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India Mid Market Hotels - Red Ribbon Asset Management Plc

How and why mid-market hotels are taking over India’s branded sector

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In the late 1980’s Esso commissioned a survey of its UK customers and found less than 7% travelled onto Mainland Europe with their cars. Why this reticence on the part of families clearly capable of making their way from Poole to Provence in an overcrowded Metro? And no, it’s not what you think: back in those days we hadn’t even thought of Brexit. As Esso found out, there was a more homely explanation: the Continent simply had far fewer automated pumps on its forecourts, so drivers were in danger of having to talk with an attendant and you know how the English are with languages. Better leave the car behind than risk the unseemly spectacle of sign language on the forecourt with a Frenchman.

And when you think about it, that’s all quite interesting. It’s the reason petrol stations have gradually come to look exactly the same all over the world: with the pumps all roughly in the same place, all self service and roughly the same kind of shop to pay in. It’s why you can now buy a burger (from a screen) in identical McDonalds outlets from Vienna to Vladivostok without once having to speak a word of German or Russian, and it’s why Esso long made sure you can buy your petrol the same way. There’s simply no need to leave the car at home anymore…so we don’t. We buy more petrol instead and everyone’s happy.

Economists call this phenomenon Brand Synergy and until recently India’s mid-market Hotel Sector was widely perceived to be more or less dead to its charms. A senior analyst on the subcontinent memorably (and anonymously) put it as follows: “…it was like an airline that uses a Boeing 747 for travel between Delhi and Mumbai, a Dakota for Kolkata-Delhi, and a Dornier for Bengaluru-Pune”. The poor old travellers never knew what to expect when they got there. Just like trying to buy petrol by word of mouth.

But not anymore…

The subcontinent’s mid-market Hotels including Ibis Styles, Lemon Tree Hotels and Eco Hotels have all made progress over the last decade in adopting a much more uniform approach to product profiling, achieving a consistency in specification that has now seen the mid-market secure nearly half the branded hotel sector: spurred on, no doubt, by an increasing number of private equity investors, none of whom are noted for being slow in recognising brand synergies when they see them.

All of which has made the mid-market uniquely well placed to take advantage of the surge in India’s middle class and increasingly urbanised travellers that has doubled airline occupancy rates over the last seven years.  And with the average cost of building a mid-market room coming in at between Rs 3 Million and Rs 7 Million, breaking even within six years, it all makes bottom line economic sense too. Compare that with the larger branded chains where average construction cost for each room is Rs 15 Million and break even takes 15 years: more than twice as long.  In the past 10 years alone the mid-market has expanded at more than 15% annually (according to Howarth HTL) and now accounts for 43% of total branded stock.

Having got away its successful IPO earlier this year (raising Rs 311 Crore from key investors), Lemon Tree Hotels last week took the trend a stage further by launching its brand overseas: signing a deal for the first of its hotels to open in Dubai next year. It will be the first mid-market hotel on the luxury studded Al Wasi Road, sitting literally in the shadow of the Burj Al Arab and Al Waleed Real Estate’s CEO didn’t miss the significance:  “There was a need for a mid-market hotel of this calibre in this location and India has been the largest source of tourists into Dubai, as well as the UAE as a whole, for over three years now.” To save you Googling it up, the exact figure is 13%: India now accounts for a whopping 13% of total tourist numbers into the Emirates, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody given the subcontinent’s wealth and proximity as well as the population’s found mobility.

And now they’ll recognise at least one familiar, distinctively Indian hotel brand when they get there…Plus ca change.

Red Ribbon Asset Management is the founder of Eco Hotels, the world’s first carbon neutral mid-market hotel brand, offering “green hospitality” as part of a progressive roll out across India which intended to take full advantage of current market opportunities on the subcontinent. The brand offers sustainable living without compromising on standards of hospitality and is designed to cater to commercial and recreational travellers alike.

Red Ribbon CEO, Suchit Punnose said:

Working as part of the Eco Hotels Project has certainly taught me the importance of branding and product profiling in the hospitality sector, so I was pleased to read about the renewed emphasis on branding generally and unsurprised to see that it has now increased the mid-market share to just shy of 50%. Monolithic 2000 room hotel chains are no longer the first choice for travellers, especially given all the evidence suggests they are increasingly looking for accommodation that also complements their preference for sustainability.

And that’s important because the boom in Indian tourism (domestically and internationally) is playing a significant part in driving forward the subcontinent’s resurgent hotel and hospitality sector. It’s certainly an area that cannot be overlooked when seeking out the best investment opportunities over the coming years.

That’s why I’m very proud that Red Ribbon has played such a significant role in the creation and development of the Eco Hotels Project, spearheading the response to that demand in an environmentally friendly manner.

Smart Eco Hospitality - Red Ribbon Asset Management Plc - Eco Hotels

Better Smart than Big: India’s Eco Hospitality Sector

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The problem with global conglomerates is that they have global reach but monolithic thinking. Look how long it took Facebook to respond to high profile data breaches, with the hardly media shy Mark Zuckerberg virtually disappearing from the ubiquity of his own platform for weeks on end. Think of IBM: slow to the point of near extinction in responding to software innovations in the market, and poor old Kodak, slow to the point of actual extinction in meeting challenges posed by a blizzard of new, digital based technologies. So it should be a sobering thought for our current crop of global empire builders that big certainly doesn’t always best, because all too often great size comes with an inbuilt decision making stasis …in business, it’s always better to be smart.

Even so the thickest commercial hides can sometimes let in a little oxygen, which is why economists still like to look at the interesting conundrum of scaled decision making: big companies deluded into thinking they are fleet enough of foot to react on time to critical and fast moving trends, rather like an elephant finding a discarded pair of tweezers and thinking they must be good for something.

The latest example is Hilton Hotels, which this month unveiled its “Travel with Purpose Campaign” designed to reduce the group’s global carbon emissions by, wait for it, reusing old bars of soap left behind by its guests. Good luck with that: the Hilton Hotel chain on the subcontinent has properties with in excess of 1000 rooms pumping out as much carbon as a Victorian glue factory, so you might be forgiven for thinking the odd bar of soap is unlikely to make much of a difference. But the Hilton monolith is simply reacting (monolithically) to the unsurprising revelation that most of its guests are now placing environmental concerns at the top of their list when deciding where to stay. Hilton knows this because it conducted an expensive survey of 72,000 of its guests in May this year.

Of course it could have saved its hard earned cash and had a look instead at earlier newsletters on this site (amongst other places): sustainability concerns have been a key trend in the Indian Hospitality sector for at least the last decade and are becoming progressively more important. Hilton’s laborious, too little too late response is yet another example of big not being better. Big, in this case, is positively bad.

The companies that are instead best placed to make the most of eco trends are not operating out of densely occupied concrete blocks. They are strategically positioned in India’s mid market hospitality sector, with Lemon Tree Hotels and Eco Hotels being prime examples: smaller in scale and with sustainability ingrained into the fabric of their buildings (rather than in last minute memoranda urging staff to pick up discarded soap). As a result Lemon Tree Hotels is currently valued at 17 times EV/EBITDA and since completing its successful IPO in March of this year the company’s shares have risen in price by an impressive 28 per cent.  

Both companies find themselves carried forward by a relentlessly upbeat market outlook, typical of which is JLL India: “The hospitality industry is witnessing a new buoyancy” and Anarock Capital, where Shobbit Agarwal had this to say: “Stocks of listed hotel companies are on a new high due to improving fundamentals increased occupancy levels, higher revenues and average room rates seeing 5 to 6 per cent year-on-year growth”.

Quite so, we don’t need an expensive survey to tell us that.

And it also has a great deal to do too with a recent surge in India’s domestic and overseas tourist numbers as well as an increasingly affluent middle class demographic prepared to put their money where their heart is…Hilton Hotels might take note.

Red Ribbon Asset Management is the founder of Eco Hotels, the world’s first carbon neutral mid market hotel brand, offering “green hospitality” as part of a progressive roll out across India which intended to take full advantage of current market opportunities on the subcontinent. The brand offers sustainable living without compromising on standards of hospitality and is designed to cater to commercial and recreational travellers alike.

Red Ribbon CEO, Suchit Punnose said:

I’ve always believed in the essential flexibility and virtue of smaller business platforms, capable of responding quickly and effectively to market opportunities as well as medium term market trends. Because, to paraphrase Keynes, over the medium term a business that finds itself rooted in a fixed strategy can also all to often find itself dead. Just look at the object lesson provided by the once all powerful Kodak Corporation.

And the sheer pace of change and market innovation in the subcontinent’s hotel and hospitality sector at the moment makes that lesson all the more compelling. Mid market groups like Lemon Tree Hotels and Eco Hotels are quite simply better placed to respond successfully to rapid innovation and key demographic changes. Not least because they have both been positioned from the outset to anticipate a sustained and progressive move towards sustainability based tourism and business travel. Sustainability is built into their DNA.

That’s why I’m particularly proud of the part Red Ribbon has played in founding Eco Hotels and helping with its strategic development, anticipating exciting developments in Indian markets capable of generating above market rate returns for our investors. So, whilst like the Hilton Group, I’m sure Eco Hotels will be encouraging guests not to waste soap, the company has a lot more to offer in the future.

Hospitality in India - Eco Hotels - Red Ribbon Asset Management

Mid Market’s Moment: Trends in India’s Hospitality Sector

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India seems to do everything on a bigger scale these days: the fastest growing large economy on the planet and the highest rate of GDP growth anywhere in the world (currently a shade over 8%). So why settle for just one reason when you can have five? Why settle for one reason to explain the explosive growth in India’s hospitality sector over the past decade, something to tell us whether current growth rates in the sector are sustainable? And in case you’re wondering, the answer to the second part of that question is “yes”, but we’ll come back to that in a moment.

First though the reasons for the sector’s extraordinary growth, and as promised there are five of them: a surge in middle class numbers as India’s population becomes steadily larger and more affluent (in other words, much more consumer led demand); an overall increase in absolute business and leisure travel numbers; rapid urbanisation of the population (meaning that you need more and bigger hotels in densely populated areas); progressive economic growth (the subcontinent’s rising population has more money to spend) and lastly (fifthly, as I’m sure you’re still counting), a doubling in domestic air travel numbers over the last seven years. All these factors have now come together in a perfect storm to booster mid-market hotel brands in India, and that means in particular mid-size business hotels and eco friendly hotels.

In 2002 less than 25% of India’s hotel stock was mid-market in that sense, but this year the equivalent figure was 43% (according to the global advisory firm Horwath HTL). Between 2002 and March 2017 the supply of chain affiliated hotel rooms grew at 11% annually, but this too was outstripped by the mid-market segment, which grew over the same period at an impressive 15%. On any basis that is a striking shift in the market demographic over such a relatively short period, and if it tells us only one thing it is that now is perfect the time for investing in mid market hotel developments on the subcontinent.

And not just because statistics favour the segment so strongly, because development makes more financial sense in absolute terms too.

The average cost of building a mid market hotel room in India is between Rs 3 Million and Rs 7 Million, compared with a major chain development where the equivalent figure is Rs 15 Million which means that a mid market unit will break even faster: within six years rather than twelve for a chain development. The variables are in favour of the mid market too, because these break even projections are based on historic demand and, as we have seen, there has been a recent surge across the sector with current occupancy rates running at higher than 65%. The average room rates have also grown by more than 8% in the last decade, so we can realistically expect break even times to start coming down.

Red Ribbon Asset Management is the founder of Eco Hotels, the world’s first carbon neutral mid market hotel brand, offering “green hospitality” as part of its current roll out programme which is structured to take full advantage of current market opportunities on the subcontinent. The brand offers sustainable living without compromising on standards of hospitality and is designed to cater to commercial and recreational travellers alike.

And the timing couldn’t be better with everything pointing to a mid market surge.

Red Ribbon CEO, Suchit Punnose said:

Red Ribbon is the founding force behind Eco Hotels, and continues to support the project’s current roll out across the subcontinent where we are very confident that it will play a key part in the all important mid market sector. Not least because we know that a combination of demographic factors (driven primarily by India’s burgeoning and increasingly urbanised population) as well as the current acute shortage of hotel stock, combine to make the subcontinent’s hotel sector such an extremely attractive sector for investment.

To illustrate that point graphically, it is worth remembering that there are currently more hotel units on the island of Manhattan alone than there are in the entire expanse of the subcontinent. And that supply deficit is bound to create fertile ground for new investment, not least because of the five factors highlighted in the article.

At Red Ribbon we pride ourselves on our in depth knowledge of Indian markets, and the hotel and hospitality sector in particular. With more than a hundred advisers working daily on the ground in the market’s hot spots, we are confident that we can identify the best investment opportunities as they arise, taking full advantage of the trends for growth in this, the most exciting growth market on the world.

Impact Investment and Economic Orthodoxy: Changing Times

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Red Ribbon Asset Management has a reputation for delivering strong asset growth for clients by investing in growth markets using impact investment strategies, but exactly what does an Impact Investment strategy involve and why does it make such a significant difference to portfolio management strategies?

Economists used to call them “externalities”: these were the events and activities which arose from individual economic decisions but which were unintended. By way of homely example, not calculated to arise either from an individual decision to buy a chocolate bar or a manufacturer’s investment in a new chocolate factory, but because in each case the events were external to the person making the decision; and the most notable economic examples of externalities were environmental pollution and global warming. No rational business intended to pollute the environment or add to global warming, so the theory went, pollution and global warming were just things that happened because of other things that businesses did. They were externalities.

And orthodox economic theory held that when anything was an externality properly so called, it was hopeless to expect a free market to do anything about it; because participants in a free market would be guided by those things which they intended to achieve; not those that they didn’t.

How old and tired that all sounds…

How jaded and worn out these orthodox economic theories seem to be when setting against the sheer scale of the global social and environmental challenges we are currently facing; not only do they seem utterly inadequate to provide the answers, they don’t even have the ambition to recognise the problem. Which is no doubt why social and economic factors are now fast converging to create a new economic paradigm.

It’s called Mainstream Impact Investment and it is fundamentally animated by a conviction that any business, at least a well-run business, simply cannot afford to be this indifferent to the unintended consequences of its economic activity, any more than a parent would be indifferent to the consequences of leaving a loaded revolver in a nursery. Just because the eventual outcome of any decision might not have been intended, does not mean that a properly regulated business will simply close its eyes to the possibility that it might happen at all. Quite the contrary, it will be a better run, more sustainable and resilient business if it makes itself aware of those consequences and does something about them.

A well-structured business, a business adhering to the Mainstream Impact Investment model will be able to recognize the negative impacts of its production process or of the manner in which it delivers its services; and it will be able to calibrate and weigh the effect of those negative impacts in conjunction with the internal and external stakeholders in the business itself (so it will have to know who those stakeholders are too: from its own employees inside the business, spreading outwards to the those holding a stake in the business in the wider society and ultimately in the environment at large as well).  And once a business can do those two things, recognising where it is having a negative impact and properly assessing the weight to be attached to it, it will necessarily become aware also of the very fullest range of the economic and wider social consequences of its activities.

On that business paradigm, there will be no such thing as an externality because everything will either be intended or at least understood by the business in question.

And the business will then be in a position to take steps so as to mitigate the negative impacts of its economic activity; reducing its negative impact both on the wider society and on the environment at large; and the difference between that and the old orthodoxy of externalities is as stark as the difference between driving with your eyes shut and driving with a sat nav: a business that adopts a Mainstream Impact Investment strategy will be better structured and more sustainable for the long term because it will have a better idea of what the long term will look like.

Management on that model will also be better structured and more resilient over the medium to long term; in which case it is more likely to be resilient and robust in the short term too, which has to make good business sense.

So it’s not just about marginal environmental projects. It’s about the sound business sense in the mainstream economy; which is why the key effects of Impact Investment strategies are likely to be seen in mainstream businesses, as is already apparent, indeed, from leading segments of the global economy which are configuring to the new paradigm. The top ten impact investment businesses worldwide have a total market worth in excess of $100 Billion; Tesla, for example, has a market capitalization that is now bigger General Motors.

The old economic paradigm is changing, and it’s changing fast.

Eco Hotels- The World’s First Carbon Neutral Hotel Brand

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Eco Hotels UK Plc is the world’s first carbon neutral premium value hotel brand of its kind. Eco Hotel’s vision is to create a £1 billion premium value hotel brand that supports sustainable hospitality without compromising on standards.
We offer the opportunity to be part of a high growth sector within hospitality in one of the fastest growing markets- India. Eco Hotels is designed to deliver both- income and capital growth to investors looking to create an asset backed investment portfolio.
We are launching on Crowdbnk soon so stay tuned!

Red Ribbon

At Red Ribbon we understand that the transition towards a resilient global economy will be led by well-governed businesses in mainstream markets, striving to reduce the environmental impact of their production processes on society at large and on the environment as well.

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