Pillow Talk

Pillow Talk#11 – India is having its moment, Hilton goes outside, mea culpa and YOLO

While sidestepping the crowds at Qutab Minar, my guide Sanjay told me, “India has a population of just over 1.4 billion. If you can sell something worth 1 rupee (1 cent) just once to every person, then you will be a multi-millionaire.”

Sanjay also told me that, since the pandemic, his workload has soared. He’s spent 340 days of the last 12 months guiding tourists around Delhi’s main sites. Ninety percent of his customers have been fellow Indians. Like its impact on much of the rest of the developed world, the pandemic sparked a surge of interest in travel and experiences from India’s rising middle class. YOLO – you only live once – is a term I heard several times over the few days I was in India last week.

There are very few markets like India

With a youthful population — the average age is 29 — India is just shy of China in terms of sheer volume of citizens. It is estimated that by 2027, it will be the world’s third-largest market when it comes to domestic tourism.

It’s clear that India is having a ‘moment’. The scale, size, and shape of the opportunity for hospitality that India will represent over the next decade is staggering. You can almost taste the ambition and excitement alongside the aloo chat and pakoras.

At the Skift India Summit, the reason I was visiting, the day started with Air India CEO Campbell Wilson telling the room, ‘there are very few markets like India’. Only the US, continental Europe and China offer similar ingredients of open borders, population size, land mass and richly diverse regions, while also being politically aligned.

The day ended with OYO Rooms founder Ritesh Agarwal being quizzed by Skift CEO Rafat Ali on why his ambition to create the biggest global hotel (and STR) brand hasn’t quite materialized. At just 30, a year older than the average Indian, the billionaire from a middle-class background, felt like a metaphor for the country itself. There’s plucky ambition, but that confidence wasn’t arrogant; it was rooted in self-belief and opportunity. Both Ritesh and India’s tourism potential have youth and one of the world’s fastest growing markets on their side.

Here are a few numbers shared at the Summit that represent opportunities for hospitality and hospitality technology brands that can make this market work:

  • Indian travelers are early tech adopters seeking personalization and convenience, making 90 million Real Time Payment Transactions per year compared to China’s 18 million.
  • A staggering 45% of Indians already use AI to plan and research their travel, compared to just 8% of Brits.
  • Only 4 % of Indian hotels fly under a flag, while 72% of hotels in the US are branded. Most of India’s hospitality provision is independently owned, offering fewer than 20 rooms.
  • Despite being a tech-savvy nation, due to the fragmentation of hospitality, 47% of trips are still booked offline.

Mea culpa

There is a trend for tech/hospitality founders of failed start-ups to share their mistakes publicly, making a welcome change from the bullish growth-fueled stories of a couple of years ago. Being an entrepreneur is hard. Devastating failure is always just around the corner. Founders showing humility and speaking the truth, ‘warts and all’, is always helpful to other founders. When I covered the decision by Casai’s founder to talk openly about his mistakes in PhocusWire a couple of newsletters ago, it was one of Pillow Talk’s most clicked links.

The latest hospitality start-up founder to do a ‘mea culpa’ is Scott Kubly. In 2019, Scott founded Cabana, a platform for booking camper vans as vacation rentals across America. With solid Series A funding, the tailwinds were promising. Sixty million American households go camping each year and a further 30 million identify as ‘campers’. The potential for harnessing ‘outdoor’ is significant, and Cabana’s success looked inevitable. But then both fate (Covid, increase in financing costs) and some mistakes (wrong hires, poor focus, and slow decision-making) tripped Scott and his company up.

Hilton harnesses the great outdoors

Outdoor hospitality is still largely untapped and so it’s interesting to see Hilton expanding its inventory into this segment by partnering with alternative lodging brand AutoCamp. While everyone else seems to be betting on vacation homes, this global brand is picking a different horse and giving guests and loyalty customers the option to book custom ‘Airstreams’, cabins and luxury tents in national parks and other nature-based destinations. Will more brands head outdoors?

Will blockchain save reviews?

Earlier this month, a story caught my eye at ITB, among the swell of booths and talks. Charuta Fadnis, Senior VP of PhocusWright, talked about how AI will make travelers’ lives easier through personalization and planning but will make other things more difficult too. With the potential for large volumes of fake reviews tempting consumers into making bookings that they later regret, one way of avoiding buyer remorse is to combine generative AI and blockchain technology. Fadnis says this will ensure reliable identification of users, combat misuse, and make falling for bogus listings and reviews less likely.

It’s been out a few weeks now, but if you haven’t seen it, here’s Abode Worldwide’s Short Term Rental Tech Index. Feel free to download it — several thousand people already have. I’m open to feedback, so fire away if you have any thoughts on it.

About me – I’m the CEO, and founder of Abode Worldwide, a public relations agency focused on raising the profile of technology solutions and operators, transforming the global lodging, hospitality and living sectors. We work across STR, hotels, multifamily, coliving, senior living and PBSA.

Pillow Talk is my ‘newsletter’ sharing musings, learnings, and insights about the pioneering lodging technology brands and operators transforming how we work, rest, and play. I hope you find this interesting. If not, there’s an unsubscribe button at the bottom.

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