GHA to leverage Indian market presence for outbound travel

Interview with Christopher Hartley, CEO, Global Hotel Alliance
/ New Delhi
Christopher Hartley, GHA
GHA to leverage Indian market presence for outbound travel

At the moment, the number of members here is 540,000 of Discovery members, or I should say GHA Discovery, including Leela’s members: Christopher Hartley

Global Hotel Alliance, a network of independent hotels around the world is keen to enhance its visibility in the Indian market in order to capitalise on the booming outbound travel from India as well as growing presence of global hotels in India, Christopher Hartley, CEO, tells India Outbound.
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How does GHA help its member hotels in keeping up with evolving travel market?

Well, I think that the key thing is competition and that is where we are helping hotels to have a more competitive, international-oriented loyalty programme, which helps capture more customers so that the big brands have these huge loyalty programmes, which obviously is a very attractive to customers in India. We are now offering that as an alternative programme for sort of luxury and high end brands. To capture that international clientele, the loyalty programme gives them reach that they wouldn’t be able to get otherwise. I guess building on that with travel trends, the number one thing customers look for in a hotel is quality of accommodation. And our programme is viewed most highly in terms of offering luxury product and quality hotels. So members in India now through our programme can experience high quality accommodations in new destinations. And we are in 100 countries and we have 800 hotels for them to choose from and so they can experience new destinations and very authentic locally, like locally strong brands and hotels.

Are you looking for new partners in India?

I say Air India primarily because it is the largest and fastest growing airline. So it is really building a reputation for itself in terms of becoming a credible and modern international carrier with new aircraft and is part of Star Alliance, which gives it international reach and we are also partners with Star Alliance. We don’t have at this point any partnership with Air India. But I cite Air India as an example of a brand that would give us a lot of synergies in this market in terms of the type of brands that we would like to be able to partner with and bring into our loyalty programme. So based on what we have done in other markets, Air India will be a natural partner in that regard, and I think the timing could be good as well.

How are you looking to tap the Indian outbound travel market?

I think the research that we did was surprisingly positive in that it is clear that a lot of trips Indians plan are domestic. And as I said, the forecast show that actually of all the trips that Indians will be taking over the next 10 years, only 1 pc will be international. But that 1 pc is a huge number because of the volumes involved. So we would need to capture more of that business by having more of a domestic presence, which we don’t have at the moment.

To capture more of that potential, we need to have hotels in more destinations at different market segment levels. So not just the luxury price point, but also midscale and upscale hotels. That is really the opportunity to capture the international businesses presence as we have got the choice of hotels internationally. But we need more hotels domestically in order to have a greater Indian audience for when they start travelling internationally.

What have been the major landmarks in your partnership with Leela Hotels?

The Leela Palace was a partner with Kempinski prior to becoming fully independent and we had a long relationship with Leela Group when I was at Kempinski. The Leela was one of the founding members of the alliance in the early days before we even launched the loyalty programme. So that was back in 2007. And then in 2010, Leela became part of GHA Discovery, which was the first version of our own programme and that in 2021, we relaunched GHA Discovery and it became Leela Discovery as part of the broader GHA Discovery family. We launched Discovery Dollars, which were then adopted by Leela, as is common currency as well. And today, as Leela continues to grow under new ownership.

What kind of potential do you see in GHA for India?

At the moment, the number of members here is 540,000 of Discovery members, or I should say GHA Discovery, including Leela’s members. We have 14 hotels in the market, but for a market the size of India, that’s relatively small. So we feel that there is the potential of 50 or 60 hotels in India to be more representative of the size and opportunity of this Indian market. And we are looking to expand relationships with new brands in India at the moment. Other than Leela, we have representation from Oaks and Anantara who are part of the Minor group, and also a new brand, Araiya. So, I would say if you take a five year view, we would like to have about 50 to 60 hotels in India.

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