Asmita Mukherjee | Hyderabad
Onora Hospitality began its voyage in 2005 as a service apartments company, gradually evolving into small and medium-sized hotels across various formats. However, the COVID-19 pandemic brought forth unforeseen challenges, compelling the company to reconsider its business strategy and adapt to the new normal. Ashish Vohra, Founder & CEO, Onora Hospitality Pvt Ltd. recognised that domestic travel would be at the forefront for the foreseeable future, leading to a strategic shift towards catering to the domestic market. In a conversation with Asmita Mukherjee, Vohra discusses the company’s journey, its response to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the strategic decisions that have shaped its future.
Speaking about the deluge in domestic travel Vohra said, “The first realisation was that domestic travel would hold the pole position for the next couple of years. So, not only did we open new resorts in the hills, for the first time we also set up a domestic sales focused team.
To capitalise the opportunity we realigned our entire product portfolio from only city hotels to include hill resorts as well. We also expanded our portfolio with further openings in Goa and certain locations in South India in order to have a more spread out national footprint. The company profile, which had a balance between city and resort hotels, gradually tilted towards resort hotels and that has helped keep us in a good position in the last financial year.
As far as exiting six hotels is concerned, I think adversity tests your relationships. Things were not working out with some of our hotel partners during the pandemic and therefore we decided to exit those hotels.”
Speaking about the company’s strategic investments, Vohra emphasized Onora Hospitality’s focus areas and target regions. “Our focus area continues to be the hills, certain religious pilgrimage focused locations, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Chikmagalur, Ooty, Coorg and the whole Nilgiri Biosphere. We are also open to specific territories such as Pondicherry and Goa. Now that we have entered Kerala with a hotel in Munnar, we are looking at an expansion in the state because it’s a circuit-based destination.”
“The way we look at an entry strategy is to work on a hub and spoke model. If we see a larger game plan over a period of 2-3 years, we start investing our money, time and marketing resources towards that hub and spoke model so that we are able to manage it properly and not expand anywhere and everywhere,” he explained.
Among the notable brands under Onora Hospitality’s umbrella, jüSTa Hotels & Resorts has established a strong presence in India’s luxury resorts market. Vohra attributed this success to their unwavering focus on brand development, digital marketing, and strengthening their sales force. “We must be on the right path because in a matter of almost two years, any agent or partners who are looking for a resort experience is definitely calling us at some touch point or the other. As the touch points increase, the relationships strengthen and hence the network strengthens. From a guest point of view at our existing hotels, the focus at each of these locations has been on delivering great experiences. Be it children or adults, what the guests do that they haven’t been able to do in a city situation is what the focus of all the resorts has been.
Currently, our focus is on how to open new markets and opportunities, to leverage our chain strength and enter the South India market and hold a pole position because there are very few chain hotels that have 10 hotels in the hills and the South would be our mainstay for a while.”
The recent foray into the wellbeing resorts segment marks an exciting development for Onora Hospitality, as they introduce their brand, Bookmark Resorts. Vohra expressed the company’s motivation behind this venture by saying, “We have recently launched the first Bookmark Resort in Manali. We have also signed deals for two more Resorts in Mussoorie and Chail, which will open by the end of this financial year. We are also looking at expanding the Bookmark Resorts chain in Goa, Kerala, Coorg and other parts of India. Currently, wellbeing resorts in India are either at premium level and price points or at a very basic level of service. Given how people are focussing on wellbeing, we wished to bring a luxury, target oriented, holistic wellness offering to a larger audience. Through Bookmark Resorts, we will offer holistic journeys of healing and rejuvenation through practices like Yoga and Meditation as well as international Spa Treatments curated by domain experts, complimented by nourishing food and beverage and unique outdoor excursions.”
Within their diverse portfolio, Onora Hospitality also features the NUO brand, which presents a unique concept in the form of a community-focused, modern business hotel. “The NUO brand is very unique. It’s a community-focused, modern, cutting-edge concept. The whole vibe of the brand is very young and modern. At our existing NUO hotel in Delhi, we have noticed that it appeals largely to the youth. Hence, we are trying to put together an F&B concept there to make it more vibrant. We are in talks with some people in Amritsar and Gurugram for setting up NUO,” he added.
Looking ahead, Onora Hospitality’s focus is set on the upcoming opening of Bookmark Resorts in Manali, Vohra informed. “We have done a soft launch recently and will be formally launching it in October. So, all our energies are focused on ensuring that we have a fantastic opening and a successful first season,” he concluded.