The Indian hotel industry is reaching out via corporate social responsibility initiatives and forging new links with customers through religious services, food and drink and charitable endeavors that bring guests closer and increase bookings.
REPORT FROM INDIA—Traditionally, the only interactive public face Indian hotels and hoteliers generally displayed was in regards to the occasional food festival or New Year’s and Christmas events, but that is changing, according to sources.
Corporate social responsibility is leading the charge, with hoteliers in all segments actively marketing and sharing events and initiatives around environmental issues, sustainability and charity. But religious ceremonies and events centered on food, art and dance also are being marketed more as a way for hoteliers to reach out to their communities via its chefs, artists and community leaders.
“Contributing to social projects has been a part of the ethos of the Kamat Group since my grandfather’s time,” said Vishal Kamat, CEO of Kamat Hotels. “At that time, there were few corporate structures. … Everyone who worked was a part of the family, so contributions to social welfare projects were natural.”
India’s 2013 Companies Act states businesses with a certain threshold of net worth, profits and turnover have to spend 2% of net profit averaged over three years on CSR initiatives.
Sources said such activities have two benefits: they are an indirect brand-building exercise, and they allow the brand to be more approachable. Kamat said he no longer views corporate social responsibility initiatives as something that’s just required.
“CSR was made mandatory a few years back, but at (Kamat hotel brand) Orchid we have been doing it for the last 22 years, and we will continue to do it irrespective of CSR benefits,” Kamat said. “If it gets us some benefits, good, (but) otherwise we will still follow our beliefs and ethos.”
Sylvain Laroche, director of operations in India for Accor’s Ibis and Ibis Styles brands, said the French company is prioritizing sustainability.
“Accor is reinforcing its determination to put sustainable development at the heart of its activities,” said Laroche, who is also the GM of the 445-room Ibis Hotel New Delhi Aerocity. “We have made 21 commitments that involve customers, partners and employees to act together in order to improve and reinvent sustainability for the well-being of our world.”
Biswajit Chakraborty, GM delegate at the dual-branded Pullman and Novotel Aerocity, New Delhi, said his hotel collaborates with local artists in the fields of design, art, photography and local culture.
“(These artists) help bring their vision to life for our guests. … The artworks complement the luxury and design of the hotel,” Chakraborty said.
Community one hotel at a time
Sources said it is the breadth of activities Indian hotels and brands are espousing that have made guests more aware of their corporate social responsibility and community outreach initiatives.
“Of course it contributes to brand value and the image (of a hotel or flag). It brings in goodwill, which cannot be measured,” Kamat said. “Most importantly for us, it drives a message to the staff that the management cares genuinely and hence they are committed to doing it from the heart.”
Chakraborty agreed that such initiatives boost morale and motivate staff to go the extra mile to make guests comfortable.
Kamat said CSR initiatives have also had a positive effect on repeat bookings.
“This translates into better customer satisfaction and repeats for us,” Kamat said.
Kamat is also convinced that guests increasingly make booking choices on the basis of the sensibilities of hotels.
“I personally feel, anything good that you do has a positive impact somewhere,” he said. “It is due to this goodwill garnered that irrespective of international competition we have stood the test of time and have grown profitably. If what we do makes us happy, makes our staff happy and our customers happy, we do it. These initiatives fit into all the three categories.”
CSR does not need to be complicated, Kamat added, who pointed to his firm’s flag-hoisting ceremonies on Independence Day and Republic Day, events that have become important to both staff and guests.
“Guests, staff and management go to a nearby hill or forest and plant trees,” he said. “It brings out a camaraderie spirit, a feeling of oneness and bonding amongst the participants. It is a group exercise, and several guests come back to see how the sapling they planted has grown.”
Laroche said the commitment of Accor’s Indian hotels to invest in solar panels and wind-turbine technology that led it to increase its sustainability goals with community partners and organize a mammoth event.
“The SunPedal Ride was a 60-day, 6,000-kilometer journey on a solar-powered tuk-tuk auto rickshaw along the Golden Quadrilateral,” Laroche said, who added that Accor’s outreach partner gave test drives to random people along the whole way between Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata and Mumbai.
Chakraborty’s initiatives for Accor have tended to move toward food and art, he said.
“We have explored some distinctive themes such as ‘Megh Malhar’ and ‘When food meets art.’ … The initial days were tough, (but) today art connoisseurs in the capital are aware about the quarterly changes in (our) Artist Playground (program) at the Pullman,” Chakraborty said.
(Megh Malhar is a musical “raga” that it is believed has the power to bring rain and allows musicians to improvise around a central musical theme.)
Chakraborty said the onus is on having more locally sourced produce and art.
Two sustainability initiatives Kamat Hotels has in place also provide employment opportunities, if only for a few hours, Kamat said.
The first is guest cooking workshops that fit into local women’s child-rearing responsibilities, and the second is a partnership that recycles old newspapers into bags.
Laroche said he champions projects that use locally sourced produce, avoids using endangered seafood, promotes waste recycling and uses only eco-labelled products.