Covid 19: How IHCL is setting the benchmark for hotel chains with its holistic technology strategy

The Covid 19 crisis has affected most sectors, but the sectors which have been hit the most include the travel and the hospitality industry. The Indian Hotels Company Limited (IHCL), which has a legacy of over 117 years, decided to fight back against this crisis, by using a comprehensive strategy backed by technology. Vinay Deshpande, SVP and Head-Digital & IT, IHCL, who had joined in November 2019, was thrust into the center of this crisis. While Vinay was an industry veteran with more than 25 years of experience, it was still a daunting task, as the hospitality industry had never ever seen a crisis of this magnitude.

The top management at IHCL realized that establishing trust in the eyes of guests was extremely important, and it decided to use technology in a big way to ensure safety to its guests. “We stepped up our adoption of technology as a response to the Covid 19 crisis. As safety and hygiene is likely to continue being a concern for guests in the hospitality space in the short term, we launched our suite of contactless, technology-driven solutions for every guest touchpoint. Named I-Zest, these solutions use QR codes and digital interventions from guest right from the time of check-in to dining and invoicing, among others, while also providing employees a safe space to work in with touchless HR systems,” states Vinay Deshpande.

The premier hospitality chain has taken a number of initiatives to ensure safety of its employees and guests. From sanitized iPads to zero touch attendance systems, the focus was on ensuring zero contact. The zero touch attendance system uses facial recognition technology for employees to mark their attendance, while a thermal sensor that is built on top of the attendance system checks the temperature of employees entering the premises of the hotel. Understanding the need for frugal innovation, IHCL has partnered with a series of start-ups for technology led innovations. IHCL is also running a pilot for an app that helps in contact tracing. This will help IHCL trace out areas where the employee has visited, along with the people he or she was in touch with. Payment methods are also completely contactless, and guests have the facility of ordering from digital menus.

“Right now, our entire focus is on managing customer experience. We want to ensure a complete contactless experience for our guests. In the future, we are looking at giving digital keys to guests so that we can do away with physical room cards that we are giving to guests at the moment,” states Deshpande. At two of its properties, the rooms are being upgraded to test the new digital keys.

Creating more revenue streams

With a focus creating new business streams and enabling a more agile approach to market, IHCL has also launched a home delivery services and mobile application – Qmin.  Explains Rahul Nair, Corporate Director, Digital Transformation, IHCL, “With the onset of the pandemic, the demand for online food delivery service has grown exponentially, with many guests missing the unique cuisines and offerings that they used to experience at the group’s celebrated and iconic restaurants across the country.  India is one of the fastest growing e-commerce markets and is slated to reach US$ 84 billion by 2021 and US$ 200 billion by 2026. The launch of Qmin not only leverages this enormous digital platform to address a growing consumer demand for online gourmet food delivery services, but will augment IHCL’s F&B offerings further to become a standalone business vertical in the long run. We have also launched a mobile application for Qmin, available on both, Google Play Storefor Android users and App Storefor iOS users, for ease of use.”

Qmin is available in ten new markets, including Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and Kolkata, offering signature dishes from 40+ iconic restaurants from 20 of IHCL’s hotels. Rahul Nair, says that the response has been great to date, as it allows guests to bring the Taj to their homes.

The Qmin app has been designed and developed by IHCL in collaboration with Tata Digital, and offers a differentiated delivery experience through a seamless interface that allows customers to personalize their order, curate menus, and track deliveries real-time. Utilizing Tata Digital’s domain expertise, the interface has been designed to be user-friendly and enables guests to choose their favourite cuisine from celebrated restaurants, based on their location. With features such as the multi-restaurant order, which allows one to order from multiple restaurants in the same hotel simultaneously, and a scheduling assistant that allows you to schedule orders for the same day, as per requirements, it offers flexibility and ease of service. IHCL is further exploring synergies within the Tata Group to harness their expertise in further enhancing the app to expand and offer additional initiatives via the app over time.

IHCL is not looking at positioning the app as a mere food ordering app, and has plans to move beyond stated objectives, as it looks at the future post Covid 19. Says Rahul Nair, “Qmin is not just a food delivery app – it is a repertoire of culinary experiences. In addition to expanding to other cities and the app going live, Qmin will also expand its scope to launch a gourmet Qmin shop and will also extend to the company’s loyalty platform, where guests can earn and burn points using Qmin. We are also in the process of introducing virtual meetings that one can host across locations via the Qmin App – curated to suit one’s need and the occasion, be it scheduled virtual business meetings or a private get together with loved ones. Moreover, the app will expand to offer a range of initiatives and offerings such culinary masterclasses, curated menus, comfort food menus, DIY kits, gourmet and confectionary products and more over time.”

IHCL’s two pronged strategy – a mobile app play and a completely contactless guest experience — to take on the Covid 19 crisis, is a proactive response from a legendary warhorse in the hospitality industry, as it shows other peers on how they can survive and thrive in this market.

Contactless guest experienceIHCLQmin IHCLRahul NairTaj Group of HotelsVinay Deshpande
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