IDEEA Podcast Episode 22: JS Anand, Founder & CEO Leva Hotels and Resorts

Published: 18 August 2023

In this episode of the IDEEA Podcast, the host welcomes JS Anand, the founder, and owner of Leva Hotels, known for its presence in the Middle East hospitality market.

JS Anand reflects on the unique spirit of Leva Hotels during COVID-19, highlighting their strategic planning, personalized services, advanced technology integration, and distinctive design. He notes that their focus on the Middle East and African markets during this period contributed to their survival and expansion.

He shares his plans for Leva Hotels in Europe, mentioning potential locations like Greece, Athens, Venice, Austria, Berlin, and Budapest. He emphasizes that Europe requires a different approach due to the diverse cultural and structural factors. He reflects on the unique spirit of Liva Hotels during COVID-19, highlighting their strategic planning, personalized services, advanced technology integration, and distinctive design. He notes that their focus on the Middle East and African markets during this period contributed to their survival and expansion.

JS shares his plans for Leva Hotels in Europe, mentioning potential locations like Greece, Athens, Venice, Austria, Berlin, and Budapest. He emphasizes that Europe requires a different approach due to the diverse cultural and structural factors.

The conversation concludes with an exploration of Leva Hotels' management and potential franchise models. JS expresses his dedication to offering the same level of service and focus whether the brand operates under a management contract or franchise arrangement. The podcast ends with a note of anticipation for the upcoming IDEEA Hospitality Investment Forum in Prague, where JS Anand and Leva Hotels will engage in further discussions.



Marina Franolic (00:00:27) - Hello everyone. Welcome to the IDEEA podcast. Today I have one more special guest. It's JS Anand, the founder and owner of Leva Hotels. JS has been is quite famous in Middle East hospitality, and it's a great pleasure to have him here. JS is also going to be in Prague, September 18th to 20th at an IDEEA Hospitality Investment Forum will be talking today just shortly about Leva Hotels. JS, welcome. It's really great pleasure to have you here with us. Yes. I understand that you founded Leva Hotels in 2019, which is right before Covid. Just how was this period for you? I mean, it was the hardest period in the hospitality industry overall and you just kind of founded the company and then got, I don't know, hit by something.

Marina Franolic (00:01:31) - So what does Leva stand for and how did you actually manage to survive, which is amazing.

JS Anand (00:01:44) - Leva actually stands for Lucio. And that means comfort and solace. We. We knew that there was a gap in the market in terms of creating lifestyle hotels and basically in the affordable luxury segment, upscale, more positioned as a mid scale, but offering all the amenities and services of of a combined chain hotel along with the boutique concept. Um, we had a we had an exercise for over 12 months to decide what we wanted to come up with. And nobody knew at that time that Covid was going to hit. 2019 is when it happened that I was going to launch the first hotel in Dubai. Uh, that was a that's the current one, which I'm sitting in 184 keys with. It's a four star with great FNB concepts and a spa and a gym and a rooftop. So Covid, I think, hit in the early part of 2019 and at that time we we had I think, an embargo on travel within the Middle East.

JS Anand (00:03:10) - 2019 was the first year for this hotel. And we ended up doing about 63% in the first year. A couple of factors. I mean, the location is fantastic. It's right in the middle of downtown. It's right in the middle of everything that you're looking for. Dubai Mall and Citywalk and Burj Khalifa. Everything is five minutes away. I, I don't know how we survived Covid, but I think. We had the right concept. We had the story, We had the people. We had the right space, the identity, the services that we wanted to go for and the distribution channels. So. For a small homegrown brand which is derived locally from the Middle East and market, it's a lot harder to compete with the big boys. So you have to stand out in your lifestyle segment and offer something more unique. We focused a lot on Africa during the Covid period. We focused on a bit of Middle East that Saudi Arabia, because at that time the 2030 vision was just coming into being and Saudi became a very dynamic market.

JS Anand (00:04:57) - Dubai at that time, I felt, was already going to go through Expo at that time. And Expo was very dynamic in Dubai and Covid had sort of died down by then because we had the Covid. We had the expo in 2021 in Dubai, followed by FIFA. So was it hard? Absolutely. I think it's very calculated and constructive and strategic planning as to wanting hotels and key markets than increasing just the number of rooms. So so financially, we were sound. We survived ourselves. We stopped. We actually signed another five hotels during Covid. I think it's yeah. So I think it was just the tenacity and the dedication. And as I said, it's harder for owners to believe in us being a new brand and with so many options of operators out there.

Marina Franolic (00:06:08) - You said we we saw the market is missing something. And then also on your website, it says that you are in a quote, committed to creating the best lifestyle hotels in the Middle East and beyond.

Marina Franolic (00:06:24) - How do you plan to do that? So what exactly the market is missing or was missing now that Levi's hotels is here is obviously it's not missing anymore. What's the difference between you two, Levi Hotels and the other lifestyle properties?

JS Anand (00:06:44) - We created. We created a hotel life style hotel, which was a combination of, I would say, a boutique hotel, and with the bells and whistles of a chain hotel and affordability. So more personalized. The standard was we focused on design a lot. We focused on getting a lot of conversions. So we we personalized services, technology, design. I think what I wanted to create was an upscale three star with the full service components of a four star. Like a grab and go concept. A spa, a nice sports bar wherever applicable in whichever market. Technology in terms of offering. You know, smart TVs, offering IP TVs, check in at the desk and accessibility to services within the city. There was a gap in the market because. Everything that kind of circles around within the Middle Eastern market.

JS Anand (00:08:09) - Not necessarily Africa. Africa is an emerging market. And Europe is more different. But I think I felt we had a lot of luxury here. But that luxury came at a cost. We came in at a price point somewhere at approximately $100. So we have everything. What a four star gives, what a three star gives. There was a gap in that sense which could have been created, and that's where we felt not to call it a budget, but a mid-scale, upscale, affordable, kind of funky, trendy kind of concept.

Marina Franolic (00:08:51) - Middle East, Africa. What about Europe? You're coming to IDEEA in Prague, which means you're looking to expand to Europe. What are the locations where you would love to see live hotels?

JS Anand (00:09:08) - My first answer would be that my my Europe is a very peculiar market. It's got not very large hotels. It doesn't have very well defined luxury, according to me, in certain markets right now. I've seen opportunity in Greece largely. So I'm looking at an asset in Athens.

JS Anand (00:09:31) - I'm looking at Venice, Austria, Berlin. So and generally hotels are more colonial. The structures are very different, the sizes are different. You don't need big boxes in these markets. You can go with a lovely 70 key hotel in Saint Vienna, for example, where there was a conference and and very easy to operate, very functional, not difficult to convert these assets purely mainly in cultural districts or downtown, very accessible in terms of transportation, very different in terms of what you require, what you require in the Middle Eastern market versus Europe. So I would potentially start with Greece for now and then take it along to other markets within Europe, even Hungary. Budapest is a great market to get into. Average rates are fantastic anywhere between 4 or €500 to €1,000. So I find there's a lot of potential and a concept like ours, we would do well significantly recently.

Marina Franolic (00:10:54) - And so, yeah, you definitely chose a good location to start with. Uh, but I have another question. So we understand the concept.

Marina Franolic (00:11:03) - But if I would be an owner and I would need to pick the brand for my property, why would I choose to lever over a big brands with massive booking platforms?

JS Anand (00:11:19) - Number one, we as a brand are first hotel became number one on TripAdvisor in Dubai out of 946 hotels. So obviously, we're doing something right in terms of a cost factor. We don't have colossal cost in terms of construction. We tend to be 30 to 40% lower than than a chain brand. In terms of construction conversions, we are very we don't break walls when we convert an existing asset. What's more important for an ownership today? What's important today is that you lower your project cost. And you maximize your revenue and create a hotel concept or a design which is acceptable to the market has the right components, which I would stay the services, the identity of the concept, the distribution channels. So I come with an approach where I do not put too much financial strain on an ownership. If I have to build or if I have to convert, then we come with competitive fees.

JS Anand (00:12:46) - That are affordable. But we cannot eliminate all fees because we are not large operators. We need to get paid for what we deliver. We have processes, we innovate, we do. We adopt new technologies, we cut costs. Typically, most of my hotels do about between 40 to 50% on top gross operating profit. So there are elements I don't take on hotels where I can't produce results. I don't take on number of rooms. I take on rooms where there is a potential to grow and there is a potential to give results to the owner, whether it's underperforming, whether it needs a new brand or it's being built right from scratch. I think there is a way to exist and steal market share and position yourself to management, but that's what we bring to the ownership.

Marina Franolic (00:13:43) - Or just management.

JS Anand (00:13:49) - The model at this stage is only been management. But if we do, if we did do a franchise, we would run it as a management anyway. We would give the same focus to the ownership, what a management would do because the difference in fees is very minuscule, not very large.

JS Anand (00:14:11) - So I don't think franchises typically said you get a name and no, I will provide the same services under a management contract.

Marina Franolic (00:14:21) - Yes, I think you shared enough information for everyone who is coming to Prague and wants to talk to you. And for the ones that don't, I'm sure they'll find a way to to reach out. Thank you so much for today. We'll continue this discussion or this talk in within two months in Prague. I'm really looking forward to seeing you. Thank you so much for for joining today.

JS Anand (00:14:51) - Thank you for having me. Pleasure. Pleasure talking to you guys.

Speaker 1 (00:14:55) - Thank you for listening to the IDEEA podcast, the channel for the IDEEA Hospitality Investment Forum. You can find a full transcript of this conversation in the Content Library on IDEEAs Forum with other reports and insights. We look forward to welcoming you and your colleagues in person at Ideo in Prague on the 18th through 20th of September 2023. If you haven't registered yet, please go to our forum to purchase your pass today and save before ticket prices increase.

Speaker 1 (00:15:26) - Please feel free to email us with any questions at hello at the bench. Com until the next episode. Stay safe and keep well.