East meets West at Troca Hotels
12 SEPTEMBER 2014 8:06 AM
Boston East India Hotels is launching a collection of small boutique properties across the globe, fueled by service and powered by technology.
NORTH ANDOVER, Massachusetts—Boston East India Hotels is developing on a global scale a collection of small boutique hotels that focuses on service, food and beverage and amenities that appeal to a broad set of guest demographics.
“Our concept is eastern hospitality and western process merged together using technology to power 25- to 75-room hotels in interesting places around the globe,” said Abhijit Das, president and CEO. Das and his team launched the company in early 2012 with one property, The Sofala 15°74, a 21-room inn in North Goa, India.
The company has two additional properties. In late 2013, the company purchased the Captain Daniel Stone Inn in Brunswick, Maine, and renamed it The Daniel 43°69. Last month, it acquired the 30-room Stonehedge Inn & Spa in Tyngsboro, Massachusetts. All three are part of Troca Hotels, the company’s boutique collection.
Das said changes in technology have enabled small groups of boutique hotels to compete with larger branded properties for guests and capital.
“These kinds of hotels weren’t feasible even 10 years ago, unless you were a ‘mom-and-pop,’ owned the hotel outright and lived in or close by,” Das said. “These were really extended bed-and-breakfast hotels but not institutionally viable products.”
Today, Das said hotels can employ cloud computing with little hardware expense to operate all the systems—property management, customer relationship management and more—used at larger branded hotels.
“Technology has allowed us to create or find interesting assets that fit our model so we can string them together in a collection to operate them with institutional efficiency but still offering highly personalized guest service,” he said. “With today’s technology environment, there is no reason a hotel company can’t be global immediately. We have the same backbone operating environments in Goa, Brunswick and our new Boston property.”
Das said the company’s operational attitude takes a page from the hotel culture in Asia, specifically India, where he was stationed with Hilton Worldwide before launching the company in 2012.
“The biggest difference between a high-end hotel in India and one in New York City comes down to how staff members respond to guest requests,” he said. “In an Indian hotel, they will nearly always say yes to a request. In the U.S., the response is more likely, ‘I don’t think it is possible, but I will try.’”
While filling guest requests can sometimes be time-consuming or a pain in the neck, Das said it can differentiate the guest experience. He said staff at Troca properties are trained to say they’ll make it happen and then use technology to track and implement the request.
“We have some non-traditional job types in our properties who can handle these requests,” he said. These logistics associates do everything from making airport pick-ups to standard concierge duties.
“It’s the old version of what air travel was like in the U.S.,” he said. “Forty years ago you could fly from Boston to Los Angeles and it was a good experience. That is all gone now, but it is what we try to do at our hotels.”
F&B and entertainment programming are other competitive advantages at Troca properties.
“Food and beverage may be a pain and a low-margin business, but it can also be a differentiator,” Das said. “If you’re willing to roll up your sleeves, you can create a strong culinary program across your brand. The key is not to lease it out because you lose all control.”
Das said he doesn’t see much generational difference in the needs and expectations of guests.
“The 60-something generation is well-traveled; they’ve lived the life, have significant assets and is looking for an upgraded experience,” he said. “On the other end, you have to create a millennial-friendly product for the early 30s crowd. For them, cookie-cutter definitely doesn’t work.”
The company has two operating platforms: Boston East India Hotels, a third-party management company; and Troca, a soft brand that unites the hotels it owns with its investment partners.
“Troca is the umbrella brand for the consumer and has the common elements of design, service and amenities,” Das said. “However, we specifically chose not to brand the individual hotels with the Troca name because we want them to have individual identities that are authentic and local.”
Das said Troca means trip, travel, exchange, voyage or passage in Portuguese. The company created it as a nod to its first property in Goa, a one-time Portuguese colony.
While the company will pursue management contracts on an opportunistic basis, it has its sights set on a variety of destinations for growth of the Troca platform.
Das said he expects to close two more deals by the end of the year, including a property in New Orleans. From there, target markets in the U.S. include: Austin, Texas; Charleston, South Carolina; Denver; Boulder, Colorado; and San Francisco.
“We’ve ruled out quite a few markets because we don’t believe they have the right resonance for our travelers,” Das said.
He expects to look at opportunities in Europe starting next year, with possible properties in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and elsewhere. In Asia, the company is evaluating a project in Calcutta, India, and has signed an agreement to acquire a site in Sri Lanka.
“There are a lot of Asian companies that operate the way we do, so I think for the next four or five years our largest growth areas will be North America and Western Europe, places where there is still significant need for these kinds of products.”