WelcomHeritage embarks on a promising growth journey


Indian luxury hospitality chain ITC-promoted WelcomHeritage Hotels & Resorts has had a busy and exciting year. After unveiling its portfolio expansion plans in March this year, WelcomHeritage rolled out innovative packages like ‘Drivable Holidays’, ‘Head for the Hills’ and several digital-friendly initiatives. Moving forward, it seems like a no-stopping time for the hotel brand! CEO of WelcomHeritage, Abinash Manghani, who is spearheading this position since 2020, has astute views to share about the Indian hotel industry in general, the market-ruling trends, evolving guest demands as well as the immersive expansion roadmap for the WelcomHeritage brand. Here, Manghani shares his thoughts on it all and apprises how his hotel brand is developing a reputation for quality and safety while expanding its wings swiftly to face the unprecedented demands

Post-COVID, how is WelcomHeritage adapting to customers’ evolving needs?

Selling comfort, convenience and trust in that the guests were absolutely safe- every brand had a similar proposition around the second wave of Covid-19. We studied the trends that emerged – Local before Global, Drivable holidays, road trips, remote working, luxury staycations, pod travel to the concept of bleisure combining business and leisure travel.

Addressing these, we adopted a very proactive approach and introduced various innovative packages like ‘Work from Here’, ‘Drivable Holidays’, ‘Head for the Hills’, Staycation packages and more alike to suit the requirement of different types of travellers. We also partnered with Indigo, ICICI Bank, SBI Bank and introduced special packages for their clients. Drive-in campaigns across social media and big banners were promoted by hotels of exotic and salubrious locations.

To tackle the growing need for flexible travel options with refundable and zero cancellation bookings, we also adapted our full refund policy on cancellations.

Exclusivity and safety have now become more important than ever. In the last two years, how have the WelcomHeritage properties capitalized from this trend?

Travellers will remain cautious and will choose to holiday with brands that they trust in terms of safety and hygiene and will be willing to pay more for that too. Thus, brands that will go the extra mile will be preferred. Following all the government-released protocols, we adopted and continue to follow a unit-based manifesto, ‘Travel safely with WelcomHeritage’:

  • A 10-point safety measure – this included mandatory use of the Arogya Setu App; thermal screening for guests and staff; Sanitizer access points within the hotel premises; adequate steps to ensure social distancing; regular health-check of staff; F&B Operations as per FSSAI guidelines; and more
  • Contact-less check-in & check-out and services
  • Passport to travel –This is a guide that has the protocols that one needs to offer while travelling to any city in India
  • Sanitised rooms and amenities
  • Cash-less transactions

Tell us more about the “Buy now, pay later” scheme. How is this aimed at offering stress-free holidays to the guests?

Buy Now, Pay Later”, known as BNPL is a short- term financing avenue that allows consumers to make purchases and pay for them at a future date or in installments, often interest-free.

We’ve recently brought this new method of payment into WelcomHeritage through our collaboration with GetSimpl. This system integration allows guests to book any hotel of their choosing from the WelcomHeritage website. Currently, WelcomHeritage offers this payment structure only at the best available rates. A first-of- its-kind in the Indian hospitality industry, we hope to ease our guests’ financial stress of travel; we expect it to boost direct business from our website and its touchpoints.

What all Indian states do you see most of the surge from? Any new and interesting destinations to be added to the portfolio?

The demand for hill destinations like Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh was already on a rise, and in response to this, we added three new hotels last year including WelcomHeritage Elysium Resort; Spa, Shimla (Hill Resort), WelcomHeritage Badi Kothi, Allahabad (Heritage Hotel), and WelcomHeritage Cheetahgarh Resort & Spa, Bera (Wildlife Retreat) to our portfolio.

As per the survey done by YouGov, 24% of travellers will be looking to travel to the hills. Destinations like Manali, Mussoorie, Nainital, Ooty, Munnar, Coorg, and Kashmir will be highly sought- after. While we’re prepared to welcome them at our properties in most of these places, we’re soon opening our resorts in Ooty and Solan too. Also, with international travel opening up, we would now like to focus on Heritage destinations as well. Azora by Ayatana, our very soon-to-be launched property in Fort Kochi is a step towards this.

While the staycation concept kept the hospital- ity industry afloat in recent times, what other trends/ segments do you see ruling the hospitality industry?

The pandemic has fundamentally changed the way consumers plan their travel as well as the way we, as hoteliers look at our markets. International travel restrictions had ensured that the Indian travellers who would earlier look abroad began to focus here on holiday too and have, in the process, discovered how interesting and varied Indian destinations and hospitality offerings are. We can safely say that domestic travel will be at much higher levels than pre-pandemic. Remote working has also inspired people to take short or long breaks that don’t impact their work schedule whilst exploring a destination. This opened many new consumer markets for Indian hoteliers.

Any expansion plans in the pipeline for 2022?

WelcomHeritage is planning to continue the brand’s expansion within the country with three planned openings in 2022, including WelcomHeritage Azora, Fort Kochi, WelcomHeritage Ayatana, Ooty and WelcomHeritage Parv Vilas, Kasauli Hills and Solan. When operational, these properties will add 101 keys to the existing inventory of 919 keys.