A ray of light on the horizon of tourism

Guest experience and detailed hospitality are the main focus at WelcomHeritage Hotels, says CEO Abinash Manghani

For 25 years, WelcomHeritage has represented the best traditions of hospitality and heritage tourism in India with a

unique portfolio of palaces, forts, havelis and resorts in 35 destinations. The journey began in 1997 as a joint venture between ITC Ltd and Jodhana Heritage. WelcomHeritage, over the past two and a half decades, has transitioned from refurbishing the architectural marvels of heritage palaces and havelis to more recent additions of nature resorts and wilderness retreats to conserve and appreciate the country’s natural heritage.

“Keeping in mind the spirit of modern India and travellers, we have created and curated luxury boutique small stays and resorts amidst picturesque and varied landscapes of mountains, coffee plantations, riverside resorts and historic cities. Each property we have designed has a unique USP and each has its own distinctive style and character, giving them an edge over their competitors,” says Abinash Manghani, CEO of WelcomHeritage Hotels, adding that the effort is to create a balance between local traditions and modern requirements, creating a best-in-class authentic experience without losing the spirit of heritage, in some of the most inspiring settings in the country. “Guest experience and detailed hospitality are our main focus,” he says.

The journey, shares Manghani, has been challenging but satisfying. “We started with just five hotels and today we have 40 properties in our portfolio. From havelis and palace hotels, including one where a 320-year-old temple resides, to shikaras in Kashmir, enchanting wildlife retreats, to authentic cultural immersions in exotic locations across the country such as Leh and Manali, WelcomHeritage takes great pride in showcase the brilliance of India’s diverse heritage,” he adds.

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Despite the challenges caused by the pandemic across the industry, WelcomHeritage’s outlook for 2022 appears to be building on last year’s success as it has added properties in Shimla, Allahabad and Bera. Speaking about plans for 2023 and the next five years in terms of properties, destinations, number of keys and businesses, Manghani says: “Continuing to expand our brand within the country, we have three planned openings in 2022, including WelcomHeritage Azora in Fort Kochi. , WelcomHeritage Ayatana in Ooty and WelcomHeritage Parv Vilas, Kasauli Hills in Solan. When operational, these properties will add 101 keys to the existing inventory of 944 keys. We plan to have 65 hotels by fiscal year 2025-26 with 2,500 keys in total. We are considering expansion in South and East India, to complement our strong presence in the North.”

From a tourism perspective, there is something for everyone in India, from the rich cultural and historical heritage to the variety in ecology, terrain, natural beauty, and culinary diversity spread across the country. But even India’s all-time highest tourism numbers are nowhere near heavy tourist destinations like France, the US, Spain and China. Sharing his views on the extent of growth in India’s hospitality sector, the WelcomHeritage boss says: “Despite setbacks in the pandemic years, India’s tourism and hospitality industry has has become one of the main drivers of growth among the service sectors in the country. India offers geographical diversity, attractive beaches, 37 World Heritage sites, 10 biogeographic zones, 80 national parks and 441 sanctuaries. According to pre-pandemic reports, by 2028, international tourist arrivals in India were expected to reach 30.5 million and generate revenues in excess of US$59 billion. However, domestic tourists are expected to drive growth after the pandemic. (Source IBEF)”

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To reach newer audiences and target new sectors in the domestic travel industry, Manghani advises:

  • Using local SEO for eCommerce: Focus more on search engine optimization for local audiences and keywords based on geography
  • Promote local attractions, culture and tradition.
  • Work with regional/local influencers: Considering the rise of online searches for local travel blogs, many hotels are focusing on collaborating with regional influencers (or local micro-influencers)
  • Promotion of vacations at home or short breaks inside or in nearby places
  • Flexible booking policies: Travelers want to stay within a manageable distance of home and want to be able to book less than 30 days in advance, or even within the same week.

Manghani is optimistic about the future, expecting to achieve at least 30-40 percent of incoming business in the third and fourth quarters of fiscal 2022-23. “Before the pandemic, 80 percent of the business was inbound. Currently, the perspective is that inbound tourism will begin with a moderate flow as of January 2023. Domestic continues to be the key to growth in the medium term”, he shares.

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