Indian hotel chain brands have wrong strategy, says Marriot CEO

Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson has had a complicated year. On the one hand he has cemented himself at the top of the hospitality world with a relentless pursuit of growth around the world.

On the other, he’s had to wrestle with an unruly loyalty points programme that yielded the second largest data breach in history. He’s also had to deal with Hilton taking over the Habtoor complex in Dubai, Marriott’s largest ever exit from a hotel property in the region.

The one thing he isn’t concerned about however, is Indian hotel chains.

“If I’m a startup company, starting up in India and want to have a particular niche then maybe it might make sense,” said Sorenson, referring to hotel brands such as Taj that are looking to grow further in regions such as the Middle East in a bid to attract a growing number of discerning travellers from the country. “But coming up with an Indian brand is exactly the wrong strategy,”

Sorenson was speaking with Arabian Business in Dubai where he said the hotel will look to double its count in India with select-service brands.

India is among the world’s fastest growing hospitality markets. Despite revenue and regulatory pressures in 2018, demand for hotel rooms outpaces supply by a factor of nearly double, according to PwC. Indian tourists are also among the fastest growing source markets to Dubai.

“It’s a market I personally love, and we’re the largest operator in India, as much as it drives them [Taj] crazy,” said Sorenson. “And we complete extraordinarily well for the Indian consumer in India and abroad, because of our distribution in India and abroad.”

Arabian Business has reached out to Indian Hotels Company Limited, of which Taj is a subsidiary, for comment. 

As Indian traveller tastes evolve, keeping the growing market attracted to Marriot is a matter of brand familiarity and loyalty programmes, according to Sorenson. “Whether a customer spends more or less depending on what’s going on in their life, we can stay relevant to them throughout that journey,” he said.

“The choice of price points, design sensibilities, and programmes gives us the opportunity to say we can get you now and we can get you thirty years from now when your tastes may have changed,” he said.

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