Adapting for the Future of Hospitality

By ITB Community and Puneet Dhawan, Senior Vice President of Operations – India & South Asia at Accor

ITB Community had a conversation with Puneet Dhawan, Senior Vice President of Operations – India & South Asia at Accor, to explore how hotels in India and South Asian markets can prepare for rebound, which will lead us to reimagine the hotel business models to meet new challenges and align with new opportunities presented by the pandemic crisis.

Puneet Dhawan, Senior Vice President of Operations – India & South Asia, Accor

Has the pandemic changed hospitality industry forever and what do you see as the way forward?

Every crisis is a catalyst for change! The impact of this pandemic is violent and unprecedented on hospitality industry around the globe. Some changes as it relates to technology enhancements will be permanent, yet history shows that people’s behaviour goes back to the way they were soon after the crisis is over. The “new now” is not the new normal and our top priority currently is to make our guests feel safe to stay in our hotels and allow us to create memorable experiences for them.

Hotels are undergoing a transformation with the deployment of digital, contactless solutions and potential design changes as a consequence of health and safety protocols. In the short term, the focus will be domestic tourism, sustainable travel is becoming popular with the emergence of experiential travel.

Where do you see the Indian hospitality market heading as we ride out this pandemic?

Depending on how long this pandemic continues to disrupt travel patterns and buying behaviours, the survival of the unbranded and independent hotels will be at risk. This will lead to higher brand conversion.

The organisation structure across the board will be flatter and leaner with a mission to move to a variable cost model as much as possible. Innovation brought in by technology will be adopted, however, it is important to note that the purpose of technology is either to make the operation more cost effective or enhance the guest experience.

On the development front, strategic investment opportunities will arise as hotel assets become available. Having said that, the growth and development of travel related infrastructure plays a pivotal role in any developing economy and will continue to do so in an underserved but growing market like India.

How do you see travel trends changing in the future?

Considering the current environment, the most important and evident change is the increased focus on health and safety of guests—which is the key to hospitality as well as the overall tourism industry. Until now, cleanliness was a hidden process, however going forward, more visible and transparent procedures will instill confidence amongst the travellers.

Domestic market will flourish as hoteliers are witnessing a spike in demand for weekend getaways, staycations, or for celebrating special days that were missed. Guests will be selecting branded properties as hotels are providing them complete assurance of safety and hygiene.

Technology has always been important aspect part of our industry, however, going forward, its usage will increase at every step. Be it ordering food, housekeeping, payments to check-in; everything is going contactless and online.

At Accor, our teams are focusing on these trends and inviting guests for a safe and memorable experience at our properties. Additionally, we believe, these times call for a collaborative approach and partnerships with likeminded brands will be beneficial. We need to work together with the Troika—Airlines, Tourism and Hotels for the industry to rebound

In your view, do you see a major shift in client’s views pertaining to the MICE industry? Why?

With changing times, requirements and expectations of the clients have also evolved. For example, we are witnessing corporates being very selective in their travel plans and only travelling for essential work, which has accelerated the adoption of technology and providing digital services in the MICE industry.

Guests currently prefer virtual events or those with a minimal audience and are even touring venues virtually. The focus has also shifted towards smaller corporate meetings, weddings, and social events. Their preferences have significantly shifted from enjoying cost efficient space pre COVID-19 to clean and hygienic space post the pandemic.

When do you see the hospitality industry recovering from this?

It is difficult to predict recovery as there is no clear sight for the pandemic to end. It would be like looking through a crystal ball and as Ray Dalio quoted “He who lives by the crystal ball is destined to eat ground glass”.

We hope that the worse is behind us. As a large domestic market, India will recover compared to countries that are reliant solely on international travellers.

At Accor, we have to a large extent, managed to limit the impact of the crisis by taking immediate steps to protect our resources, review cost structures and through constant engagement with our hotel teams and owners.

Regarding employees, what does future hold for them? What are the topmost priorities?

There has been a complete shift in the workspace as the environment called for taking up multiple roles and stepping up to work cross departments. For the future year as well, those employees will be preferred who are willing to engage in unconventional culture and are willing to be flexible and agile.

Additionally, there will be an increased focus on the overall wellbeing with emphasis on mental wellness. At Accor, we continue to help employees to remain calm under pressure, deal with difficulties and better resolve personal and professional issues.

Going forward, we will be moving from static to an agile workforce planning approach, one that can continuously reshape the workforce in response to the changes in business and skill requirements. We will be focusing on re-skilling and capability enhancement of existing talent in tune with new age hospitality and emerging roles. Also, we will be reintroducing the roles into skill clusters which will be a combination of build and buy strategies.

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