For an agency that started up only 12 years ago, Insignia Worldwide has certainly seen a lot of success in its lifetime, if its current client portfolio is anything to go by- the company today works with 93 hotels across 16 countries, over 140 restaurants and bars, 30 spa and leisure destinations, and it has also provided pre-opening support to nearly 28 projects across nine different countries. But getting Insignia to where it is today was no easy task- founder and CEO Gaurav Sinha admits that the route was a long and arduous one. “Not many clients understood what exactly we offered, as we’re truly unique in our service proposition,” he recalls. “We don’t like to call ourselves a creative agency- we are a brand enrichment company that enriches, engages and excites people. We make people fall in love with places, not just products. And that’s what makes us so different from other companies in the region.”
Sinha’s background played a key role in Insignia’s rise to the top- he was formerly the head of marketing for Hilton hotels within the Arabian Peninsula. Having found it hard to find an agency that specialized in the luxury hospitality, travel, tourism and destination marketing space, Sinha decided to fill that gap himself by opening up Insignia. “Our strong understanding of the travel and tourism industry is something our clients really rely on- whether it be key feeder market dynamics, trade engagement, channel marketing initiatives, segmentation and seasonality matrixes, this deep understanding of the core of the business is what makes us very compelling. We get involved with hoteliers from the construction phase, from designing spaces to creating a distinct personality for each destination that is not just creatively compelling, but strategically relevant as well.”
With the latest edition of Arabian Travel Market (ATM) having rolled into Dubai in May, Sinha notes that there are a number of new trends in the travel and tourism sector that offer several business opportunities for those with an entrepreneurial mindset. “Dubai is the torchbearer of innovation in hospitality,” he says. “We are now at the epicenter of innovation in how hotels are being designed, and I applaud the vision of H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum - the world’s eyes are upon us and that’s a great opportunity to deliver distinct experiences to guests who visit this region… This is a great time for new hotel brands to emerge and capture their share of the market. People seek authentic experiences and original hotels that are owned by entrepreneurs, not faceless giants, [these companies] will be the ones that will win the hearts of people. To make this happen, destinations need to support their tourism objectives and coststructures for hoteliers to build and operate in a manner that’s truly competitive.”
Sinha also points out the important role branding needs to play in order for one to win in the hospitality industry. “Effective marketing and communication is one of the cornerstones of success in travel and hospitality,” he explains. “People want to be enchanted about a place in order to visit it. This is a cyclical and strategic program of messaging that allows destinations to be different things to different people at varied times. Hotels and leisure destinations need to be very clear about their positioning and promise, and not necessarily be swayed by what the competitive set says about themselves. True luxury is superlative, it needs to connect to consumers and establish what it stands for, not what it offers alone.” As for whether there’s a special magic formula of sorts to win in this market, Sinha firmly ditches the notion. “There’s no ‘one-size-fitsall’ strategy, so it’s not tide to table broad stokes in strategy,” he says. “This is a delicate and intricate part of one’s business strategy and must be refined to the specific needs of a particular brand.”
Gaurav Sinha on changes in the hospitality industry that entrepreneurs could potentially capitalize on:
- “We are noticing the emergence of the ‘upscale value’ segment, with new boutique and four-star hotels that are making destinations more accessible. Similarly, independent restaurants are showing they can compete with some of the biggest names in hospitality– these are just some of the visible aspects of the industry.”
- “With the Russian economy in turmoil, devaluation of the British pound and the euro, and regional sensitivities making front page news, it’s really important to be agile and smart in promoting one’s brand or destination. We clearly know that when someone sneezes in Europe, we catch a cold in this region, when it comes to hotels and inbound tourism.”
- “We also need to focus on emerging markets like India and Africa– there are tens of millions of people in the middle classes who aspire to travel abroad and explore new places. An Indian sub-continent and African focus is essential to attract new tourists to the region."