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The Passionate Hotelier: An Interview with Ignace Bauwens

Rapidly expanding the portfolio of Wyndham Hotels & Resorts and leveraging the growth prospects of the midscale segment are high on the priority list of Ignace Bauwens, Regional Vice-President of the Middle East, Eurasia and Africa at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts

Earlier this year, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts announced the promotion of Ignace Bauwens to Regional Vice-President for Middle East, Eurasia and Africa. In his new role, Bauwens handles the Group’s existing portfolio of hotels and will be responsible for driving the growth prospects of the hotel chain in newly emerging markets, such as India.

In the increasingly competitive world of the Hospitality Industry, Bauwens’ task is nothing short of challenging. Contending with a market that is primarily domestic in nature (albeit the footfall of foreign tourists in India being approximately 10 million) and with an infrastructure that is still in the making is no easy task. But, Bauwens is upbeat. He comes from a school of belief that seeks to turn every challenge into an opportunity. Today’s Traveller caught up with the accomplished corporate, who spoke candidly about the growth prospects in India, the challenges of doing business in the country, and how he unwinds when he manages to get quality time amidst his busy schedule.

Bauwens begins by identifying the three priority areas for the Indian market that deserved his special attention. Expanding the existing portfolio of Wyndham Hotels & Resorts is clearly at the top of the list. Globally, the hospitality giant has nearly 9,000 hotels with 792,000 rooms in more than 80 countries. In Eurasia itself, the Group has 44 operational hotels, of which 37 are in India. However, though Bauwens wishes to expand his portfolio by adding another 29 hotels with 3,400 rooms within the next 3-5 years, the zealous crusader is more inclined in adding to the experience of his customers.

Bauwens speaks animatedly about Wyndham Hotels & Resorts’ rewards programme. “We realized,” he says, “how complicated loyalty programmes can be for guests to understand, so we set out to create a programme that was simple and easier for the everyday traveller to use.”

Bauwens says, “Wyndham Rewards is the industry’s simplest and most generous loyalty programme, offering value to both our guests and franchisees. Wyndham Rewards offers generous perks and points earning structure along with a flat, free-night redemption rate. It is the first of its kind for a major hotel rewards programme. Members earn a minimum of 1,000 points for every qualified hotel stay and can redeem for a free night at any one of more than 25,000 hotels, holiday apartments and villas for just 15,000 points per bedroom per night. Widely acclaimed for its unmatched simplicity and generous rewards, the programme has received more than 50 accolades in the last three years. With a membership of 58 million and growing, our Wyndham Rewards programme continues driving growth for our owners.”

Moving on, Bauwens says that each market is different and throws up a unique set of challenges, but he considers each challenge as an opportunity. The astute hotelier has two solutions for challenges – ensuring that Wyndham Hotels & Resorts have a footprint across all up-and-coming destinations and having a tailor-made business model for each, to make the business grow.

Thus, instead of a one-size-fits-all model, Bauwens customises business plans for each franchisee. “If you come to me and say Ignace, I want to build a hotel in Pune, or I want one in Goa or Hyderabad – this, for me, would mean three different business cases. So, I would enquire what the size of the hotel is and which brand would give the best return on investment. So if it is Goa, I might say go for a Wyndham, if it is Hyderabad, I might say, go for a Tryp by Wyndham, because it is more of a lifestyle brand linked to the idea of being powered by the city. So, this is how we look at each project,” informs Bauwens.

A keen observer of Indian market trends and the unique problems related to it, Bauwens states, “In India, there are a growing number of middle-class travellers, who are travelling more than ever before. They will seek out hotel brands they know and are familiar with. Further, there is a need for better infrastructure — better roads, rail and air links to all destinations across the country.”

Elaborating on the zest and fervour which he brings to his work, Bauwens says that he is part of an industry that requires him to work 24x7. So, whatever quality time that he gets is spent taking a few laps in a pool or enjoying a glass of wine with friends or listening to stories recounted by his daughters. But, there is no industry in the world that he would like to be in other than the hotel industry, says Bauwens, signing off.

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