Indian Hotels boosts online revenue with digital push, 24-hr command centre

The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai. File photo
The Indian Hotels Company (IHCL) may not have been the first-mover to the digital game in hospitality but a concerted push orchestrated over the past year has led to a 27 per cent boost in its online revenue, 30 per cent increase in room bookings, as well as additional dining reservations of 25,000 tables over the past nine months. 

Chinmai Sharma, chief revenue officer for the Taj group of hotels, said the new tech platforms – which include revenue management systems, table management systems, and a cloud-based integrated architecture for better guest recognition – all integrate together in a command centre at the company's corporate office, where everything from customer complaints to online chatter around the brand is tracked.  

Officials at Taj, the country's largest hotel chain, say they engage in 1,500-2,000 conversations daily and have pinched response time to online queries on the brand from what took a day to under 15 minutes now. 

"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.  

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