadipa, Colombo, Welcomhotel Belagavi and the reopening of Welcomhotel Chennai in the South. With regard to the East, in addition to us seeking opportunities, we are in the advanced stages of discussion for three properties in the East and Northeast.

There are 12 (9 owned hotels and three managed hotels) in the Southern Indian region with a total inventory of 2375 rooms. We have four owned hotels with 846 rooms in the East region. Welcome Hotel Chennai is opening on 1 January 2024 and Welcome Hotel Belagavi is opening in February 2024. ITC Ratnadipa in Colombo, an ultra-luxury hotel, will soon open with an inventory of 352 rooms, suites and apartments and a pillarless banqueting space.

How are current AORs (Average Occupancy Rates)? Are ARR (Average Room Rate) back at pre-pandemic levels?

There is indeed an exponential revival in the hospitality industry courtesy of the buoyancy in the economy and the large number of airline travellers. Domestic travellers for business, conventions, conferences, and leisure have primarily driven room occupancy.

Banqueting takes centre stage. Our hotels are the most favoured wedding and conference destinations, not just by the destination heritage that we showcase but the multiple banqueting space options that we provide – from the largest in some cities (like ITC Grand Chola, Chennai) to the most intimate, embellished by the most delectable of cuisines, mindfully prepared, the luxurious yet comfortable accommodation, the royal spa, the sustainable ecosystem, and just the hot ambience of each hotel.

Foreign travellers’ occupancy is yet to reach the pre-pandemic levels. However, conclaves and events such as the Chess Olympiad, IPL, World Cup Cricket, and the G20 (an excellent showcase of Sustainability), which we have regularly hosted, allow us to get more traction.

Food and Beverages are doing exceedingly well, as are our Gourmet Couch and Takeaways. Rooms all over are seeing healthy levels of occupancy.

What’s your client mix?

Our client mix encompasses a blend of business and leisure travellers, where the distinction between the two is increasingly merging, often termed as bleisure. International arrivals predominantly comprise business travellers.  Resort properties in the region that predominantly cater to leisure guests occasionally also host offsite conferences. The trend of combining work with leisure has gained momentum since the onset of the pandemic. Travellers increasingly opt for shorter breaks incorporating professional commitments and leisure activities, contributing to this evolving bleisure phenomenon.

Which hotels are popular with MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) events? Are weddings happening?

ITC Grand Chola, featuring the most significant banqueting space in the city, and indeed the state of Tamil Nadu, ITC Royal Bengal, ITC Sonar, ITC Gardenia, and ITC Kohenur are consistently booked for hosting MICE events and continue to remain on the corporate and entertainment radar.

Weddings are sources of impressive revenues, with business almost doubling in all the hotels since the pandemic. Our hotels’ banqueting spaces are coveted venues everywhere. The F&B facilities and amenities, as are the cutting-edge technical equipment, are exceptional. Trained and experienced teams are assigned to each event to seamlessly design and implement every detail. Customization is the key to matching each host’s expectations. Our hotels offer the option of planet-positive Green Banquets, with measures like organic and locally produced food.

ITC Grand Chola in Chennai is famous for MICE and events with 600 rooms, and the Kolkata complex Inventory of ITC Sonar (237 rooms) and ITC Royal Bengal (456 rooms) totals 693 rooms.

What are ITC hotels’ specialties?

For over a decade, ITC Hotels has pursued the path of Responsible Luxury, where every action has been in harmony with the environment & society. We have embedded in our services, products and systems a unique set of features that allows us to demonstrate our ethos of Indianness, rooted in the soil, indigenous features, and our local regional cuisine, which is a culmination of years of extensive research.

Responsible Luxury is a philosophy that many of us practice even outside our work life. It truly sets us apart as a business and helps us connect with guests at a much deeper level.

ITC Hotels has been a pioneer in Sustainability, starting with ITC Gardenia, Bangalore, in 2009 and then deploying it in all its luxury hotels. It is the first hotel chain to pre-empt the environmental challenges with ground-breaking initiatives on the environment, hotel ecosystem, health, and well-being. This alignment of philosophy and practice has manifested in the coveted LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum rating and LEED® Zero Carbon certifications for all our luxury hotels.

We keep hospitality sustainable by ensuring synergy with local communities by using their services, promoting indigenous culture, reducing carbon footprint by using local produce, drawing maximum energy from within the ecosystem, and recycling, repurposing and using biodegradable, environmentally friendly materials.

Fine dining in all the destinations in our hotels with attention to detail, impeccable service, and elevated experiences assure us an influx of regular and new patrons. Our rooms are redolent of responsible luxury amenities and services. Kaya Kalp – The Royal Spa is a go-to wellness destination for our clientele.

Considering Indian travellers’ preference to dine at star hotels, how much of your business comes from F&B?

F&B has been our mainstay from the very beginning because of the distinctive culinary experiences we offer. Little wonder that almost 50% of our business is fuelled by F&B, which is a testimony to the strength of our cuisine.

ITC was among the first hotel chains in India to venture into the packaged food business, which is now flourishing. Tell our readers about the new Sleep Boutique.

Sleep is probably the most essential element of achieving well-being. To make ITC Hotels the leader in providing the best sleep experiences, Sleeep® endeavours to offer an enhanced quality of sleep as part of the holistic well-being approach followed at ITC Hotels.

Our extensive research of two decades has led to various Sleeep® initiatives that now determine how a guest room at ITC Hotels is designed today -from the bed and bedding in the guest rooms to blackout curtains, the Air Conditioning and other room equipment and fittings that ensure low decibel level and a food menu specially designed to enable a good night’s sleep.

Sleeep® boutique is a unique concept enabling us to showcase our products synonymous with a healthy and comforting sleep experience. Clients can order these products for their homes. We have seven boutiques that cater to customer requirements across India through online sales and step-in boutique experiences. Currently, we have a pillow menu consisting of different pillows ranging from natural fillers like down feathers and cotton to polyester fibres. The Sleep boutique’s bath and bed collection includes designer bedspreads, luxury bath linen, bath robes, and luxurious bed linen for infants to make the user feel pampered from head to toe.

Travellers are opting for more sustainable and responsible travel options. How’s the ITC group trying to attract and retain such potential guests; what are some of the initiatives adopted?

Responsible Luxury is embedded in every aspect of our operations.  There is a growing conviction that with changing lifestyles and consumer values – brands that put social & environmental responsibility as key focus areas gain more respect amongst consumers. Many entities, including international government bodies, are mandated to do business with ‘responsible’ service providers.

Companies are targeting to reduce their carbon footprint. Since air travel is inevitable, choosing hotels that help them achieve this goal are preferred business partners.

Sustainability, the focus of our philosophy of ‘Responsible Luxury’, is the core of our hotels and is embedded in our energy efficiency, indoor air quality, water conservation and cuisine initiatives. These practices are deeply appreciated by our guests, who endorse our efforts with heartfelt sincerity.

Notable planet-positive and sustainable experiences at the ITC group include:

  • Self-owned wind and solar farms catering to the hotel’s electrical energy demand.
  • ESP technology (Electrostatic Precipitator) reduces particulate matter from diesel generator emissions and improves the microclimatic zone air quality.
  • Reducing the consumption of single-use plastic items such as plastic water bottles, straws, stirrers, on-the-go cups, takeaway and home delivery packaging, and guest room amenities that are eco-friendly and planet-positive.
  • Sunya Aqua, a brand created by ITC Hotels, translates to ' Zero Mile' water, provided in glass bottles, purified through a new purification system with an in-house water bottling plant.
  • Atmospheric Water Generator (AWG) extracts water from atmospheric moisture in the air, which is used as potable water by bottling through the in-house Sunya Aqua plant.
  • Periodic monitoring of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) by accredited laboratories Rooted to Soil: The first hotel of its kind, ITC Grand Chola, is rooted in the soil and takes inspiration from the Chola dynasty. A glowing tribute to the splendour of Chola architecture, the hotel defines the destination with its uniquely carved and textured exteriors that reflect the influence of Chola temple architecture. ITC Grand Chola, with 600 rooms and ten dining venues, is a tribute to the remarkable vision of a memorable era and the state of Tamil Nadu. Seamlessly combining grandeur with intimacy, the hotel operates by the highest principle of environmental stewardship.

Responsible Dining: ‘Local Love’ offerings from indigenous flavours; ‘Swasthya cuisine’, invoking time-honoured Indian culinary principles that promote wellness; ‘Choose Wisely’, promoting informed choices on fish consumption; ‘Welcommeal’, a composite menu for one-balanced with fibre, protein and carbohydrates. ‘Signature Mornings’- superfoods from India’s heritage, forgotten grains, free range and locally sourced in-season produce, prepared in contemporary breakfast renderings, ‘Mighty Millet’s- extensive use of millets on our buffets and ‘Nut Jar’ – mindful edibles with antioxidants, minerals, Omega 3 essential fatty acids and high dietary fibres.

All bolstered by the WelcomLab Research Centre, which, besides conducting rigorous food safety tests, also ensures environment-related tests are periodically performed.  As said earlier, Sleep, one of the most popular Responsible Luxury initiatives, is a collaborative effort with ITC’s Life Sciences &Technology Centre to enable a good night’s sleep for our guests.

All our Sustainability initiatives delight and inspire our guests to stay, dine and savour their experiences in luxury with utmost responsibility.

South and East India have many indigenous cultures and traditions. How is your group tapping into those features for guests’ experience?

Our hotels define the destination through architecture, décor, rituals, and food. For example, ITC Grand Chola is architecturally inspired by the Cholas and hosts a daily evening ritual of a Bharatnatyam dance performance and lighting lamps, taking inspiration from the land’s ethos.

Similarly, local love food sourced from the region, including forgotten grains, millets, and certified vegetarian (Sattva) cuisine, is among how we showcase indigenous culture and traditions.

You’re venturing into Sri Lanka with ITC Ratnadeepa. How are you placing this property in the Indian Ocean Island nation recovering from an economic downturn?

We will position ITC Ratnadipa as a premier luxury hotel offering the best of both worlds in Indian, Ceylonese and international experiences. Sustainability is in our DNA of Responsible Luxury in all ITC Hotels, and ITC Ratnadipa will be no different in evoking that ethos.

What other trends are you witnessing in the Hospitality sector?

The embrace of wellness has become a prevailing trend. There is a burgeoning demand for hospitality establishments that offer immersive wellness therapies. Purposeful travel integrated with tailored experiences holds significant allure. Guests are increasingly inclined towards sustainable venues, moving away from ostentatious offerings unless responsible and sustainable practices underpin them. The convergence of business and leisure is evident, with a growing preference among professionals for remote work, positioning hotels as focal points. Digitized guest experiences are poised to become customary. Intimate weddings will see a rise, hand in hand with mega gatherings.

We look forward to showcasing our hospitality and standards of excellence to the world.




Written by: Madhura Katti