Leveraging scale to drive profits across portfolio; new offerings on the cards, says Zubin Saxena

It has been over a month since he has been in the saddle and Zubin Saxena, MD & VP, (Operations), RHG South Asia, has his priorities sorted. He believes that riding on the hotel group’s significant scale and presence, the company could drive profits across the portfolio. Radisson is also going to launch seven new global brand programs dedicated specifically to the Indian outbound clientele, he shares. An exclusive interview with Zubin Saxena on his immediate priorities and the road ahead for the Radisson Hotel Group in India: 

What are your immediate priorities as the new chief of South Asia? Could you list out some of them?

Radisson Hotel Group has a distinction of having presence in more than 60 cities in India. We have presence in locations panning across the country, from Srinagar to Salem and Guwahati to Gorakhpur – we have covered the length and the breadth of India extensively and hold significant scale! Hence, it is quite logical to capitalise on the strength of our scale and develop a strategy of unlocking synergies and profitability within our entire portfolio. We will accomplish this by unifying operations throughout India. By doing so, we expect to unlock significant profitability at our hotels across our portfolio. It is equally important for us to deliver value for our owners while delivering seamless experiences to our guests and creating growth opportunities for our colleagues at our hotels.

Recently, we launched the clustering pilot of our 24 hotels in Delhi NCR that will enable us to unlock economies of scale and achieve significant efficiencies across Operations, Sales, Marketing, Procurement and Talent. Eventually, it is our plan is to optimise our Pan India portfolio using this unification strategy across all our 93 existing and nearly 50 upcoming hotels.

We follow an excellence driven mindset. To this end, we have recently launched the “Center of Excellence” programme for our hotels in India. Our organisation will be driven by an unrelenting focus on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), which will target all areas of our business from top line revenues, profitability, to Guest experiences and brand standards. We are developing a performance driven culture within the company. Separately, we have sharpened guest satisfaction surveys and enhanced technology platforms. We have also created a series of innovative new initiatives covering all aspects of our business. They include EMMA, a revolutionary global unified technology platform, strengthened brands, enhanced commercial strategies and operations protocol. We will also be rolling out seven new global brand programmes, including Rad Family, Radisson Meetings and Welcome India, which is dedicated to outbound Indian guests.  

Significant expansion is underway, and it is expected that Radisson will be 200 hotels-strong, in operation and under development. Where is the thrust? Is it secondary and tertiary markets, or metros, or a mix of both?

We have maintained a consistent upward trajectory over the past three years with close to 30 hotel openings. We have maintained robust growth driven by a significant number of new signings, a vast distribution network and expansion in Tier I, II and III cities. Over the last few years, we have consistently signed 12-15 hotels and opened 7-10 hotels, every year. 

We are focused on increasing our market share through strategic developments, strong partnerships and deep local market knowledge to maintain similar momentum this year. We will continue with our geographic expansion strategy and will adopt a logical approach towards hotel development across Tier 1, 2 and 3 markets. In Tier 2 and 3 markets, we have successfully adopted the “hub and spoke” model – expanding into destinations within 2-3 hours’ driving time of our existing locations. This year, we plan to open hotels in a mix of leisure and commercial destinations like Mumbai, Gurugram, Agra, and Kashmir. We are also looking to the launch of India’s first Radisson RED hotel in Mohali within the next 12 months.

Radisson has taken an asset-light approach in India. Do you see a change in the stance in the coming days? What is the focus area? Revenue?

We will continue to adopt an “asset-light” approach in India, based on a model of managing hotels rather than owning them. The key to our success lies in developing feasible projects and forming strong and lasting partnerships with owners. It is important for us to create mutual trust and value for all stakeholders, customers and employees.

We follow a strategy of managing our hotels and will look at franchising opportunities “selectively” based on the experience of prospective partners. The management model ensures close adherence to brand standards and a high degree of professionalism.

Besides having a strong focus of Revenue and profitability, it is equally important for us to enhance owner value proposition, build brand recognition, develop great guest experiences and be the become the hotel company of choice.

Going forward, what is the brand positioning that you are looking at? Competing with an array of Indian and global brands, what’s Radisson’s USP?

 With the launch of Radisson Collection, we are looking at expanding our presence in the Luxury segment. Radisson Collection would be an ideal brand for large meetings and convention driven hotel in tier 1 markets, it would fit equally well in a high-end luxury resort setting or even a palace conversion in Rajasthan!

Radisson RED is our new upscale lifestyle select service brand focused on the Millennial mindset. This brand fits very well with the young Indian mindset and we anticipate having a RED is all major metro locations and state capitals, and perhaps leisure locations such as Goa.

We are focused on providing added value to owners through strong relationships and operational excellence – our core pillars of success in the region. Our vision is to become the company of choice for guests, owners and investors and talent. At Radisson Hotel Group, our brand promise is “Every Moment Matters”, which is centred around the power of the guest experience, as we commit ourselves to delivering memorable moments to every guest, every day, everywhere, every time.

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