The rise in spiritual and religious tourism has put several ancient cities on the top destination spot for many travellers. This has not gone unnoticed by the hospitality industries, which are capitalising on this opportunity in haste.

Only recently, Royal Orchid Hotels paved its way into Odisha, with the launch of Regenta Central in the coastal city of Puri. This marks Royal Orchid's inaugural establishment in Odisha and its fourth in East India. The aim is to establish itself as the favoured destination for tourists visiting the city for spiritual, wellness, or cultural tourism from all corners of the country.

Although India is a haven for a plethora of cultures and religions and people have always swarmed to these devotional places, it is only recently that the bigger names in hospitality are taking an interest. Religious tourism in India has been steadily rising, with a projected CAGR of over 16% from 2023 to 2030. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the religious inclination of Indians has further intensified.

In fact, according to SOTC Travel, a travel company, religious tourism has clocked approximately 40% year-on-year growth last year, while estimating it to become the largest segment within India’s tourism umbrella.

“Earlier, the hotel industry was blacklisted by the banks because they had burnt their fingers. Post-Covid, the situation turned around. It helped people discover their own country as it was difficult to get visas for other countries in the beginning,” says Chander Baljee, CMD Royal Orchid Hotels.

Secondly, he credits the ease of booking through digital platforms, improved flight connectivity, and the expansion of roadways and highway infrastructure across the country, including those connecting smaller cities to the growth of the hospitality industry.

Royal Orchid has hotels located in other religious and sacred destinations, including Amritsar, Ajmer, Somnath, Haridwar, Mahabaleshwar, and Kedarnath. The group is looking at Ayodhya and Tirupati, as well as other religious spots, says Baljee, while adding they have already signed one hotel in Tirupati, which is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

“Business in religious tourism is beneficial year-round,” adds Baljee. Plus the business of the wedding industry has further augmented the revenues for hotel catering and banqueting revenues. Royal Orchid has nearly 20 hotels, which cater to the business of weddings particularly and earn their major revenue share from them.

“This is a segment we are expanding on and it’s going to be a big focus for the coming years,” shares the CMD who has plans to add 4-5 wedding destinations every year.

Royal Orchid presently operates 106 hotels nationwide, with a focus on 5-star and 4-star hotels and resorts. While prior to COVID-19, they had 55 hotels, they added 15 more during the pandemic and increased their portfolio by an additional 30 hotels post-pandemic. Moreover, the group has plans to open 25-30 more hotels within a year’s time with around 2,000 rooms, as part of its expansion plans across India.

“We were a little risk-averse during Covid days and we took hotels on a management basis. It was a win-win situation for both as they get the benefits of a chain,” he adds.

The hotel group is slowly transitioning from hotel ownership to an asset-light model and has begun investing more in hotels, particularly by incorporating properties on lease or through a revenue-sharing basis. Going forward, they are going to opt out of partnerships and only focus on management for other owners, franchises, and lease-basis, which can either be fixed or flexi.

Although Royal Orchid's business turnover surpassed that of FY23, due to recent corporate-level hiring, profitability has remained nearly stagnant for the company.

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