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AIANA Hotels – Ethnicity at the core

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Amruda Nair

A global brand with an Indian spirit is what encompasses the AIANA brand. TBME’s Charmaine Fernz talks to Amruda Nair, Joint MD and CEO, AIANA Hotels & Resorts LLC to get a glimpse of the growth story ahead….

The hospitality industry in the Middle East is buzzing with new brands looking to get a share of the spotlight. In the midst of the burgeoning growth, AIANA Hotels & Resorts looks to carve a niche with its fresh offering. As Nair puts it, “The basic premise of our operations was to create an Indian hospitality brand that is based in the Middle East and caters to the Middle East.”

Overview

With a well-thought out strategy in place, the first step was to get started in the GCC. This is when the first four-star 180-key flagship AIANA Suites and Residences in Doha was signed off. The property should be ready for operations later this year. This was followed with signing of a four-star 594 room property in AIANA Makkah, Saudi Arabia, scheduled for opening in time for season this year. Plans then shifted to the Indian sub-continent with signing of a property in God’s Own Country – Kerala as well as in Karnataka. Both states have an AIANA hotel under construction. Subsequently, a contract was also signed for a 150 room AIANA Hotel in Agra.

In Munnar, Kerala, the AIANA property will be the first luxury villa-type plantation model with fractional ownership. While in Sakleshpur, Karnataka is on a 50-acre coffee plantation. This property will be promoted as a weekend getaway.

The birth of a brand that originated little over 18 months has resulted in 1000 rooms under construction and eight hotels signed are under management. Nair was clear that she wanted to adopt a hub and spoke model with the AIANA brand. Keeping this in mind, Doha was used as the base from where all operations expanded to the rest of the region.

Aiana Doha

Brand Extension

The AIANA brand will showcase the concept of ‘Indian’ hospitality to its guests. According to Nair, this is going beyond the regular. The coming year will see the extension of the brand to AIANA Explore, a mid-market concept. The new concept will have everything Indian from its restaurants to even the spa. “AIANA Explore will be launched in KSA and India The idea of launching AIANA Explore in KSA and India was to be in country which has multiple destinations. With this you can benefit from economies of scale while catering to the ever-growing domestic traveller. This resonates with both India and KSA.”

The model of the new brand is currently being tested and the prototype is expected to come online later this year.

Differentiating factor

The idea of AIANA Hotels was to look at cities that were either upcoming or untapped in India as well as in the Middle East. The next step was to understand the international holidaying pattern of an Indian traveller. With these factors in mind, we decided to focus on the young traveller, who consider themselves to be global citizens. This can range from working professionals to young kids with maids. This ideology is same with the Saudis too. Being present offline and online was key for both markets. “We had the right technology but the human touch was essential for a final decision. This was complemented with the right sales infrastructure,” said Nair.

AIANA Hotels is also part of Global Hotel Alliance so it gives guests the opportunity to share the loyalty programme with other big brands. A key highlight of the properties will be the AIANA Spa which will adopt all the basic principles of Ayurveda. The spa service will focus on ‘Indriya’ which literally means confluence of the five elements with the five senses – in short Ayurveda made easy.

The Indian restaurant concept will also be unique with just 10 home-style signature dishes. The focus will be very strongly on authentic taste. “We will have a first-mover advantage with both concepts in Qatar and KSA,” added Nair.

Tech-Value

The AIANA Hotels & Resorts will place a strong emphasis on technology. As Nair says, ”We are of the firm belief that technology should work for you and get rid of all administrative hassles. This would result in an enhanced human interaction.”

The property will see an advanced use of technology in its booking system, backend and tracking of preferences, loyalty points. There will also be an emphasis for on-site experience. Guests logging into the hotel wifi system will be updated with latest offerings as well as reached out to for feedback. This is being done to ensure a hassle free stay with minimum areas of error.

The Way Ahead

“Our main aim is to strengthen our current position,” says Nair. The company set up a regional sales office in Dubai which also takes care of the region. Plans are also underway for more properties in KSA and Qatar. The potential of India will be explored more in the south with an emphasis on religious destinations. The spotlight could also be on Udaipur and Jaipur.