© Ravi Wazir, 2020

Hospitality in Today’s India

The Indian Hospitality industry is buzzing with activity! Everyone who’s anyone is either already in the sector or heading towards it. Businesses already in the sector are working towards diversification, while those with little or no experience in it want to hop onto the bandwagon as well. Ironically it is often the people from other sectors who do better at the business, since they don’t have a preconceived notion about how things should be done. With both local and international players investing aggressively in the market, hospitality in India is certainly the place to be.

The present Indian hospitality market appears to be a goldmine of opportunities. Sharp businessmen are anticipating market changes before they actually occur, and earning a reputation as trend setters. The rest are following suit, keeping pace with the market while the change occurs. Either of these two categories are considered either good or safe to be in... at least at the moment.

While there is indeed opportunity in the sector, not all stories are those of success. More often than not, mismanaged businesses that are not well thought through and thus poorly aligned with the market, are quickly disappearing. The industry itself has a reputation for creating and destroying fortunes. Many enter the business for the glamour and leave it disillusioned. They few that stay focused and manage to withstand the onslaught of challenges the business throws at them, succeed.

Some of the current trends in the sector are: Hotels and restaurants are being coupled with malls, multiplexes and other forms of retail offers to create multi-use integrated development spaces. Some players previously looking at entering the hotel business have decided to stay away. Entrepreneurial gaze has shifted from tier 1 to tier 2 and 3 cities for a while now. High real estate costs have resulted in the creation of real estate light formats such as kiosks amongst other things. Single product eateries such as cookies and corn for instance have gone down well with consumers. High energy & water consumption has led to the need for green hotels. Personnel earlier used to working without a break every single day, are now looking at a 5 day week for a more balanced lifestyle. Consumers seem to be going back to multi-cuisine restaurants on one hand while simultaneously looking forward to niche offers on the other hand. An entire industry of casinos is simmering and ready to explode soon within the sector. Customer Focus and Customer Experience are the way to go. Online connect with consumers and vendors will grow in importance and gradually become a habit. An establishment that wishes to attract a truly “global consumer” will be forced to revisit their openness towards people of diverse belief systems in race, values, sexual preferences, pets etc. The list is endless...

Consumer preferences & demands invariably keep changing. The only way to stay relevant in the market is by innovatively addressing this and tweaking the business concept to keep pace. The threat of competitors following a proven business model has always existed, and the only way to survive this is differentiating oneself distinctively through one’s brand. Customers’ habits & preferences are becoming increasingly important in indicating which “yes” buttons you can press to persuade customers to choose your brand over others.

Good vendor associations are based on seeing vendors as people, who like us are entrepreneurs endeavouring to deliver to their customers. Treating them as associates who help us deliver our offer to our consumers in a true spirit of partnering is the best approach. This helps us not just with a smooth operational flow but goes a long way to making the work space enjoyable to interact with other human beings.

The fact is that before hospitality as we know it today was rolled out as a commercial industry, it was first something in the private domain – the welcome and warmth extended to a guest that visited us at home. Replicating a genuine home hospitality experience in a commercial setting is obviously not easy. “Atithi Devo Bhava” meaning a guest is the reflection of God, has always been the mantra most practiced by successful hospitality businesses. The effective practice of this vision of hospitality and the creation of a positive and memorable experience for our guests can only be effectively executed by people i.e. our employees who are key to delivering our brand promise.

The entire industry is focused towards people... our guests, our vendors, our employees and everyone around us. Our efforts towards building collaborative, mutually beneficial relationships are the reason the hospitality industry is known as the people industry.

Another typicality of this business is that of the perishability of food, which makes inventory management an important tool. Project delays escalate costs at a rapid pace. The need to stay alert to timelines and work towards compressing them is thus the challenge over which we have the least control.

The external environment offers our businesses a whole lot of challenges and threats, for example: having to keep pace with ever-changing customer demands, the onslaught of innovative competitors, delays on the part of suppliers and keeping abreast with new technology. A large part of our daily work-life includes wrestling with these pressures.

While some of our hotel and restaurant associations have been lobbying on behalf of entrepreneurs to resolve government related issues, we ourselves have little or no control over this particular section of challenges.

Considering such a scenario holistically, it becomes necessary to create a new brand or market offer based on an understanding of consumer needs and habits. Thereafter, staying relevant involves constantly innovating and building on the offer. This means not just ideas by a few people at the top, but creating a work environment that encourages the generation and application of thought by front-line employees. It is they who are our eyes and ears in the market and deal with the guest on a day to day basis. Listening to them will certainly help us develop not just good guest responses but also good employee responses. After all, retention of both guests and employees has always been a huge challenge this sector has faced.

While all of this is happening it also becomes necessary for us to look at the inconveniences that the presence of our business may be causing to our neighbourhood and environment at large. An effort to be socially responsible is thus inevitably the order of the day.

Over the past few decades the hospitality industry in India has gone through some wonderful times and some rather challenging ones. We are presently going through a rather interesting phase which holds great opportunity for both capitalism as well as contribution towards our economy. Let’s make the best of it. Jai Hind!