“Cutting-edge technology can enhance the guest experience, but nothing can replace the human touch.” – Vikas Chadha, ‎Executive Director and CFO, Berggruen Hotels Pvt Ltd

13 Mins read
Vikas Chadha, Keys Hotels

Memories are based on powerful experiences. There is a growing expectation now to always ‘experience’ something. In the hotel industry, design trends, technology, and personalization can all help to provide a meaningful experience and drive guest loyalty.

With emerging technologies and evolving guest needs, hotels have to play catch up to stay current with guest needs. With an influx of new players in the hospitality sphere (sharing services such as Airbnb and Home Away), hotels need to show potential guests that they’ll get more bang for their buck by staying at their properties than they would at a local’s apartment. It’s time to go above hotel guest expectations.

Read more interesting and latest hospitality industry trends below in our exclusive interview of Mr. Vikas Chadha, ‎Executive Director and Chief Financial Officer, Keys Hotels.

1. Let our readers know about the journey of Keys – from inception till now.

Keys was founded in 2006,  with the management and shareholder intent to build out a leading brand of mid-market and upscale hotels in India under the brand name of ‘Keys’. The Principal sponsor of the company is Berggruen Holdings Limited, a direct investment vehicle of The Nicholas Berggruen Charitable Trust. The company is managed by a world-class management team with collective experience of over 120 years of industry experience at senior management levels. As on date, the company has acquired 21 premium sites in strategic locations – 7 owned operational hotels and 14 managed/franchised properties translating to a total of 2000 Plus rooms.

Keys has 50+ sales workforce in key cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Pune, Kochi, Chennai, Chandigarh, and Ahmedabad. The teams look out for conference, leisure, and events. We have 22+ online travel agents. We have tie-ups with corporate, airlines, credit card companies, and tour organizers. We have 900+ corporate accounts, 1600+ small and medium enterprise accounts. Feet on street model for driving corporate/SME business. We have proprietary central reservation system –we offer direct-online, real-time reservations for guests and travel agents. We have a directory listing – both offline and online and a centralized revenue management system.

Some awards won by Keys:

  • ‘India’s buzziest brand’ recognition by Agency Faqs in 2018.
  • ‘#Hot50Brands’ award organized by Paul Writer, a renowned marketing and customer experience consulting firm in 2018.
  • ‘Mumbai’s Hot 50’ brands at Mumbai Brand Summit & Awards in 2015.
  • ‘The Best Brand in Mid Market Category’ in India in 2016

Hotel Awards

  • Keys Prima Hotel Temple Tree Shirdi received ‘The Trip Advisor Traveler’s Choice Award’ in family category hotel in India in 2016 and 2017.
  • Keys Hotel, Pimpri Pune was awarded ‘The Best Mid-Market Hotel’ in the Western Region in 2016.
  • ‘Most Preferred Business Hotel’ (Keys Hotel Pimpri Pune) & Customer delight hotel of the year (Keys Prima Shirdi) – CMO Asia in 2016.
  • Mahabaleshwar Hotel won the ‘Gold Circle Award’ from Agoda in 2015.
  • Hotels in Goa, Thiruvananthapuram, Bangalore (Hosur road) and Ludhiana won ‘Better Holiday Awards’ – Holiday IQ in 2015.
  • Ludhiana hotel won the ‘Excellent Performance Award’ – GoIBIBO in 2015.

2. Being part of an international group, what do you think is the potential for Indian hospitality sector? How does the strong promoter background help?

India is slightly more than ~1% of the global hospitality market. Being one of the fastest growing major economies, there are strong tailwinds for excellent growth in the Indian hospitality market.

Indian Hopitality Market

We believe India has a strong growth potential basis the following indicators:

  • Strong growth in the service industry has led to increased corporate spending on business travel.
  • Business activity has now reached Tier II and Tier III cities, thus creating demand for budget hotels in these cities.
  • The government has introduced various policies to promote the Indian hospitality industry.
  • The Visa on Arrival scheme was extended to 150 countries in 2015.
  • Foreign tourist arrivals have increased in India as it continues to be favored tourist destination for leisure and business.
  • Foreign tourist arrival is expected to grow at a CAGR of 7.1% between 2005-25.
  • Over the past few years, there has been a surge in domestic tourism.
  • Hotel companies are now shifting their focus towards budget and mid-market positioned hotels in Tier II and Tier III cities to cater to the lower paying domestic traveler.
  • Our promoter group is optimistic about the India growth story and we have been in investment and growth mode for the last few years. The strong promoter background gives us access to international investments and also gives us the freedom to look at various options on growing the brand, both organically or inorganically.

3. What are the various sub-brands available across India or selected locations? Brief us about features.

We have three sub-brands, which are as under:

  1. Keys Prima Hotels
  2. Keys Select Hotels
  3. Keys Lite Hotels

Keys Prima Hotels

4. What’s your take on the hospitality brands using new technologies to improve their business practices? Are you also leveraging technology to better service your guests? If yes, brief us.

Technology is a massive enabler for the hotel industry, helping hotels automate operations and serve guests better. A number of trends have helped shape and continue to shape the industry. Today, adoption of IoT (Internet of Things) technology has had a big impact on a hotel’s system like HVAC, smart TV, and guest room entertainment.

According to Gartner, there will be 26 billion IoT connected devices by 2020. Wireless charging is another useful trend. Around 90 percent of travelers globally view their smartphone as their number one travel companion. Hotels have identified this and have gone a step ahead to adopt wireless charging pads. These charging pads will be seen at all major and mid-sized hotels as one of the standard amenities to serve guests.

Interactive walls are also increasingly being used to delight guests at the hotels. Hotels can leverage interactive walls to showcase their services and amenities. It has been estimated that by 2020, robotics will become an important part of the hotel industry. Right from reception to concierge to room service, everything will be handled by robots.

Virtual reality, a bit futuristic at present, is being used by hotels to offer a different type of experience to their guests. Hotels can enable guests to go on a virtual trip to exotic locations, and tour conference places, guest rooms, and other amenities of the hotels.

For a hotel, its brand website is one of the most important marketing assets. Therefore, hotels should leverage the power of web booking engines to receive the maximum number of direct bookings through their website. Embedded in a hotel website, the web booking engine allows travelers to view the availability of rooms in real-time.

Hotel websites must also be mobile responsive. This means that whenever potential buyers visit a hotel website using their smartphone, they must be able to navigate through all the pages seamlessly. This is because the trend of booking a hotel using the phone has increased exponentially in recent years.

Hotels have increased digital marketing budgets to engage with today’s guests on social media platforms, mass mailing, etc. to convert potential guests into actual guests. An investment in SMAC (social, mobile, analytics and cloud) has become a must for maintaining and enhancing the hotel business.

Today, high-resolution digital photos and videos of the hotel are a must to attract guests. Hotels have also started investing in artificial intelligence and virtual reality. A 360-degree tour of the hotel’s public areas and guest rooms has also become a common practice. Professional firms are capturing hotel videos and details via drones as well.

At Keys. we have implemented many of the above initiatives and are at the forefront for adopting latest technology trends to give the best customer experience and efficiency.

Suggested reading: 10 key technologies and trends to support digital infrastructure in 2019

5. The modern guest experience demands exceptional services at each step. How different are the challenges that you face today as compared to ten years back?

Change in guest expectations is one of the biggest challenges in the hotel industry.

We have witnessed that in today’s world, the guest demands a lot more from the hotel. Free Wifi, entertainment system, unique stay experience, and swift check-in check-out services, F & B services, automation and more. Guests are well traveled, due to better connectivity world has got closer and so guests are exposed to international trends and services which are now in demand from the Indian Hotelier as well.

However, the basics still need to be ensured,  hygiene and cleanliness are ranked as number 1 priority for choosing and recommending hotels post stay. Innovative use of technology that benefits customers and not just hotel operations helps hotel chains to stand out from the competition and attract new customers.

The Oracle Hotel 2025 survey, conducted in February 2017, discovered that guests are willing to engage brands that offer new technologies if they feel they’re in control of their experience. It started with the demand for free Wifi connection but this is very much a basic need now. Hotels have since turned to robotics and voice control technology, amongst other technological installations, like smart minibars and golf simulators.

If you are excited about high-tech hotels, read the Business Insider article on the 12 most high-tech hotels in the world. The Wynn hotel in Vegas already uses Amazon Echo and Marriott is exploring Amazon Alexa and Google Home to use in their bedrooms.

Whilst technology provides endless opportunities to improve hotel efficiencies, hoteliers must strike the right balance between automation and the human touch. Investment in technology is critical to long-term business success but it must not come at the cost of personal service.

Memories are based on powerful experiences. There is a growing expectation now to always ‘experience’ something. In the hotel industry, design trends, technology, and personalization can all help to provide meaningful experience and drive guest loyalty. It is no longer enough just to go out for a nice meal in a nice restaurant with great service. Restaurants are aware of the need for offering a real ‘dining experience’.

6. As the users are becoming increasingly more digital, how is Keys serving the needs of digital consumers with different profiles?

Consumers are becoming more digital and digital marketing has to be an indispensable part of the marketing strategy for any hotel business in the current technology era.

At Keys, we have taken the following initiatives:

Content Marketing and SEO:

The hospitality industry is extremely competitive.

Every customer is vying for better deals for them.

It is thus important to engage with customers in a positive manner. Content marketing is one of the most important ways to engage with existing and new customers.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning in hospitality:

Artificial Intelligence in the Hospitality industry will be a game changer in the coming years for sure.

The use of AI certainly is one of the topmost digital marketing trends in the hospitality industry in 2019 and beyond. The key to using AI is that it can understand the human context. The computer algorithm can enhance its capabilities as well as update and improve itself. Machine Learning (ML) is pretty much similar to AI which is its advanced version. AI can dramatically change the game of digital marketing in the hospitality industry.

Well, the whole idea of marketing is to attract and retain the customers. AI would help automated system target individuals. The marketing efforts can be extremely personalized and dynamic with the use of AI.

Big Data in the hospitality sector:

Big Data is making big strides in every digital media strategy. Data analytics can go hand in hand with AI to help understand the customers even better than the customers do themselves. The idea is to provide the service which the customer is about to think of. Marketers aim to create delight by changing habits through advanced analytics and machine learning tools.

We have already moved to a digital age. Impact of IoT on Digital Marketing is going to be huge!

7. How has the role of new technology, home-sharing disruption and online travel agencies impacted your business?

Technology, in general, is the driving force in any industry these days and is usually what enables disruption. Home-sharing, for example. Airbnb has this disrupting tendency and is certainly a development to be mindful of. It will be interesting to see how the improved targeting of business customers will have an impact.

In fact, the individual and flexible character of home-sharing has led to the revival of serviced apartments that cater both to medium-term housing seekers as well as the hotel guests looking for more flexibility. This leads to more operators and buyers that we support in this segment.

8. What types of events do the Keys Hotels support?

Keys is mindful of its responsibilities to the country and society at large. Apart from being able to generate a fair bit of employment in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities where we operate some of our hotels, we also give opportunities for internal growth, training and learning to our employees who have been seen growing to top positions and even leading our hotels as General Managers.

We believe in an environment-friendly hotel operation and conservation of natural resources and work diligently on mitigating all wastages. On the social side, our hotels associate with local NGOs for donations, hotel walkarounds, blood donation camps, donations to prime minister relief funds etc.

9. Today, in the hotel industry, providing only a good room cannot suffice. What Keys offers, which sets it apart in the competitive world?

Some aspects of the guest experience are timeless. Travelers tend to expect, among many other things, cleanliness, complimentary amenities and proximity to business meetings or key attractions and great view.

We at Keys always strive to get the basics right which include an efficient check-in and checkout service with a smile, healthy breakfast, and clean rooms. But with emerging technologies and evolving guest needs, hotels have to play catch up to stay current with guest needs. Following additionally are important in my mind in terms of guest expectations.

Connectivity: After price and location, this may very well be the most important factor in a guest’s decision to book. A survey by J.D. Power discovered that, along with breakfast and parking, free Wi-Fi is one of the most essential amenities for travelers.

According to Gallup, many guests would give up some amenities in exchange for complimentary Wi-Fi, while others still would be willing to pay extra for better connectivity. For many guests, Wi-Fi is a necessity, not a privilege, and they chafe at the suggestion that they should have to pay for a service the coffee shop down the street is offering for free.

Good value: With an influx of new players in the hospitality sphere (think sharing services such as Airbnb and Home Away), hotels need to show potential guests that they’ll get more bang for their buck by staying at their properties than they would at a local’s apartment. It’s time to go above hotel guest expectations. It doesn’t matter what the price is, as long as they feel that what they’re getting for it is worth it.

Research from a Fast Company article has shown that millennial business travelers are more likely to book a slightly more expensive room if they perceive that it offers more value than the cheaper option.

Mobile check-in and check-out: Mobile bookings are here to stay, but the industry’s use of the smartphone doesn’t end there – it’s time to go above hotel guest expectations. Travel-weary guests are no longer keen to stand in line for fifteen minutes while the group ahead of them checks in. Trip Advisor found that 34 percent of travelers want their accommodation to offer a mobile check-in option. As the service becomes more ubiquitous, this number can only rise.

Authentic service: While it’s true that great service has always been a fundamental part of the hospitality, technology has replaced some of the services guests once took for granted. Automation is driving more self-service — including mobile check-in and check-out — but fundamentally, guests still want hotel staff to take care of them.

Poor service, according to USA Today is a top driver for dissatisfaction among hotel guests, so hoteliers must encourage a culture of impeccable customer service if they wish to win repeat visits. Cutting-edge technology can enhance the guest experience, but nothing can replace the human touch.

Sustainability: The guest of the 21st century is more environmentally conscious than the guest of the past decades, more and more people are making changes in their lifestyle to counter the effects of climate change. Increasingly, travelers are voting for more eco-friendly hotels with their wallets.

An article from Skift revealed that an estimated 62 percent of travelers consider the impact on the environment when booking hotels, and 17 percent said they’d even be willing to pay more for eco-features. As an added bonus, eco-features can even save hotels money — lights that turn off when the guest leaves the room, for example, can reduce hydro costs.

An emotional connection: It’s in hotels’ best interests to encourage guest engagement. Disengaged guests are less likely to return to a property and more likely to go online to broadcast their dissatisfaction on the internet. The bad news, according to Gallup, is that only 20 percent of millennial guests are engaged. The good news is that engaged guests are less price sensitive, regardless of whether they’re luxury guests or economy travelers.

This means guests with an emotional attachment to a property are more likely to book the property, despite their budget. Engaging guests is as simple as encouraging them to provide feedback and treating them like they’re unique. So, set hotel guest expectations with your staff to ensure a positive stay.

Suggested reading: High speed & vernacular internet with easy payment options to make e-commerce the preferred shopping mode in 2019: Puneet Chawla, CEO & Co-founder, Jaypore

10. What are the strategies hotels are employing now to boost revenue and curb costs?

A driver for both revenue and costs is distribution. All hotels face the constant struggle to generate direct bookings while being findable and bookable via the dominating online channels that have also evolved into information and review platforms.

Technological advancements in channel and revenue management create the chance to benefit from the strong development of room rate levels. Hotel chains apply a high degree of centralization to central offices and implement the infrastructure that allows for quick expansion and broad allocation of fixed costs. Also, we see more and more hotel developments that attempt to open F&B offerings to the neighborhood, returning to the original ideas of boutique hotels as “the place to be,” in order to generate external revenue.

11. A quickfire round:

  • A bit of advice to the budding entrepreneurs in the hospitality sector.

Hospitality sector has a long gestation period, it requires an entrepreneur to be on his toes and be alert. It gives you exponential returns, both in terms of ROIs as well as capital appreciation. Hoteliers get the opportunity to connect and interact with a plethora of individuals and personalities which enriches them as a person.

  • One thing that inspires you in the morning.

The potential to create and add value. Having been involved from the inception of the brand it gives me a great feeling to see our national presence and popularity. It gives me great inspiration of having been a part of this building process and I always strive to make it the best.

  • One incident that comes to your mind when you reminisce.

The opening of a hotel where we are running against deadlines to complete the product, where we know that rooms are already pre-booked and guest would walk in through the doors on their booking dates. Turning all levers and collectively as a team activating the hotel to meet the deadline are some incidents I can recall.

  • A book that you read and would suggest to others too. Why?

I liked “Business Adventures” by John Brooks. Would like to tell you there is a history and inspiration for me having read the book. Back in the early 90s, Warren Buffet loaned Bill Gates a copy of “Business Adventures”, and it became a mainstay of the Microsoft founder’s collection. From analyses of big-time companies to an overview of various Wall Street dramas, the information provided in this bestseller should be indispensable to the modern day entrepreneur.

  • Your Favorite Music

I love Jazz music. In Instrumental, you would find Kenny G playing in my car. It relaxes you and helps you plan the day. I believe in decoupling my day once I am outside office and spending quality time with friends and family.

  • Favorite Holiday destinations

Has to be Las Vegas. I also love the busy life of New York. Singapore is a country I admire the most, it’s a great place to stay both for work and vacations.

  • Your favorite part of the day.

Spending time with my two lovely children, my wife and parents. They make my life complete.:)

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