Sterling Holidays to add non-members, double key count to fight coronavirus

Sterling’s resort in Kodai Valley. PHOTO: Company
Sterling Holidays & Resorts is looking to double the number of rooms to 5,000 by 2024 and increase the share of non-members at a rapid pace as it seeks to make deeper inroads into India’s burgeoning domestic travel market, said Ramesh Ramanathan, chairman and managing director of the firm.


“We will grow rapidly and double the number of rooms to 5,000 by 2024,” he said. The Thomas Cook India subsidiary, which until a few years ago, was a time share holiday company, is now a hybrid between a time share and hotel company, with members and non-members accounting for each half in the revenue mix. 


However, with the number of coronavirus cases rising at a fast pace in India, Ramanathan remains cautious. “At this point, being a domestic market-focused company, we seem to be doing fine. We haven’t seen any cancellations by our members. However, if the outbreak does get bigger, it will definitely have an impact as there is restricted movement of people and a preference to stay at home,” he said. The going has been pretty smooth so far, with an average occupancy of 60-70 per cent across all its properties, he said.


With outbound travel from India being hit because of the viral outbreak, there is an opportunity for a higher occupancy and average room rate (ARR) if it doesn’t spread further in India, he said. February saw a year-on-year increase of 5-6 per cent in terms of occupancy, and so did March. Meanwhile, even as the company that competes with Mahindra Holidays & Resorts has been adding an average of over 3,000 members every year, Ramanathan expects the ratio to be skewed in the favour of non-members, as millennials and new-age travellers don’t like the idea of ownership — be it a car or a membership of a resort. 


The increase in share of non-members will also be fueled by the expansion in the number of rooms.  “We will need to fill these rooms and we cannot just depend on the growth of membership,” said Ramanathan.


All the expansion will be done through a management contract route. Sterling is in talks with several owners across various holiday destinations, including Igatpuri and Karjat in Maharashtra.     


Over the past three years, since Sterling undertook the rebranding exercise, it has been adding specific dimensions to holiday destinations to address specific travel needs under three heads — weekend get-aways, pilgrimage, and heritage. Its properties in the first category, for instance, are large with lawns and banquet halls to cater to conferences and destination weddings, said Ramanathan.


Meanwhile, given the growing demand for experiential holidays by new-age travellers, Sterling has been increasing the number of resorts that can allow guests to discover and experience, said Ramanathan.


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