Bangkok-based lebua Hotels & Resorts aims to redefine luxury in India. With sky-high price points and only top class hotels to match against, it may be cautious in approach but absolutely unfazed about the Indian market. Boasting of an emotional connect with its guests and a nothing-that-cant-be-done-for-guest approach, it is only preying upon the time and exposure that could make Indians ready to appreciate such sweeping luxuries.
In this exclusive India Hospitality Review exclusive, Anu Bararia met Deepak Ohri, CEO of lebua Hotels & Resorts to know what drew him back to his country, what his future plans are and what challenges lay ahead of him.
What inspired you to enter India with super luxury products?
We always go where the demand is. In India, the demand for super luxury products is growing and consumers are capable of appreciating such products due to global exposure. However, supply is meagre. We saw that as an opportunity and made our move.
What trends do you observe shaping up in India among hoteliers?
There are two kinds of trends. One is the Page 3 movie trend where people are doing big hotels to please others and second, where hotels are the only livelihood of people; they are spending only to please themselves.
We are here as people who want to please themselves and others through their superior services.
We are tailoring our products to offer the best possible and unthought-of service standards to our guests. We have got two products in Jaipur – lebua Lodge and lebua Resort. While the former is a corporate retreat for which I can vouch that a product similar to that scale is not present in India yet, we have taken another property in DeviGarh that upholds high culinary standards and diversity. DeviGarh by lebua in Udaipur will be what Bristol in Paris is. Food will play 70 per cent part in our offering while for our corporate retreats, it plays only 40 per cent and the location plays 60 per cent.
What is the current status and expansion plan of Lebua in India?
We have three properties – two in Jaipur and one in Udaipur. We have others lined up in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Goa. As of now, we have 140 rooms in India. We will be more than 1,500 in the next five years.
The Indian hospitality market is at a very nascent stage. How do you justify the kind of price points you wish to command?
You are absolutely right that India is beginning to experience luxury and the kind of prices we command have a very small market. Those willing to pay that kind of money, become very value and quality conscious.
So to appreciate our product offering will take time. Exposure to global offerings and standards will change consumer perceptions. But what many people have not understood is that Indians are already ready to spend good money, even if few. They only want an experience equivalent to their money. If they get that, they will pay and appreciate.
What kind of challenges are you facing in executing your dream of super luxury products?
The operating environment is tough, people are sceptical, competitors and consultants tend to put you down all the time. There is always an element of discouragement from people who think such massive projects are not viable or suitable for this market.
How would you compare India to other markets you operate in?
The other markets are different in terms of the governments that are more mature than India’s. In other markets, governments have created the kind of infrastructure that attracts lot of foreign traffic. With that the markets matures further as they are exposed to different global practices and standards. Indians have also started travelling overseas and are getting more demanding. With this, the domestic market is also progressing slowly.
You say you establish an emotional connect with your guests like no other. Can you elaborate on that?
When a customer comes to you and orders something, you tell him this is what you have to offer and this is the price for it. That customer pays you that huge amount without asking for any discount believing you will offer only the best to him/her. That is the emotional connect I talk about.
Else we are one of those hosts who are ready to open the most expensive wine bottle right before your eyes and if you don’t like it, we will not charge you for that but offer you another option. No one does that. Also, if a guest is hungry at three ‘o clock in the night and wants a particular dish, we are up to provide him that.
You call yourself a lifestyle company...
Yes. It means that people would need to come to our hotels to relish the kind of experience we offer. Nothing else and no one else will match up to our standards. We have guests who come all the way from Germany to Jaipur at the Lebua Resort to try the food and then head back.
What kind of growth are you expecting this year?
We have adopted the management route from this year and are expecting big growth. Looking at how India is performing right now, if we are able to do 20 per cent more than last year, we are happy.
You will be going solely via the management contract route from this year?
Yes. We will be managing the properties.
How significantly do you expect to grow through the management contract route in the luxury segment?
Oh, we will grow well. We will come up with some cutting edge ad-campaigns as well. We will be spending huge amount into the marketing effort wherein designing the website alone would cost around three million sterling pounds.
What kind of competition do you expect in the luxury segment?
Huge! Two years back I would have said none. Now people are getting more price-conscious and the rupee is getting devalued. It will be tough for people to come and spend that kind of money so often now. Instead of three, they will go for our kind of luxury only once a year.