French hospitality major Accor has just launched its ultra-luxury hotel brand, Raffles, in India—with plans afoot to open about 17 hotel properties across the price spectrum over the next four years. With close to 10,000 operational hotel rooms across the country, Accor is betting big on the long-term travel and tourism growth story. This is even though the sector was among the worst affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, due to nationwide lockdowns and frequent travel restrictions by various state governments.
“If you look back over the last 10 years, the growth in inbound and outbound business in India as a global destination has been second to none. Growth in the country has been just wonderful to see,” says Mark Willis, CEO - India, Middle East, Africa, and Turkey, Accor. Willis overseas over 400 Accor hotels and India accounts for over 10% of his portfolio. “It’s (India) a critical piece of our business,” says Willis over a telephonic interview.
Accor reported revenues of €824 million in the January to June period of calendar 2021, down 6% over the same period last year, and down 53% over the same period of 2019. As of June, the hospitality group had a portfolio of 762,000 rooms across 5,199 hotels. “The impact of the pandemic over the last 18 months has been awful, but it doesn’t mean that things will stop. India will bounce back faster than many other locations globally,” adds Willis.
The recently launched Raffles in Udaipur is built on a 21-acre private island on the Udai Sagar Lake and boasts of 101 lake-facing rooms and suites, each with private gardens and plunge pools. The luxury property has an introductory package of ₹45,000 plus taxes per night. “I have got to say the first month of trading has been surprisingly positive,” says Willis. “Luxury has got a promising future; it’s a growth segment. Especially in a location such as India where there is a high desire for quality and luxury experiences,” he adds.
Its luxury line-up for India includes a second Raffles property—being built in Jaipur—which will open in the last quarter of 2022. A second Fairmont hotel, too, is in the pipeline, which will be located in Mumbai. Besides, says Willis, “We will have five more Novotel (hotels) over the next few years. We already have 20 operating and opening the 21st in October.” At present, of Accor’s global portfolio of 40 hotel brands around 10 of them operate in India.
A large part of Accor’s operations in India is through management contracts. However, they do have investments in India through InterGlobe Hotels—which is a 60:40 venture between InterGlobe Enterprises (IGE) and Accor, for their budget hospitality brand Ibis. IGE is the parent company of India’s largest airline IndiGo. Additionally, Accor has some special purpose vehicles for select properties in India in which they are equity investors.
“From an Accor perspective, and personally, India is an absolute key destination. I have been working and interacting in India for many years now, it’s one of my favourite locations and fabulous to see the country develops as it has,” says Willis. “And Accor remain super optimistic on the recovery.”