The Success Story of HICSA. From a Modest Beginning to Becoming the Flagship Hospitality Event


HICSA was a byproduct of our competition comments back in the early part of the century when we had just set up the consulting company. We unfortunately lost two senior executives to two different companies, and the competition back then suggested to the market that HVS my then company, was a one man show. Therefore, to counter that argument I decided to start a conference which would give confidence to the hotel owner community that we were a bigger firm and use it to market our services and it worked. Another factor that pushed me towards hosting my own event was that the only prominent conference back then was the FHRAI annual event, and I would never be given a speaking slot as I was considered too young to be a speaker. The first time I got the opportunity was in 2004 thanks to Vivek Nair’s leadership and I pulled off a good session on stage. Post that even a few people present said why don’t you do this more often and have your own event and thus six months later, HICSA was born.

The first event in April 2005 was on the back of the global WTTC Summit in India as we decided to attract some of the global speakers attending the event. Our first big catch as a speaker that year was Marilyn Carlson Nelson of the Carlson family that owned the Radisson group at the time.

The Grand Hyatt, Mumbai Decade

The first event happened at the Hilton Trident at Nariman point. However, we quickly outgrew the space and moved to the Taj Lands End. With our continued success of growth, we were forced to find yet another bigger venue and we landed up at Grand Hyatt, Mumbai. The next 9 years were at the Grand Hyatt at a stretch and HICSA became synonymous with this hotel. We had great growth, some very memorable speakers from around the globe. We initiated some lifetime achievement awards with PRS Oberoi and Capt. Nair to be amongst the first two recipients. My favorite however remains that we were able to present the same to Dr AB Kerkar – the man who laid the foundations of the Taj or today’s IHCL. He was a forgotten hero and I felt proud that we were able to recognize him.

In 2009 we introduced the deal of the year award and also the Hotel of the Year awards which have become very popular and in fact were the first time such awards were ever done. The main evening dinner at the Grand Hyatt usually followed and was always the showstopper event and we organized many an entertainment evening around this dinner at the outside courtyard. The second day of the events always ended with a dinner across many of the city’s other hotels. A few lucky folks made it back to the post HICSA parties which went on till dawn at China Kitchen which converted itself into a night lounge.

The New Delhi Experiment

After 9 years we felt there was fatigue setting into our conferences and we needed to do something different and therefore decided to try another hotel, another city and we chose to bring the event to JW Marriott, Aerocity. This was also the first year we chose to try and combine our operations event HOSI with HICSA.  Unfortunately for us, both experiments did not achieve the success we had hoped for and after two years we decided to go back home to the Grand Hyatt. The Delhi experiment was a mystery to us as to why it failed to meet our expectations. One consistent message we got was from most of the development teams that were based in Delhi was that they wanted the conference to be outside their hometown. True or not, we perhaps just chose to accept that discontent.

Our return to Mumbai in 2018 also coincided with us becoming Hotelivate and us continuing to have the trademark to all the conferences not just in India but around the globe with the THINC series in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Africa.

Covid Set Back

March 9th, 2020 – approximately 24 days before the conference we took a decision to cancel HICSA. It allowed for delegates time before all their flights were booked. With the globe shutting down 10-12 days later, in hindsight it turned out to be the right call. This however created a huge pressure on finances of the company. We had already spent money on the event, paid advances and had no revenues to back these expenses. Plus, many of our delegates and some sponsors asked us for refunds which we chose to honour despite our own precarious financial situation. We had salaries to pay now for two year or more before we had any conference. We also knew that whenever we did do the next event, we will not make any revenue as the new sponsorships would be limited but the expenses will remain there.

We innovated and offered some of the existing delegates a one plus one deal so that they did not ask for refund and made the ticket valid for 3 years.  Those sponsors that chose to stay back and not ask for refund were given discounts in the next two years etc etc.  This was all good and the right thing to do but it added up as a burden on us for 2-3 years.

Finally in 2021 when we did indeed re-start HICSA (in September) it was in Delhi at the Taj Palace as it was less expensive for us to travel as organizers to Mumbai and it was only possible on the generosity of IHCL and Puneet Chhatwal who hosted the event for us. We shall forever remain indebted to him and Nayan Seth, the GM at Taj Palace and his team, for the same. In 2022 we chose to go back to Grand Hyatt, Mumbai for our 17th event.

Creating a Theme

Our return to the Grand Hyatt was unfortunately not that great. The hotel team during Covid had changed and somehow the HICSA mojo was missing and therefore we took an audience poll and were encouraged to choose a new destination, hotel and therefore we moved to Bengaluru at the Hilton Hotel & Convention Center at Manyata Park. Keeping in mind that we had a slightly disappointing HICSA when we had moved out of Mumbai, therefore we decided to embrace Bengaluru and created a theme for the first time around AI – Artificial Intelligence, Astute Investments, and Architecture & Interiors. We also chose to focus on a lot of the smaller hotel companies and owners from the south. The icing on the cake was our ability organize a round of golf for some of the golfing enthusiast. Bengaluru was a success as we managed to get our numbers back to 600 delegates, but the most heartwarming part was the number owners that attended was 147 or nearly 1/4th.

This year we have continued in Bengaluru and have continued with a theme and shifted focus on food and beverage. Our theme for 2024 is Savoring South Asia: Innovations in Food Tech and Design. As an industry for many hotels food and beverage constitutes 30-50% of their revenues.  Yet how many times do we really talk of the subject at hotel conferences. We talk about rooms revenue, segmentations, and optimization of revenue. Yet we don’t use or have similar tools to apply for the food and beverage business. This year we hope to change some of that through the discourse that is being planned; at the JW Marriott Golfshire which allows us to create a big culinary food carnival at the end of day 1. We have 7 restaurants from across India putting up food pop ups. The convention center next door is our largest venue till date and we expect 650 – 700 people to participate.

To take reference to Golf – while I have personally never hit a hole in one in the game – HICSA certainly has been an ace hole in one for Hotelivate over the years and we feel blessed.

Global Reach

HICSA today is on the rolodex of many of the global CEO’s. This year we are blessed to have three CEOs from Accor, Hyatt and Radisson. Each of them has previously attended the event 3 to 4 times. Last year, we had the CEOs of Marriott and Hilton. The presence of global CEOs at HICSA sends a strong signal to the international community about India’s growing importance in the global hospitality landscape. It showcases India as a lucrative destination for investment and highlights the potential for growth and development in the country’s hospitality sector. Additionally, HICSA’s impressive line-up of speakers, including global CEOs and hotel investors, attracts institutional investors looking to explore opportunities in India.

This not only brings in investment but also brings valuable expertise and best practices from around the world, contributing to the overall growth and development of India’s hospitality industry.

The event has a history of being the stage for major announcements and partnerships, making it a crucial event for anyone
looking to make a mark in the hospitality industry. This is one event which is known for its networking, deal announcements by the development teams and simply owners who come to learn, educate and re-charge themselves. Over the years, our lineup of speakers has always been very impressive of not just global CEO’s but hotel investors and particularly the institutional investors.

As of today, HICSA has evolved into much more than just a conference; it has become a cornerstone event for the hospitality industry, serving as a nexus for industry professionals to come together, network, and collaborate. HICSA’s reputation as a must-attend event has solidified its position as the go-to platform for anyone looking to stay abreast of the latest trends, developments, and opportunities in the hospitality sector.

Kudos to HICSA

Looking Back at Select Milestone Events

A Flashback in Pictures on Yesteryears

19th edition of HICSA is a job well done, extremely well. Initially it had the support, a good base to work upon, which was HVS, for which Manav was the Indian anchor, but subsequently, as the years have rolled on, the event has gathered steam, catapulting it into India’s foremost hospitality industry gathering. So, when Manav launched his own Hotelivate, it brought a new spark to the event, an even more pronounced enthusiasm to do better each year. Indeed, it has, except for that brief covid period when all was forgotten, not just events but the industry in itself, all of travel, tourism and hospitality, looked set to doom. Happily, it has since then bloomed, and so has HICSA.

An extraordinary achievement when national industry associations, such as FAITH, FHRAI and HAI, have either not ventured into conducting hospitality or tourism events, or their efforts have dwindled into insignificance. Manav deserves full credit for his perseverance, in his focus, ability to bring the best in global and national hotel industry to come around and share their ideas. It has become the big market for not only ideas, but also discussing investments and collaborations.

Each year, there are two sets of people attending HICSA. First, there are the faithful, who have jotted down the dates and will swear that they must attend. There are others, who are venturing into the industry, have heard they must attend, as this is the meeting place to be. So, if you see the template of partners, supporting this year, their list continues to grow. More strength to HICSA, and more strength to Manav and his team, for a great show ahead this year, and for years to come!

We bring on these pages some images from yester years. Vignettes include Lifetime Achievement Awards to illustrious names like PRS Oberoi and AB Kerkar. Other images catch business sessions, fireside chats, lively debates on issues concerning hospitality, trends in the marketplace and Indian tourism.

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