09 Oct 2017 15:26 IST

‘We want to be the most preferred brand, not the biggest’

Hyatt VP Kurt Straub says the chain has been very mindful about expansion

Hyatt Hotels Corporation was one of the earliest foreign chains to enter India when it opened Hyatt Regency at Bhikaji Cama Place, Delhi, in 1983 (only the InterContinental Group had arrived before). Yet those who came in later — Marriott, Carlson and Accor — grew faster, putting more flags quickly.

In the past few years, however, Hyatt seems to have found a new purpose and strategy. In 2012, it entered into a deal with IHHR Hospitality and re-branded five Ista Hotels into Hyatt brands. Today, Hyatt has 27 hotels in India across 17 destinations and a healthy pipeline of new launches in places like Hyderabad and Bengaluru.

What however excites Kurt Straub, Vice-President of Operations (India), Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, most is the group’s foray into Kerala, with the opening later this year of Grand Hyatt Kochi at Bolgatty Palace, which could open up a huge MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing, Exhibitions) possibility in God’s Own Country, he told BusinessLine. Excerpts:

You came into India in 1983, yet were very slow in spreading the Hyatt flag. Why the delay?

Hyatt does not want to be the biggest company in the world. We want to be the most preferred. So we have been very mindful about expansion. But we are more or less doubling our inventory in India by 2020. This year, we have been busy. Our strategy is to try and go wherever our guest go. That’s why we opened in Rameswaram earlier this year. There is a great opportunity, we feel, to tap into the religious pilgrimage market.

We are also trying to drive leisure more. With the launch of the Andaz (Hotel) in Delhi, we are tapping into that market. We are going into places like Jaipur as well as markets such as McLeod Ganj in the Himalayas, with a 100-room property there next year. We are the only licensed big chain allowed to build an eco-friendly hotel in the forests there. We currently have a portfolio of 6,700-plus rooms and we aim to add approximately 650 rooms more by next year.

Can you talk about your brand strategy in India? Which is your hero brand here?

We currently have six operating brands here. Most of our existing 27 hotels here are Hyatt Regency brands, some are Hyatt Places, a couple are Park Hyatts, there is one Andaz and there is also a Hyatt (Bangalore Hyatt) — but that one will fade out and become Hyatt Centric. The brand which will have the most expansion in India is going to be Hyatt Place, which has great potential in secondary and tertiary cities, and is easier to develop and comes at a good price tag.

That does not mean other brands are not being developed. We have a fabulous Grand Hyatt coming up in Kochi. The room count is 267, including 38 suites and four villas — not as large as the other Grand Hyatts, but it is connected to Lulu International Convention Centre and will stand out as a great place to have meetings, events and conferences.

What is Hyatt Centric?

Hyatt Centric is a lifestyle hotel brand that was recently introduced globally. It is a brand that is placed smack in the middle of where everything is happening. Whereas our Andaz brings everything happening around the city inside the hotel, Centric is from where you can move into action places quickly. More Centrics will be coming up soon.

We also see opportunities for another new brand called Unbound. This is a more flexible brand and allows us to get into palaces and unstructured properties.

Globally, Hyatt has changed its loyalty programme, and also done some acquisitions. What’s driving these?

We are driving Hyatt on a much more digital platform, offering our guests —who book directly through us — better experiences and better prices.

World of Hyatt (loyalty programme), which we hope will make our guests irrationally loyal to us, is moving from merely collecting points to delivering experiences, and super serving the customer who spends money. It’s not an easy task to change from one loyalty programme to another. Streamling it globally is a big challenge. But I think we have got it right.

We are also venturing into adjacent spaces. The acquisition of Miraval (Resorts), a provider of wellness experiences, is part of that strategy. (Just a month ago, Hyatt also announced the acquisition of another player in the wellness space, Exhale)

The Indian market is an unpredictable one with demonetisation, liquor ban, GST... How does a foreign chain cope?

The way we look at it is — how quickly can we bounce back? Demonetisation had an impact for a couple of months when everything was a roller coaster, but it bounced back quicker than we thought. GST may be a bumpy road for a few months. But in the long term, it’s good to have GST. You will be finally transparent in online channels.