Advancing The Guest Experience: Sudeep Jain Discusses IHG's Tech Investments And Vision For The Hospitality Industry

In the next 3-5 years, IHG has plan to add another 50 hotels in South-West Asia, the majority of which will be added to the India portfolio


In an exclusive interview with BW Applause and Everything Experiential, Sudeep Jain, Managing Director of IHG (InterContinental Hotel Groups) South West Asia, discusses the use of cutting-edge technology to enhance the guest experience in the hospitality industry. IHG plans to add 50 new hotels to its South-West Asia portfolio within the next 3-5 years, with the majority being located in India. Jain also highlights the growing investment in the MICE sector and the anticipated importance of leisure travel in 2023. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.

1. The innovations introduced by IHG, including advanced use of technology

We are investing in new-age technology, tools and solutions that make the biggest difference to our guests, owners and teams. Our cloud-based platform, IHG Concerto, is critical to the work we’re doing in this space, serving as the foundation for much of how we’re creating digital advantage. Blending core hotel applications into one seamless, powerful platform capable of enhancing the guest, owner and colleague experience, Concerto gives us the ability to add regular releases with new functionality at pace and scale. For instance, Concerto for Owners platform helps to manage costs and assess property performance, displaying key metrics in real time on any device at a click of a button. Guests will be able to seamlessly select add-ons and tailor their stays, with prices adjusted based on the attributes chosen. 

Additionally, our ongoing investment in cloud-based technology is accelerating the rollout of digital enhancements that are improving the guest experience and ensuring it is safe and secure.

In 2022, we rolled out our next generation IHG mobile app, which is using data insights and new designs to offer a richer customer experience. The app allows us to quickly introduce new features, it also enables personal and timely marketing offers and provides seamless access to IHG One Reward including the ability to choose and redeem Milestone Rewards.

2. IHG plans to increase its footprint in India. What would be IHG’s growth strategy? 

India is an important market for IHG, and we have been on a growth curve in the country for the past several years. With well-loved brands and a robust business model, our strategy for the country has been to respond to market needs and focus on our mainstream brands as our key growth drivers. Our Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express brands are a great fit for this segment and have done exceptionally well in India. These brands represent 75 per cent of our operating portfolio and majority of our current pipeline. 

In the next 3-5 years, we plan to add another 50 hotels to our portfolio in South-West Asia, majority of which will be added to our India portfolio. While our mainstream brands will continue to drive growth in line with market demands, we also see potential of debuting our global brands such as Regent, Kimpton, voco and the recently launched Vignette Collection, at the right time with the right partners and at the right location. We have also recently announced the debut of our global brand voco in India with a signing in Jim Cobbett and are exploring further opportunities to take the brand to other markets within the country. 

3. What is IHG’s 2023 outlook for the hospitality industry?

Domestic tourism facilitated business recovery across leisure and corporate segments, and it will continue to remain an important segment for us in 2023 as well. We have a solid presence in the mainstream category with Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express hotels which cater to this demand. 

Also, availability of reliable hospitality options which can offer travelers the assurance of a clean and safe environment will continue to be important and relevant. Our IHG way of clean programme that deploys new, scientific protocols, is suited in providing this assurance to our guests and support their wellbeing throughout their stay. 

F&B is an integral part of hospitality and will remain important for our business. We will continue to diversify and enhance F&B offering across our hotels this year. 

We also look forward to further expand our portfolio in the SWA region and bring new brands to key markets. 

4. As one of the leading hospitality chains in the world, what is IHG’s commitment to shape the future of responsible travel?

With hotels close to local communities all over the world, IHG is in a unique position to make a real difference. At the core of our culture and business is to operate responsibly and sustainably. As part of our promise to provide ‘True Hospitality for Good’, we’ve made significant progress in the recent years by addressing operational, people-led and environmental challenges that are key to us and our stakeholders. 

We are helping shape the future responsible travel through our recently launched ‘Journey to Tomorrow’ commitments and making a positive difference for our people, communities, and planet

5. Travel trends you foresee in 2023?

In 2023, leisure travel will play a significant role with overall sentiment being optimistic. Travellers will continue to explore, experience and value off-beat destinations and hidden gems domestically including in tier II and III cities. IHG has a strong presence in prominent leisure destinations in the country via our mainstream brands, constituting Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express. These hotels are very well positioned to cater to domestic demand and will continue to be our growth drivers in India. 

There will be increased focus on efficient usage of digital and technological innovations as it helps in managing costs, improving profitability, and streamlining processes, while enhancing guest experience and personalization.

Demand for reliable hospitality options which can offer travelers the assurance of a clean and safe environment will continue to be important and relevant. Keeping this in mind, our IHG way of clean prprogramhat deploys new, scientific protocols are ideally suited to providing this assurance to our guests and susupportingheir personal well-being throughout their stay. 

Lastly, F&B is an integral part of the hospitality industry and will continue to grow. Our focus on diversifying and enhancing F&B experiences including services such as takeaways, home delivery, dial a chef etc, will continue, as it worked very well for us last year. 

6. IHG’s business performance in 2022

With increased consumer demand and positive sentiment for travel, hotels across our portfolio registered a noteworthy increase in bookings and occupancies across key destinations. In Q2, 2022, our total revenue in India exceeded 2019 levels with occupancy levels having jumped from 60 per cent in Q1 to close to 75 per cent in Q2 this year, demonstrating a 26 per cent jump YoY for H1, which is 2 per cent ahead of 2019 levels.

In 2022, we continued to strengthen our portfolio in the region with multiple new signings including Holiday Inn Express Dahej Bharuch Road, Holiday Inn Gurgaon NH 8, Crowne Plaza Dhaka Gulshan and Crowne Plaza Resort Pushkar. Our business in general witnessed a significant upsurge in the country with growing demand for domestic leisure travel, early return of business travel, weddings and conferences & events. 

7. About the comeback of big fat Indian weddings in 2022

After two years of the pandemic, the big lavish Indian weddings navigated their way back in 2022 with 30% increase in wedding bookings from 2021. We witnessed a surge in bookings and received a great response from guests for the wedding season.

At IHG, the demand continued to be buoyant across all our hotels. Hotels were back to their full banqueting capacity and guest lists reached to almost same levels as that /of 2018 – 19. Domestic destinations also gained substantial momentum with guests planning their weddings at various locations from beaches to palaces to hills, closer to nature. We received requests for more personalised, exclusive experiences, lavish buffet spreads that indicated increase in wedding budgets.

8. Rise of MICE spends 

With the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in Q2 of 2022, we witnessed recovery in the MICE segment with corporate off-sites, weddings, global CEO visits, large-scale conferences, team meetings, and training becoming the key demand generators. With restrictions on international movement still persisting, the MICE business grew double digit in the domestic market. Our hotels were well equipped to cater to this demand and performed exceptionally well. 

Other factors that significantly contributed to MICE revenue were corporates on hybrid work models looking to establish a stronger connect with their teams on-ground. Pharmaceuticals and manufacturing companies that traditionally preferred outbound MICE for large formats conferences, moved them to the domestic market at lucrative price points. Socials gatherings and weddings have also been a strong driver to robust MICE spends. Most of our hotels are anticipating a double digit growth in these segments for 2023.

9. Top trends for MICE in 2023

Inbound MICE has witnessed robust recovery in 2022 and this momentum is expected to continue into 2023. Domestic destinations will continue to be preferred for conferences, events and weddings. With this, demand for quality branded accommodations will rise further. IHG has strong capability in this area, across our portfolio and our hotels are equipped to cater to big and small meeting & events.  We are also the go-to hotel brand for business travellers and groups as we offer a variety of spaces to connect for meetings and events for all occasions. 

Adherence to safety, hygiene and cleanliness practices within the hotels will be an expected norm going into 2023 as well. Lastly, as guests are increasingly becoming more mindful about travelling responsibly, sustainable practices followed by hotels will also play a key role in decision making for MICE. 

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