Exclusive Interview with Suresh Menon: Hospitality Trends and More

Exclusive Interview with Suresh Menon: Hospitality Trends and More

Admin

Published on October 4, 2023

Introduction

Born into an Armed Forces family, Menon spent the first 15 years of his life in an army unit. After graduating from St. Joseph's Bangalore in Industrial Relations (Personnel Management), he began his career in the hotel industry in 1992. "You don't choose a profession; the profession chooses you," he says, explaining how he ended up in Sales and Marketing. He went for an interview for Personnel Management, but the interviewer asked him if he would like to consider Sales and Marketing. Menon was open to anything and wanted a job, so he accepted. Menon has worked in Sales and Marketing for 31 years now, with some of the top international hotel chains, including Mahindra Hospitality and ITC Hotels. This is his second stint with Le Méridien; he previously worked at the Le Méridien in Bangalore in the mid-1990s. Menon is proud of his foundation in the Armed Forces. He believes that his 31-year career has benefited greatly from his military background. The hotel industry is very regimented, and one must always be prepared to do any task. Chaos is bound to happen, and the Armed Forces taught him how to handle it.

How was the business before COVID and after COVID?

The current scenario can be likened to a system reset affecting various industries. Before the pandemic, businesses were operating as usual, but a profound transformation has since unfolded. The domestic market has taken center stage, spurred by India's 'Atmanirbhar Bharat' initiative, resulting in a surge in domestic activities and remarkable progress. Hotels are no longer solely focused on attracting foreign business; the domestic market plays a pivotal role in achieving our targets. Numerous industries benefiting from 'Atmanirbhar Bharat' have had a positive ripple effect, and as they thrive, so do we. In this symbiotic relationship, hotels stand as a driving force for various industries' growth, particularly the travel industry, which demonstrates its resilience in challenging times.

How is the Chennai inventory placed and how about the demand and supply?

The hotel inventory in Chennai has remained largely unchanged, with no new additions both pre and during the COVID era. However, there are a few notable projects by renowned brands underway along Nelson Manickam Road. Additionally, smaller hotels have sprung up in areas like the IT corridor and elsewhere, responding to rising demand. Occupancy rates are consistently high across all hotels, reflecting the strong demand despite the relatively stable supply. This surge in demand can be attributed to India's growth on the global stage, bolstered by diplomatic relations, the emergence of new startups, and international networks, all of which have contributed significantly to the hotel industry's upward trajectory.

What are the new challenges you face on a daily basis in sales?

Currently, we are not encountering any significant sales challenges, although this situation is likely transient, akin to a passing cloud. If we were to recall today's challenges, the foremost issue would be acquiring the right manpower. In sales, the task of identifying the most suitable resources and nurturing a capable team is paramount, particularly in an emerging market. Moreover, navigating the traffic outside Chennai's metro area and coordinating work that extends beyond the city pose additional hurdles in meeting customer expectations. Effective preplanning becomes crucial in addressing these challenges, and these are the key considerations I can outline for a comprehensive overview.

What is your opinion on brand loyalty?

Brand loyalty plays a pivotal role in any business, particularly in the hotel industry where adhering to brand standards and procedures is of paramount importance. For us, as part of Marriott International with eight hotels in Chennai, customer loyalty holds immense significance. Collaboration within our Marriott fraternity has been instrumental in ensuring our guests' comfort, leading to high customer satisfaction levels. We leverage each other's strengths and selling points, forming a symbiotic relationship. Consequently, we have cultivated a strong and loyal clientele, establishing brand loyalty as one of our core strengths within the Marriott International network.

How about the business forecast for the next 5 years?

We are currently witnessing a substantial surge in domestic business, and the growth of the domestic market appears to be closely intertwined with the foreign market's expansion. Looking ahead, the next five years hold significant promise. Anticipated demand is expected to rise, with minimal changes in the supply landscape – perhaps just one or two new hotels on the horizon. Initiatives like "Make in India" and foreign diplomatic tie-ups are poised to make a substantial impact on the Chennai market. With an international port, a strong defense presence, an international airport, and a thriving industrial ecosystem in every direction, the outlook for the next five years is exceptionally promising in terms of growth and opportunities.

How do you sell this hotel?

Our location is strategically advantageous, situated in proximity to both the airport and the central business district, and we're also conveniently positioned in the emerging business district. This strategic location is of utmost importance to us. Our clientele primarily consists of frequent business travelers who appreciate the brand loyalty of Marriott International. We take pride in providing a personalized and comfortable experience for our guests, catering to their unique needs and preferences.

What types of clientele have you got for this hotel?

As I previously mentioned, our hotel's unique selling points lie in our exceptional location and our valued clientele. We prioritize the retail market, working closely with direct reservations and online travel agents to enhance our retail segment. Additionally, we have established a strong foundation of contracted business. Our attention is particularly devoted to our top 20% of clients, which contributes significantly to our revenue. Furthermore, we have a thriving MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions) market, consistently hosting bulk and group business events. These specific clientele segments are our primary focus, and we ensure their needs are exceptionally well taken care of.

This interview is exclusively published on Hospitalitynews.in.


Ganesh Ramamurthy: Elevating Boutique Hospitality with a Touch of Tradition

Nishang Narayan

Published on April 2, 2024

In an enlightening dialogue with Hospitality News, Ganesh Ramamurthy, the visionary behind Atithi Pondicherry's success, shared his approach to intertwining traditional charm with modern hospitality. His extensive experience and academic background in hotel management have not only shaped Atithi Pondicherry into a beacon of personalized guest experiences but also made Ramamurthy a mentor and innovator in the field.

When asked about maintaining Atithi Pondicherry's unique identity, Ramamurthy highlighted the emphasis on human connections over digital transformations, ensuring the brand's distinctiveness and service excellence thrive in a competitive market. He also detailed the collaborative efforts across departments that guarantee a seamless guest experience, reflecting his trust-based management philosophy.

A focal point of our conversation was Ramamurthy's strategy for community engagement and local partnership, which bolsters the hotel's authenticity and supports the local economy. Moreover, his insight into balancing innovation with tradition, such as introducing sustainability practices without overshadowing the hotel's heritage, underscores his forward-thinking leadership.

Select responses reveal Ramamurthy's knack for efficient revenue management and cost-saving measures, like optimizing daily newspaper distribution, which underscores his commitment to sustainability and guest satisfaction. Furthermore, his personal recommendation to experience the hotel's infinity pool exemplifies his dedication to creating memorable guest experiences.

Reflecting on the evolution of hospitality culture and offering advice to aspiring professionals, Ramamurthy underscores the importance of patience, learning, and personal interaction, crucial traits for success in the hospitality industry.

Ganesh Ramamurthy's insights offer a fascinating glimpse into the art of blending tradition with innovation in hospitality. His dedication and strategic thinking illuminate the path for future leaders. For a more comprehensive dive into Ramamurthy's philosophies and practices, make sure to watch the full interview available on the Hospitality News YouTube channel and read the detailed discussion in Hospitality News magazine. Follow @indiahospitalitynews on Instagram for more updates and insights into the world of hospitality.


Nurturing Talent, Inspiring Excellence: Vinesh Gupta's Leadership Philosophy

Nurturing Talent, Inspiring Excellence: Vinesh Gupta's Leadership Philosophy

Admin

Published on April 2, 2024

In this exclusive interview, we delve into the illustrious career of Vinesh Gupta, General Manager of The Den in Bengaluru, Karnataka, India.

Vinesh Gupta brings over two decades of rich and diverse experience in the hospitality industry, currently serving as the General Manager of The Den in Bengaluru, Karnataka, India. Beginning his journey with Hyatt Regency Delhi in 1994, Vinesh steadily climbed the ranks, showcasing his expertise in financial analysis and project management. During his tenure at Hyatt Regency, he served as Asst. Front Office Manager and later undertook various positions, including Regency Club Manager. Expanding his horizons, Vinesh joined The Imperial New Delhi as Front Office Manager, further honing his skills in guest relations and operations management.

His career trajectory led him to Taj Hotels, where he contributed as Front Office Manager at Taj Lands End Mumbai and Accommodations Manager at Taj Bengal Kolkata, showcasing proficiency in budgeting and financial analysis. Continuing his journey, Vinesh assumed the role of Executive Assistant Manager - Rooms at Shangri-La New Delhi, demonstrating his capabilities in overseeing room operations and ensuring guest satisfaction.

Further enriching his expertise, Vinesh served as Executive Assistant Manager at The Leela Palaces & Resorts, spearheading initiatives to enhance guest experiences and operational efficiency. His career highlights include significant tenures with leading international hospitality brands such as Hilton, Wyndham Hotel Group, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts, and Dan Hotels Israel.

1. What initially sparked your interest in pursuing a career in the hospitality industry, and how has that passion evolved over the years?

Studying Hospitality was more of an accident than a choice. I was bright & intelligent, but not studious; and the aspiration of alternate career landed me in hospitality. Initially, it was the excitement of doing something different – cooking, beverages, languages, etc. but later I developed a serious liking for this emotionally satisfying and a people centric business.

A successful hotelier must be passionate to the extent of just short of being eccentric. It is a demanding profession, where your passion drives the results. The early success drove me harder and my urge to better myself and improve, innovate & be impactful stretches my limits of passion

2. With your extensive experience across various renowned hotel chains, what key lessons have you learned that you believe differentiate exceptional hotel management from merely adequate management?

Humility and humanity in our leadership styles make us different. We are as good as our team, and I very strongly believe that the virtues mentioned above hold true for handling all stakeholders – be it guests, team members, owners, or corporate officers. 

Leading by example and demonstrating it in front of your team will increase their will to perform and drive towards excellence both qualitatively and financially 

3. As someone deeply involved in Food and Beverages, could you share a particular dining experience or innovation that you have spearheaded, which significantly enhanced guest satisfaction and loyalty?

There is always something happening at The Den. Surprising things, interesting things, enjoyable things – but you will always find something to stimulate you. Food & Beverage is all about touching the hearts of your guests.

One of the major challenges of any F&B operation is to give the first course to the guests in no time – and most of us falter here. At Layla, as soon as the guest enters, the waiter post greeting and seating , will bring the selection of Cold Mezze to visually pick and choose with hot Pita’s and then the Menu is given to the guest. 

Being authentic, innovative, and original has always made us darling of our guests – be it Kanafe or a Filo Feta; Goat Milk Panacota or Shrimp Falafel; our small but crazy repertoire is our mantra to guest satisfaction

4. The Den prides itself on offering an environment where guests can seamlessly transition between eating, working, sleeping, and playing. How do you ensure that each aspect of this experience is meticulously curated to exceed guest expectations and create a memorable stay?

As a definition, Den is an informal, quiet, and comfortable room in a house where someone goes to read, work, play and relax; and we have taken it to our cores.

Eat Work Sleep Play is our DNA. At the heart of The Den is our authentic hospitality and a philosophy to do what you want do with comfort, panache and just a little edge. It is a place to sleep comfortably, work effectively, eat gloriously and play…well…we hope enjoyably.

Employee retention and morale are crucial for the success of any hotel. What initiatives have you introduced to promote staff engagement and career growth opportunities within the hotel?

We are as good as our teams is the basic premise at The Den. We are humane and humble. We practise the family values at workplace, and we believe in transparency. 

The associates have a career path to be leaders and we have showcased the same where our team members have grown multiple levels and are in certain leadership roles. 

We have our very own “The Den Academy” to nurture and develop the talent inhouse. All we ask for is the positive attitude, a will to work and need of the job.

5. In a competitive market like Bengaluru, attracting corporate clients is vital. What initiatives have you implemented to enhance The Den's appeal to business travellers and corporate events?

The Den is a Millennial Luxury hotel. We have our value systems and a very well-defined niche market. It is a very stylish and classy hotel and at The Den you expect everything to just work. And it does. Perfectly. But more than that, the guest experience you receive is completely seamless. Each one of our team members is trained to deliver our unique Den hospitality.

6. As a prominent establishment in the Whitefield business district, how does The Den actively contribute to the local community and foster meaningful relationships with residents and businesses in the area?

Local community, environment and sustainability are certain key pillars at The Den. From fund raisers to direct support; education to charity; training the underprivileged to embracing diversity, we have been able to create an amazing equilibrium that holds and respects human values.

7. In your opinion, what are the most crucial qualities a leader in the hospitality industry should possess, and how do you embody these qualities in your role as General Manager?

Lead by Example, Attention to Detail, Innovative leadership, and Entrepreneurial Approach are quintessential for success in hospitality.

Staff look to leaders for cues on how to behave and I model company values and behaviours that I want to see in the team. Leading by example include things like listening to the team, helping, delivering on promises, and being inclusive.

Remembering employee’s names, if they have children, pets, birthdays, and life events makes a huge difference in creating more personal connections and keeping teams engaged.

8. Looking ahead, what trends do you foresee shaping the future of the hospitality industry, and how do you plan to adapt and stay ahead of these changes in your leadership role?

Hospitality is a very dynamic and ever-changing world as we are dealing with Human Emotions at every stage. I would take a leap of faith with technology – especially AI and XI changing our very philosophy of hospitality. However, the differentiator will always be the Human touch. We need to be very agile and embrace the technology with the human touch, and that’s what I keep myself abreast with and implement it wherever possible.

This Interview is Published Exclusively in hospitalitynews.in


Leading with Passion and Purpose in the Hospitality Sector. A Conversation with Balaji M

Leading with Passion and Purpose in the Hospitality Sector. A Conversation with Balaji M

Admin

Published on April 2, 2024

In an exclusive interview with Mr. Balaji. M, the esteemed Chief Executive Officer of Kamalya Group and Clarks Exotica Convention Resort & Spa, we delve into his illustrious career.

Mr. Balaji. M has been serving as the Chief Executive Officer of Kamalya Group for over 24 years. Under his leadership, the group has diversified into various sectors including import & export, real estate, hospitality, and wellness. Recently, the group has ventured into manufacturing COVID-19 essentials and international trading of healthcare products. Mr. Balaji's commitment to quality and customer satisfaction has been instrumental in the group's success.

Mr. Balaji's career began as an electrician and later transitioned into roles in tourism and human resources. His expertise in talent management and organizational behavior led him to senior positions within the company. Through his strategic leadership, he achieved significant growth in turnover and occupancy rates at Clarks Exotica Convention Resort & Spa, Bangalore, ultimately attaining the role of Group CEO.

Outside of work, Mr. Balaji is an avid martial artist and fitness enthusiast, drawing inspiration from Bruce Lee's philosophy of continuous self-improvement. He is also passionate about agriculture and maintains a farm focused on organic farming practices.

1. What inspired you to pursue a career in the hospitality industry, and how has your journey led you to your current role as CEO of Clarks Exotica?

My entry into the hospitality sector wasn't sparked by inspiration but by a sense of duty. When I was unexpectedly tasked one night with assuming the management role at Clarks Exotica, I faced the challenge head-on, despite lacking expertise in sales or operations. Leveraging my background in administration and a keenness to learn rapidly, I relied on the knowledge of my team, engaged in self-directed learning, and tapped into resources in research and development to navigate the intricacies of the role.

Reflecting on my earlier experiences, I had the opportunity to work under an IAS officer during the formative stages of my career. These officers, accustomed to frequent transfers and varied responsibilities, imparted valuable lessons in adaptability and versatility. Observing their ability to excel in diverse fields, I embraced the challenge with enthusiasm. As an HR professional, I swiftly adapted, drawing upon my aptitude for quick learning and gathering insights from my team and peers. Additionally, I benefited from ongoing research and development initiatives in learning and development.

2. Clarks Exotica has garnered numerous awards and accolades under your leadership. Could you share one achievement or initiative that you're most proud of, and how it reflects your vision for the resort?

One of my proudest accomplishments at Clarks Exotica is the nurturing and development of our staff. Under my guidance, our team has flourished, receiving recognition and accolades for their outstanding performance. I find great satisfaction in the knowledge that our employees, many of whom have been with us since the inception of the resort, feel empowered and have the freedom to express their talents. We prioritize internal promotions, fostering a culture where everyone has the chance to grow and advance. Our success is a testament to the dedication and skill of our team.

At the heart of our organization lies our people, who serve as our strongest pillars. I hold immense pride in our staff, each of whom has contributed to our journey since the beginning. They are empowered to take ownership of their work, with minimal micromanagement. Our Heads of Departments have all risen from within the organization, a testament to our commitment to internal growth and development. As emphasized by Late Mr. Rai Bahadur MS Oberoi - "You can make a hotel of pure gold, but nobody will visit unless you provide quality service". 

We prioritize retaining and nurturing talent, recognizing that our team is integral to our success. Awards and accolades are a reflection of the dedication and effort of our team, underscoring the importance of collective achievement over individual brilliance. Without our team, we would not have achieved the level of excellence for which we are known.

3. As a leader in the hospitality sector, how do you foster a culture of excellence and motivation among your team at Clarks Exotica, ensuring that each member is aligned with the resort's values and objectives?

At Clarks Exotica, fostering a culture of excellence and motivation is built upon four fundamental pillars: people, quality, business, and culture. Through a steadfast commitment to our staff and operational processes, we ensure that every team member comprehends and embodies our core values and objectives. We place a strong emphasis on upholding the principles of hospitality, where each guest is treated with utmost respect and care, in line with our guiding principle, "Athithi devo bhava."

In any organization, these four pillars - people, quality, business, and culture - form the foundation of success. We recognize the critical interplay between processes and personnel. With experienced staff, we benefit from their deep understanding of our organizational DNA and the expectations of our leadership. Cultivating a strong organizational culture extends beyond remote work arrangements; it requires adhering to fundamental principles. Even minor shortcomings in service, such as a flaw in a simple dish, can significantly impact the overall guest experience. Our unwavering commitment to the principle of "Athithi devo bhava" ensures that every member of our team is aligned with this ethos.

4. Event planning services are a key feature of Clarks Exotica. What types of events does the resort specialize in, and how does the team work with clients to create memorable experiences for their guests?

At Clarks Exotica, we pride ourselves on being a truly unique property that caters to a diverse range of segments, including business travelers, airline crews, individual travelers, social events, and MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions). Annually, we orchestrate an average of 40 weddings, showcasing our ability to handle events of varying scales, from intimate gatherings of 10 people to grand affairs hosting up to 5000 guests. Each event is meticulously planned and customized to meet the specific requirements of our guests.

Our reputation for excellence was solidified when we successfully secured a major ocean-themed event, surpassing competition from a prominent venue in the city. Our professionalism, confidence, exceptional service, and high-quality offerings were instrumental in winning over the organizers. Additionally, we achieved a remarkable feat by flawlessly serving over 40,000 meals within a span of three days, without a single complaint.

At Clarks Exotica, we specialize in crafting unforgettable experiences for our guests, whether it's through corporate gatherings, weddings, or social functions. Our dedicated team works closely with clients to tailor each event to perfection, ensuring that every moment exceeds expectations. Our commitment to delivering impeccable service and personalized experiences is reflected in our motto, underscoring our dedication to surpassing guest satisfaction.

5. How does Clarks Exotica solicit and incorporate feedback from guests and employees to enhance its offerings and services?

Feedback from guests and employees is integral to our continuous improvement at Clarks Exotica. We utilize various channels, including in-house feedback systems and online platforms, to solicit input. Every comment and suggestion is taken seriously, and we are committed to addressing concerns promptly to enhance our offerings and services.

6. Corporate events, weddings, and social gatherings are significant segments for Clarks Exotica. Can you highlight some key initiatives that have contributed to the resort's success in these areas?

Key initiatives contributing to our success in corporate events, weddings, and social gatherings include creating versatile spaces, ensuring convenience for guests, maintaining high standards of food quality, and fostering a culture of creativity and adaptability. Sustainability is also a priority, with efforts to reduce environmental impact through initiatives like waste segregation and upcycling.

7. In your opinion, what are the most pressing challenges facing the hospitality industry today, and how is Clarks Exotica addressing them under your guidance?

In the hospitality industry, challenges like escalating overhead expenses, shifts in the workforce across generations, and the imperative for sustainability are prevalent. At Clarks Exotica, we tackle these hurdles through targeted initiatives centered on efficiency, employee engagement, and environmental stewardship. Our approach involves embracing diversity and cultivating a culture of ongoing learning to navigate these obstacles and sustain our leadership position in the industry.

Specifically, we recognize the pressing issue of rising overhead costs, particularly in utilities like electricity, water, and fuel. To address this, we prioritize efficiency measures and explore sustainable alternatives to mitigate expenses while minimizing environmental impact. Additionally, we acknowledge the evolving workforce dynamics, with a significant portion of our staff comprising Generation Z individuals. We are committed to bridging the gap between generations by fostering mutual understanding, acceptance, and appreciation of diverse perspectives and work methodologies.

Moreover, we understand the importance of sustainability in today's world and are dedicated to incorporating eco-friendly practices into our operations. From recycling and upcycling initiatives to addressing waste segregation and reducing our carbon footprint, we are proactive in promoting environmental responsibility.

Through awareness programs, continuous training, and a culture of inclusivity and growth, we strive to navigate these challenges effectively, ensuring Clarks Exotica remains a beacon of excellence in the hospitality industry.

8. Innovation is often crucial for staying competitive in the hospitality sector. Could you discuss any recent innovative projects or initiatives undertaken by Clarks Exotica, and how they have impacted the guest experience or operational efficiency?

At Clarks Exotica, our dedication to eco-friendly practices has led to significant achievements. One notable initiative involves the replacement of plastic water bottles with glass alternatives. This commitment has resulted in the avoidance of an impressive 14.40 lakh plastic bottles to date, showcasing our proactive approach to reducing plastic waste and promoting sustainability.

Furthermore, we have taken steps to minimize plastic waste in other areas by replacing small plastic pet bottles with dispensers in bathrooms. This not only helps in reducing landfill waste but also prevents unnecessary wastage of resources.

In our ongoing efforts to embrace renewable energy sources, we have installed solar panels on-site, generating 300 KW of power. Looking ahead, we are ambitious in our goals and aim to expand our solar capacity to 2 MW in the near future. This initiative underscores our commitment to environmental responsibility and reducing our carbon footprint.

9. Beyond professional endeavours, what personal values or principles guide your leadership style, and how do they contribute to the overall success and culture of Clarks Exotica?

My leadership philosophy is rooted in personal values such as action-oriented mindset, discipline, humility, and the belief in influencing others through positive behavior rather than relying on authority. I draw inspiration from Bruce Lee's philosophy, emphasizing that "knowing is not enough; we must apply," prioritizing actions over personal branding. By leading with love, integrity, and a focus on empowering others, I aim to contribute to the overall success and culture of Clarks Exotica.

I am motivated by Bruce Lee's timeless wisdom, reminding us that knowledge alone is insufficient—we must put our knowledge into action. I aspire to expand my sphere of influence beyond my immediate control, focusing on actions that inspire and uplift others. I believe in leading by example, letting my work and actions speak louder than any title or position.

Just as seasons change, presenting varying challenges, I embrace adaptability and resilience. I recognize that excuses and reluctance only hinder progress. Like Krishna guided Arjuna, I aim to mentor and support others, helping them overcome their fears and uncertainties. Ultimately, I believe in the power of confronting the unknown, for therein lies true growth and transformation.

This Interview is Published Exclusively in hospitalitynews.in