Having started some fifteen years ago as a hotel marketing and representation company, Amritara Hotels and Resorts has come a long way since and is now a full-fledged hotel brand with a portfolio of thirteen operating hotels on a pan-India basis many more additions in the pipeline scheduled for 2022. TTJ met up with Ruchi Uberoi, Director, Amritara Hotels and Resorts, to learn more about the transformation, the brand philosophy, positioning, experience, and future growth.
– Gurjit Singh Ahuja
Having gained a strong foothold while marketing hotels for almost a decade, a paradigm shift happened in the thought process at Amritara around the year 2015. The intention was to transition from being marketers to hoteliers. The management donned the thinking caps, and around 2018, the results started showing up with an even spread of properties across the country.
Ruchi explains, “The focus was not on plain standardisation of product across a star rating or category but to create experiences, every property in the Amritara bouquet is unique in its category with each having its own unique location, character, history soaked in local culture and steeped in folklore. So, we created a unique story and experience across each property highlighting their individuality while retaining their originality and identity.” This approach has indeed worked very well for Amritara, so whether it is a wellness retreat in the Himalayas or Kerala, a beach resort in Goa or Kerala, a city of religious importance like Amritsar or Varanasi, palace forts at Udaipur, or Wilderness outposts at Jawai the right blend of owned, leased and managed properties and curating unique experiences is the perfect mantra and the way forward.
Bringing the local flavours into the food, furnishings, furniture, colors into the décor combined with the local hospitality is a key ingredient for every property. Ruchi adds that Amritara as a group lays a lot of importance in employing local talent and workforce generating employment opportunities and a better life for the local populace because not only do they see it as their corporate social responsibility but also the local talent pool brings in their unique expertise, warmth and feel that add to the aura and essence of the property. The group emphasises training and sensitising their staff to modern Indian and international sensibilities, expectations, and service standards, but feel a few rough edges left, add to the local feel, as true service comes with a genuine smile straight from the heart.
This finger on the pulse feeling, according to Ruchi, gives her the confidence to go out and make statements, like the one she makes for her Jawai property, that there is a 99 per cent guarantee of leopard sighting during the guests’ stay with them.
Talking about the tough times faced by the hospitality and travel sectors over the last two years due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, Ruchi elaborates that, like everyone else, they were no exception and the initial few months were unprecedented with lockdowns. Everyone was scared to travel, with international and domestic business coming to a standstill. However, they took this low period to improve their internal systems, reservation, and property management systems, enhance computing technology and train their staff. Also, they undertook intensive safety training to sensitise their teams to enhanced safety requirements and protocols that will become almost a given for future hotel operations. Except for the second wave and the last 15-20 days of 2021-22, the Omicron variant playing spoilsport, 2021 was a decent year for their chain. Although international guests are no more coming and will still take some more time once the Pandemic is behind us, the hotel chain is well evolved to cater to its domestic clients with easy booking and cancellation policies.
Talking about changes in ARR and occupancies, Ruchi clarifies that room rates and occupancies have stabilised in almost all leisure destination properties post the initial shocks and setbacks. However, weekends are better performing, and weekdays are also not bad. However, the same productivity does not apply to city hotels, where surplus inventory in the market makes things extremely competitive.
Also commenting on the evolution of consumer buying behavior, the role of the travel agent, tour operator, online hotel consolidators, and OTA’s, Ruchi elaborates that no one can match the advisory one-on-one consultative role that a travel agent or tour operator plays with their clients. However, lately with the lockdowns and reduced connection between people, consumers are doing major buying online. As a hotelier, she is committed to maintaining complete price parity amongst all stakeholders. Still, she cannot do anything about big players’ aggressive and predatory marketing practices if they subsidise the end-user from their huge marketing kitty. Human nature is to go with the lower price and immediate booking, but hopefully, the client will realise the added value that an experienced agent brings to the process.
Talking about future expansion plans, Ruchi says, “2021 slowed down our expansion drive but we trudged on diligently and are confident of increasing our hotel count from current 13 to 17 and also increasing the key count from the current 400 keys to 500 keys plus by end 2022.