The ‘pay for what you want’ kind of hotel is set to open doors in business hub Ahmedabad.

Come September, if you are a business traveller and looking for a comfortable stay in Gujarat, you could try out a new concept — “Pay for what you want”. This key philosophy of global mid-scale hotel brand Holiday Inn Express is all set to unfold next month at its first Indian property in Ahmedabad. The InterContinentalHotel group plans to expand the brand countrywide in an attempt to tap the fast-growing business traveller segment. Currently no single brand really owns the business traveller space, especially in the mid-segment, which is mainly shared by service apartments and unbranded hotels. Holiday Inn Express entered the South East Asian market in Bangkok recently and I was on a visit to experience the concept first-hand at the invitation of the hotel.

Based in downtown Bangkok, which is a well-connected shopping and office hub, Holiday Inn Express wore a fresh and modern, yet minimalist look. The reception, lounge and a small business centre were all packed into one space. The entire hotel sported a no-nonsense, clutter-free and neat look.

As an economy hotel, it did not have a full-fledged concierge service — just a friendly doorkeeper helping guests with their luggage till the elevator. Something that is common to most international economy hotels.

Practically every inch in the hotel room has been used cleverly. Most important, the brand has an almost cookie-cutter approach to the look and feel of each room to ensure uniformity. The clutter-free room is designed to make life easy for the often harried business traveller. No flashy in-your-face lights, no high-technology gizmos to confuse you, no opulence, and just plain convenience. The rooms are furnished like an upscale hotel.

The beds have a sleek design, high-quality linen and carefully labelled pillows. Labelled? Yes, giving guests the option of both soft and hard pillows. A lounge chair is at hand to enjoy a cuppa. The long French windows that let in ample natural light give the room a more spacious appearance. The room is packed with everything you would expect in a standard upscale hotel. An iPod docking station, iPhone plug-in, 32-inch LCD with international channel packs, tea-coffee maker, ample cupboard space and large enough washrooms with a shower cabinet. A sleek work-desk is smartly placed in the room.

There’s more convenience in store in the form of vending machines inside the hotel that let you buy not just beverages but also snacks for a late-night drink. As also the “Do-it-yourself” laundry machines and iron boards, free Wi-Fi, and the option to pack breakfast for those on the go. The standard room package offers wholesome breakfast options.

Sound sleep, free Wi-Fi and wholesome breakfast emerged as key demands from business travellers, says Jan Smits, Chief Executive — Asia, West Asia and Africa, referring to extensive research the company did on the needs of this segment. The growing segment of young and independent travellers is increasingly looking at hotels that are cost-effective and offer “pay for what you want” options, he adds.

The surprises? An empty mini-bar. For, the IHG believes that business or leisure travellers spend long hours outside, exploring the city or having business meetings. The need is for a mini-refrigerator to stock up on things that make them feel at home.

While there is no room service, you can order food from outside — something that most other hotels do not allow. In India, however, Holiday Inn Express will have a restaurant attached, which will be managed by third-party service providers, to ensure guests do not miss meals.

Free toiletries? Yes, but guests are expected to fetch them from the reception. Company officials said not having room service or a full-fledged kitchen helps the company run the hotel with minimum staff, which, in turn, helps it offer cost-effective packages.

But no room service rather than limited services or no help with carrying luggage to rooms, could become peeve points for some business travellers in India. These services are taken for granted even in non-branded hotels.

Several chains have even tweaked their business model for economy hotels in India to include facilities such as 24x7 restaurant, limited concierge service and limited room service.

Holiday Inn Express also outsources its accounting, reservations and room cleaning functions to its hub centres, as well as third parties, to lower costs. In India it plans to use its global hub at Gurgaon for this.

With the economic uncertainties leading corporates to cut travel budgets, economy and mid-scale hotels will be more than preferred. Business travellers can now look out for a modern and convenient stay in India.

(This article was published on August 16, 2012)
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