Hyatt Hotels stay steady, on course, not chasing numbers and delivering quality

TourismFirst interviewed Peter Fulton, Group President, EAME & SW Asia, Hyatt Hotels and Arun Saraf, owner of Grand Hyatt Mumbai and several other properties operating exclusively with Hyatt. Responses below are featured combined between the two, except for specific questions asked of Arun Saraf at the end of the interview.

So how do you see Hyatt Hotels building value for your owners and your customers in an environment that is appearing more and more competitive and complex as we go further?

Hyatt is a very unique company. It is not going for numbers. It is not counting the number of hotels. It is bringing in quality rooms and quality products into the market where a discerning traveler at every price point can find his Hyatt; the lowest price point of Hyatt Place or the highest of Andaz or a Park Hyatt. We are not in the numbers game. It is about putting brands together that satisfy every person or every traveler looking for a certain experience. Such as the Hyatt Centric for those who want to be downtown or the Hyatt Zilara or Hyatt Ziva in the resorts portfolio because there is a market out there for people who want to be with the family, or travel with couples.

Hyatt Hotels1A lot of these new brands which you are talking about, have yet to enter the Indian market? 

They will, they are yet new. For example, we just launched the Unbound Collection and we did that last month in the US. Now that was to pick up the opportunity for our loyal customers who want to go experience a castle that has been converted into a hotel in France. It is for unique experiences. We are developing hotels based on experiences rather than this is the size of the room etc.

When you launch brands such as Andaz, would you call it a Hyatt Andaz, or only as Andaz? Does it have a prefix, or stand alone?

Andaz is one of the few brands we have that does not have Hyatt in its name. But that’s our luxury lifestyle unique experience brand.

But does it help to put a Hyatt pre-fix to it? 

I don’t think you would book it because it’s a Hyatt. You will book it because you know what Andaz stands for. Some lifestyle brands actually benefit from a Hyatt suffix but some do not. But all of them have a similar Hyatt top management quality at every price point. So when you say Andaz, it doesn’t matter. The Andaz customer is not looking for the Hyatt prefix, he is looking for that experience.

So would you spend that much more resource in making the customers in India, for them to understand what Andaz is? In recent times, one has seen totally new bands open, and soon close for lack of awareness of what they stood for! 

Better still, I think we need to ask yourself why it is not working. If it is a fantastic hotel, that is in the right location for the right person it would work. So you can go put 2-3 million dollars putting up billboards, and yet fail, because the product was either not right, or not in the right location – it all needs to be right! Yes it is about brand awareness, but what does that mean. How does it come about? The customer has to first stay there, then understands what it means. But first and foremost, how do you get customers to go in. It also demands that the brand needs to be well defined. We want to talk to you but how do we reach out to you? An OTA gives us no information about you as an individual. But once we have you in the hotel, we know who you are, and we give you the experiences that makes you feel comfortable, you will come back. 

Where do you position an Andaz in relation to say, a JW Marriott?

So Andaz is luxury, it’s a bit below the Park Hyatt. It is breaking the mould of luxury hotels in this country. Because you will not have… 

Andaz is a very specialized, super luxury product. So a person who has seen everything is the person who goes beyond that. So at JW, or Grand Hyatt that experience and look and feel is different. People who have experienced this and they want more. Andaz is for that breed of customer.

Is there a common thread in Andaz? Or is each different? 

Each Andaz is different. For instance, if you go to the Andaz in Maui or the Andaz in Amsterdam, these I mean these really reflect where they are. At Aerocity, all the rooms have different artworks that reflect Delhi. 

Is this quite different from a Grand Hyatt? 

Yes, very. It’s the architecture and the interiors. You walk in and you experience something totally different. You won’t find the lobby!

With this forthcoming almost done deal of Starwood and Marriott creating the merger of the loyalty programs and the total room inventory, is Hyatt getting smaller? 

It is a good opportunity for us. Marriott and Starwood combining together will definitely become a large company but they will lose their soul. Hyatt being small is still going to be specialized and caring, because the customer needs more. We have 600+ plus hotels worldwide. 

Would you say you are taking more a boutique approach? 

We do not want to be the largest hotel chain. We are the smallest large hotel chain. This is not a numbers game. This is building experiences. We want to be where our customers want to go. And we want to be at those customer price points. 

How is your growth happening in India? Are you happy? 

Our growth mirrors everyone else’s growth in India. Last 4 years have been very difficult; you are now starting to witness a resurgence of interest in developing hotels. Hyatt has 4 projects in development. 

Arun, you are the owner of one of the few iconic properties in the country, The Grand Hyatt remains literally at the top of the pack, in Mumbai? How do you intend to keep this image going?

The Lucknow hotel to be opened in first quarter of 2017, will change Lucknow, just as the Ahmedabad one changed Ahmedabad which opened April last year. Lucknow is 210 rooms and it is a Hyatt Regency.

What news on the Park Hyatt in Goa? 

They won their court case, they now expect the bank to go appeal to the Supreme Court.

What does this mean, what the courts are saying?

It means that the courts are saying that the process of sale was not done correctly. In the meantime, the hotel continues to operate and keeps going from strength to strength. 

The big talk now is of budget hotels and what’s Hyatt’s plan to become a bigger player in the budget category?

So we are not in the budget category. Hyatt Place is also not budget. You as an individual and as a traveler when you talk about budget, is it just about the price? People pay `3000 for a hotel room, and at Trident Gurgaon you pay `1100 for club sandwich, so tell me the logic. Is budget `1000 a room?

When I say budget, my understanding is let’s say about `4000?

So there are five star hotels in this city selling rooms at 4000 bucks. It is about the experience. So at Hyatt Place you don’t have bell-boy, you don’t have room service. The rooms are at about 5000/6000. It is a limited service brand, an entry level to the Hyatt experience. We are not operating at any lower level. 

Arun, how do you see the launch of Andaz? What does it mean to you and your family?

We opened the Hyatt Regency brand in India and it was a sterling success. We launched the Grand Hyatt in India with our Mumbai product, and it has remained iconic. We shall now do the same with Andaz in Aerocity.

And you, Arun, remain a staunch Hyatt man, from one brand to another, without ever a thought of having hotels operating under different brands?

Why should I? Happy to be with one brand, and remain steady with them, and grow with them, and they grow with me.

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