To beat the growing competition from foreign players in India, ITC Hotels is reaching out to history by betting big on its heritage arm, WelcomHeritage. With its heritage hotels that spin a medieval yarn, the brand is planning to add at least 120 rooms to its chain of 40 hotels—grand palaces, traditional bungalows, magnificent forts, and quiet nature resorts—across India. It is targeting a turnover of nearly Rs 100 crore by the end of FY 2018-19.

“With the average size of our hotels being 27 rooms, it is not the number of rooms which we add to our portfolio. The endeavour is to add more and more unique and offbeat destinations,” said Sunil Gupta, CEO of WelcomeHeritage.

While the number of rooms may seem modest, it is so because “since it takes time to restore a heritage property, we target to add at least three to five new destinations every year”, he said. The company, a joint venture between ITC Hotels and Jodhana Heritage, is planning to grow at 18% in the current fiscal year.

The company has properties across Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Sikkim, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Delhi.

According to the ministry of tourism and culture, any property that is over 50 years old is categorised as heritage. Usually, hospitality brands play with experiences as well as the history that is offered by these properties.

The hotel chain’s latest property, WelcomHeritage Ashdale in Nanital, is being marketed as a quiet gateway to the old world charm of Uttarakhand. One of the earliest bungalows in Nainital, it was built in 1860 by British officer Captain George Rowels as a summer home. The quaint home, made of stone and wood, with wood sprung floors and English ivy climbing the walls, has been converted into a boutique hotel.

From the Rowels, the cottage changed hands in 1871, when Raja Bahadur of Sahaspur Bilari acquired it from the family, which was departing for England. It stayed a part of the Sahaspur Bilari estate for over a hundred years till 1980, when the queen of Sahaspur Bilari, Indra Mohini, gifted Ashdale to her daughter, Reena Kumari. The princess operates Ashdale in partnership with WelcomHeritage.

Similarly, WelcomHeritage Bal Samand Lake Palace, a 14th century majestic structure built by the royals of Jodhpur as a retreat, offers rooms with their own rose gardens and a croquet lawn for a royal experience.

In line with ITC Hotels’ asset-light strategy, WelcomHeritage will manage privately-owned properties. “We do not want to get into equity partnerships. We are in talks with a lot of heritage property owners,” Gupta said.

An asset-light strategy is an arrangement where a brand will only lend its name to a property and will look after the sales and marketing, instead of ownership. The company will invest Rs 2 crore in the sale and marketing of each property.

The brand is primarily looking at expanding in the Northeast and the southern parts of the country as it sees “untapped potential” in these regions.

ITC Hotels plans to add 2,500 rooms in the next five years, taking the room inventory from 9,500 to 12,000, at an investment of Rs 25,000 crore.

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