Ratnesh Verma, senior vice-president, real estate and development, Hyatt Hotels (Asia Pacific), is sure that the recently concluded unique management contract deal with IHHR Hospitality will be loaded with positives. In conversation with Ashish K Tiwari, he outlines what the growth engine looks like in India and much more. Edited excerpts:
What’s your growth strategy? How many hotels are you launching over the next two quarters?
Our growth strategy is not about planting in flags. We are not the largest hotel company and we don’t want to be one. Our objective is to be the most preferred hotel company across the segments we serve. Over the next six months, we are looking at opening some exciting hotels starting with Hyatt Regency hotels in Gurgaon and Ludhiana, Hyatt Place hotels in Hampi (opened last week) Pune, Bangalore, Andaz Gurgaon and Grand Hyatt Kochi.
You recently signed a deal with IHHR for introduction of Hyatt brand in India.
In fact, much before the IHHR deal, we’d already signed a Hyatt branded hotel in Raipur. This project is likely to get operational in another six months. The 110-room hotel is being developed by the Saraf’s – owners of Grand Hyatt Hotel and Residences at Vakola, Mumbai.
Is the IHHR deal uncommon in the Indian hospitality market?
It’s not entirely uncommon. In many situations, you do have owner-managed assets that are then managed by third-party specialist hotel companies. At some point in time, businesses reach a stage when they have to choose one option over the other. Promoters ask themselves if they want to be a hotel developer, owner or a hotel manager. Beyond a certain stage, from a scale point of view, the management requires a lot more investment of resources, time and commitment.
IHHR wants to continue being a hotel developer and focus on building assets.
So, the promoters have already identified their priorities. They also see a good fit with a company like Hyatt that will give their assets access to global distribution, marketing and brand equity in the country. Hopefully, we will be able to deliver a performance that would meet their expectations.
We are currently working with IHHR to go through some of the key changes that would then lead to branding of the hotels which we feel would be sometime between February and March 2013.
What changes are you likely to make to the Ista hotels’ portfolio?
I think the key changes are more from the operational point of view like plugging into the Hyatt point of sale (PoS) from a technology point of view. The collaterals will undergo changes as well. Most importantly, we are trying to incorporate changes that are customer touch related points because it is not just putting a name on the building but also delivering what the customer would expect from a Hyatt hotel. The Ista hotels will not undergo any structural change at all.
There are talks that the deal was done primarily to give Morgan Stanley (investor in IHHR) an exit?
I don’t think so. I have been dealing with key executives at IHHR, investors and the management team for over a year now. I can’t comment specifically on a market rumour, but what I can say is that they have been very unified and collective in driving this process.
Market sources also said Hyatt has invested $25 million for this deal.
Not at all. Hyatt is managing the hotels and we have no equity stake whatsoever in this transaction.
So, is Morgan Stanley still invested or does the London-based Bhanu Choudhrie’s C&C Alpha Group own a majority of IHHR Hospitality?
I am not sure if Morgan Stanley is still invested. There was some media report saying they have divested shareholding, but you’ll have to confirm it with them. The ownership structure is fairly spread with Choudhrie family as major shareholders.
Do future developments from IHHR automatically come to Hyatt with the signing of this agreement?
Our relationship with them is specific to the current portfolio of five hotels. As and when they build additional assets, we hope to be part of that development, but there is no understanding/guarantees from either side. Both Hyatt and IHHR will have to look at it on a case by case basis.