"We don't let them slip away," said Sharma, referring to millennials, who account for more than a third of IHCL's Taj InnerCircle loyalty programme members. The company reports a 120 per cent growth in enrolment of members, 100 per cent growth in InnerCircle-related revenue, and 127 per cent growth in mobile revenue. That's important given that the Taj has historically lagged with its loyalty programme in comparison to Marriott and Hyatt.
At present, online travel agencies, or OTAs, are the biggest digital drivers of hospitality marketing and sales, which has left hotels no choice but to join their ranks. While hotels run their own websites, the search landscape is dominated by OTAs. "If you were spending money in traditional medium then you're likely talking to six million people when you may only want to talk to 60,000 people," said Rajiv Kaul, president of Leela Palaces, Hotels & Resorts. "It's sniper-targeting versus carpet-bombing," he added.
It's not unusual for the Taj to be fishing in digital waters for business. Auto players such as BMW launched cars exclusively online as early as 2010, in a bid to engage with customers who spend more time on the web and not at showrooms.
Sudhir Gupta, CEO of TLC Group, a loyalty programme company for hotels, said that while many companies
were treading the digital path for marketing and sales, the Taj group's command centre is operational round-the-clock. "You can send a bottle of champagne to a regular who's walked in or flag off a crisis to a manager as it appears and it's all done in a matter of minutes," he said.
Digital is targeted because it can be done on the back of data analytics and, therefore, can be tweaked both in terms of the actual message as well the objective of the campaign. "In that sense, it's part of an overall strategy with real-time monitoring of results," Gupta added.