Six Senses Hotels, Resorts and Spas launched its first resort in India at Fort Barwara in Sawai Madhopur in Rajasthan in mid-October. The group manages 16 hotels and resorts and 27 spas in 20 countries, and has another 28 properties in the development pipeline. It was acquired by Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) in 2019.
Since its founding in 1995, every unit in the Six Senses' portfolio has been defined by luxurious accommodation that is representative of the unique and outstanding beauty of the location. In Rajasthan, it is a 14th century fort that has been restored to provide 48 luxury suites. Business Today spoke to Neil Jacobs, CEO of Six Senses Hotels, Resorts and Spas, on the expectation from the Indian market, expansion plans and the new property. Here are the edited excerpts:
How important is India as a market for you?
India is a very important market for us. It will continue to be important even after international tourists start visiting. For now, since we don't have any international tourists, it's even more important. Once the borders open, we would love to have a mix of domestic and foreign travellers. It creates the right energy in the property.
We opened in mid-October with a complete buyout of the property. My sense is that the domestic market is going to respond really well to the property. It's a new approach to hospitality. In terms of business, there is just so much pent-up demand. Everybody just wants to travel now. Even the domestic tourist wants to travel, but there are only so many places that one can go to. So until that straightens out, we will do a lot more domestic business.
Why have you entered the Indian market now?
We are a management company so it is not always so simple for us to just say that I want to be in India or Africa or somewhere else. We have looked at many opportunities over the years. We have done spa and wellness in India, we have just never done a hotel before. And truthfully, to enter a market as important as India, it was significant that we find the right deal with the right owner of the property. Because we don't own the hotels, a large number of things need to stack up for us to do a deal. Sometimes the project is great, but the capital is not there, at other times the capital is there but the project is not great. In the case of Fort Bawara, every box was ticked. From the heritage perspective to the sheer beauty of the property to the location, everything worked.
The challenge with properties like this is that they take a long time. It's easier to build a new hotel than to restore something like this. It took longer than anyone expected. But it is so complex with the whole heritage angle. The buildings are 700 years old. But I am glad we waited for this one because it is an exquisite entry into the hotel space in India.
How long has the project taken?
For us, it is about five years since we signed the deal. But I think the owners of the property have been working on it for around 8 years. It's been a project of love, patience, and persistence.
Can we expect more Six Senses hotels in India?
I think the opening of Fort Bawara will help us find more opportunities. We are committed to doing more in India. There is so much diversity in India that we can do numerous executions of the Six Senses in different parts of the country that do not compete with each other but provide a circuit for our guests to explore India from 2-3 different properties.
The only problem is that the bar is really high now. Whichever property we go for next will have to have its own character so as not to let the brand down.
What can we expect from the property?
India has a tremendous wellness culture built in. Six Senses is a great believer in Ayurveda. We have Ayurveda doctors even in properties outside India. Wellness is a huge part of our agenda and what we do. Spa is just one part of it, but there is a lot of research that goes into the nutritional angle, longevity, which is a big trend these days. We as a brand feel what we did pre-Covid was relevant and now as we come out of Covid, it's even more appropriate. Our guests are demanding more and we are continually providing new programming and initiatives around the topic of wellness.
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