According to recent estimates of the World Travel & Tourism Council (as of early 2005), Indian tourism demand will grow at 8.8% over the next ten years, which would place the country as the second most rapidly growing tourism market in the world. With the Indian hotel industry capturing the attention of the world, let us understand its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
India's rich culture heritage: With a historical backdrop of 5,000 years, India is one big package of culture and legend that never fails to captivate the imagination of the visitor. Along with endless natural splendors like the mighty Himalayas, the vast Indo Gangetic Plains, lush tropical jungles and a long coastline. A visit to the country is a changing spectacle of religions, customs, festivals, sights and sounds.
Demand–supply gap: Indian hotel industry is currently facing a mismatch between the demand and supply of rooms leading to higher room rates and occupancy levels. With 95,000 odd rooms in the country, the size of the hotel industry represents an abysmal figure for India's size and growth prospects. Though new capacities are expected to come in the next five years demand will outpace supply in the short to medium term. The table below highlights that, over the last 24 months, major cities in the country have witnessed impressive growth in average room rates, due to strong demand and not much addition to supply.
ARRs: Average growth rate
source HVS international
Government support: Till a few years ago, the Indian government had a total apathy towards promotion of tourism. In fact, the industry did not find a place in the government's fund allocation. Things have, however, witnessed a change. The government seems to have realized the importance of tourism and is willing to spend towards the development of the industry. The 'Incredible India' campaign is a product of this realization. The focus on infrastructure, modernisation of airports, open sky policy, development of new tourist destinations and circuits, more fund allocation towards tourism are some of the initiatives taken by the government to promote tourism. The Indian hotel industry stands to gain from this proactiveness shown by the government.
Poor support infrastructure: India is currently spending a miniscule amount compared with its needs, on infrastructure. China is spending seven times as much as India on infrastructure (excluding real estate) in absolute terms. In 2003, total capital spending on electricity, roads, airports, seaports and telecom was US$150 bn in China (10.6% of GDP) compared with US$21 bn in India (3.5% of GDP). However, over the past 2-3 years, the government has realized the importance of infrastructure and has focused on improving it.
Rising Income: While there has been much talk about record number of foreign tourist arrivals, very little has actually been said or done about domestic tourism, which, according to our estimates, has registered a 40% annual growth in the last three years and is currently estimated at 300 m travelers. Per capita income grew by an impressive 7.1% in 2005, while Gross Domestic Savings touched an all time high of 28%. Significantly, the present-day consumption boom in India has been influenced more by higher disposable income rather than lower savings. This is good news, as income induced spending is likely to sustain itself for a longer period. Higher disposable incomes are also expected to enhance the concept of traveling for leisure.
Also, there has been an overall transformation in consumption pattern in the last five years. The increase in number of young people, their rising aspiration levels, and an increase in their spending power has led to a change in the consumption pattern. There is a marked shift from spending on traditional categories like food and grocery, clothing and jewelry, to lifestyle categories such as leisure, and aspirational products and services.
Open sky benefits: The opening up of the aviation industry in India brings exciting opportunities for the hotel industry (airlines transport around 80% of international tourists). Increased airline activity has stimulated demand and has helped to improve India's troubled infrastructure. Increased competition among airline companies will further lead to the development of new and improved services. Also the open skies policy has benefited both international and domestic travel.
New business opportunities: We believe that, over the next three to five years, the biggest surge in accommodation demand is expected to come from commercial zones that are being developed in metro suburbs and secondary markets. Mixed-use development projects that include retail and commercial space have also gained momentum in the last 24 months and will continue to be an attractive option. This provides a unique opportunity for hospitality projects. Also the new concept, which is going to gain importance is that of budget hotels (started by Indian Hotels – Ginger, the erstwhile Indione). Due to their inherent nature of operation, associated costs and flexibility, budget hotels will be better suited to withstand the next economic downturn as and when it takes place.
Event risk: Dependency on foreign tourism can be a double-edged sword as travel decisions are based on global patterns and events that happen elsewhere can have serious impact the performance. Events like 9/11, SARS outbreak and Afghanistan and Iraq wars have severely impacted the tourism industry in the past and the threat remains.
Increasing competition: Global hospitality majors like the Four Seasons, Shangri-La and Aman Resorts are all making their entry into the Indian market. They are not the only ones who are turning their attention to India. The Hilton Group is deciding on a comeback and has tied up with the Oberoi Group. Two other groups - the Carlson Group and the Marriott chain are furiously hunting for new hotels in India's top cities. This will increase the competition for the existing Indian hotel majors.
The outlook for the hospitality market in India is optimistic and will continue to remain so, in our opinion. The economy's buoyancy, initiatives to improve infrastructure, growth in the aviation and real estate sectors and easing of restrictions on foreign investment will fuel demand for hotels across star categories in the majority of markets. India's hotel industry is increasingly being viewed as investment-worthy, both within the country and outside, and several international chains are keen to establish or enhance their presence here. We anticipate that, over the next three to five years, India will emerge as one of the world's fastest growing tourism markets and will be hard to ignore.