Tuesday, 16 October 2012


In Part One of the article we looked at the Top Five traits of a premium Luxury Hotel. As it is said, ‘God is in the small things.' The same applies to fine attributes that top level luxury travellers seek from the hotels they wish to frequent.

Let's look at the remaining five needs of a Luxe traveller -


Even in normal, run-of-the-mill hotels guests hate to get buzzed incessantly by housekeeping or the valet or Front desk. The constant interruptions, all in the name of good service, are more of a nuisance; impinging on guest privacy taking away majorly from the work or R&R that the guest has checked into the premises for. But in the case of luxury hotels, the guests pay the top dollar actually for privacy and a sense of space and solitude. Both Paolo Sagina, the luxury hotelier (Hotel Director at Kalidria Thalassa Spa Resort & Alborea Luxury Lodge in Italy) and Mary Gostelow, the venerable luxury traveller (of Gostelow Report and girlahead.com fame), put a premium on "seclusion and privacy."

Susan Kurosawa, Travel Editor of The Australian says "there's a new austerity and sense of restraint among today's high-end travellers. Luxury is now all about what isn't there, including too many fellow travellers."

Two of the top most things that high-profile jetsetters desire most, indeed, are - exclusive treatment and the highest level of privacy. In case of celebrity guests privacy is of paramount significance. Sir Gordon Sumner loved his stay at The Imperial in Delhi for the hotel assured him anonymity. The privacy privilege continued till the time he was interrupted by a fellow guest while enjoying his drink at Patiala Peg who was eager to know if he was THE ‘Sting' to which the legendary singer turned back and replied ‘No, that's my twin brother.'

This amusing anecdote apart, the tour operator had instructed the hotel amply about the strict do's and don'ts of handling the VIP guest, the Excom had met and conferred and the operational team had been thoroughly briefed; all to ensure that Sting enjoyed a hurdle free incognito stay and that he came back to the hotel each time he transited Delhi.

One of the thumb rules of privacy and exclusivity is that the Hotel signs on a self-established rule of secrecy - something that the VIP guest cherishes to the utmost. From the doorman to guest relations, Sales coordinator to the PR person - nobody utters a word about the stay or leaks a hint to the Press - an aspect that the Celebrity guest appreciates hugely and rewards the hotel with his / her repeat visits. Plus, imagine the word of mouth that the guest spreads amongst his famous friends about this beautiful place that has truly become his home-away-from-home.

Along with privacy, security is a terribly important factor in the scheme of things existing in the world today. Gautam Anand, Vice President - Operations Planning & Pre-opening Services, Hotels Division, ITC Limited, says, "In the current environment of global terror threats, guests demand a secure environment. Security must be maximized with an attention to discretion, so that guests feel safe, but not imposed upon. The security staff must be trained to be polite at all times, so that every interaction with a guest is peaceable and pleasant."

Jenny Knight, a well-known London based journalist, nails the topic rather well when she states, "As gadgets and gyms become more common, qualities like space, peace and privacy are being seen as true luxury."


 "To me luxury lies in the experience not in the quality of soaps or the thread count of the bed sheets. Today traveller wants to experience a country, its people and culture. I have stayed at many fine hotels, but at times it is the smallest or simplest gestures that create the strongest emotions. Luxury hotels tend to think (especially in Asia) that by having imported soaps and fancy stereo systems they are doing something special. But for many uber luxury travellers, that is what they may have in their normal lives. I have found that the more the money traveller has, the more excited he gets by simple authentic experiences," puts Rajeev Kohli, Joint Managing Director of Creative Travel Pvt. Ltd., very aptly.

Varun Sharma, the host of popular TV show ‘Inside Luxury Travel,' is floored by "spectacular welcome amenities." Sagina makes sure that his resort is kitted out with "signature bath products and tailored amenities." Anoothi Vishal, an established and prominent Indian Food & Travel writer, is won over with "Good bath amenities in big bathrooms, a splendorous pillow menu, essential oils kept for relaxing in the night, comfortable and clean towels--- eco chic does not apply and basic things like good tea and coffee selection in the room."

Nigel Bolding, Publisher of The World's Best Hotels, rues the fact that "so many otherwise great hotels seem to ignore simple things like ease of use of in-room lighting and access to plugs. Also great bathrooms - with ergonomic functionality and two basins [his and hers] is a real luxury allowing guests to spend time and pamper themselves in the bathroom."

"It must be a fresh and exciting product and must always stay relevant," asserts Sandeep Walia, Vice President for Ritz Carlton, Bvlgari and Edition Hotels for Europe.

Kurosawa wants her luxury abode to present sensible choices and expects it to pamper her with "Quality toiletries, including plenty of hair conditioner for female guests; good hairdryers, not those ridiculous wall-mounted whoosh-whoosh models; bedside lights that can be turned off from the bed, and individually, so you don't disturb your partner; pillow menus with plenty of varieties; well-designed space with power points in easily accessible spots and good mattress and bedding - the Sofitel MyBed is the benchmark."

Gostelow gets upset if the hotel fails to offer a "24-hour gym with a Pilates ball." For Julia Gajcak, PR and Marketing consultant, too, "24 hours gym hours and knowledgeable trainers" is a pre-condition. Julia Gajcak lists out her other musts - "Mini bars that can be stocked according to the guest's favourites. Also, complimentary business center access with several Apple computers and PCs plus quality printers." 

Amit Oberoi, General Manager - Shangri-La's Boracay luxury Resort & Spa, is amazed at how a lot of hotels claiming to be luxury places find even the brass tacks difficult to deliver. "Luxury means total cleanliness in the room and public areas; everything must look brand new and completely sanitized. The accommodation must be functional, especially things like clear cable TV, accessible plug points and switches, AC control. The retail options on the premises must showcase local products," Oberoi insists. "Several guests expect a Food Safety international accreditation like HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points)," pitches in Anand.

When asked to define luxury in brand and product Sheila Donnelly-Theroux, CEO, Sheila Donnelly & Associates, desires, "Fresh fruit, bottled water, a beautiful flower; an abundance of plush towels and seasonal bath amenities by local artisans; great 24/7 laundry and valet service and 1-hour pressing; a massage at any time of the day, especially when arriving from overseas; a hotel car that might be available from time to time and secret special and delicious local products in the mini-bar."

From a luxury hotelier's point of view Gautam Anand suggests, "Luxury hotels really shine in their amenities, offering world class toiletries, branded bath & room linen as well as artisans' chocolates or at least a corbeille de fruits. Not only does the room need to be bigger, but the bath and room areas must also be seamless. Space planning is essential."

"Please avoid annoying repeating musical announcements often used when the guest turns on the TV. Guests will find the premium services if they want them, without the audio assault. Also it should be a natural to tie in the entertainment centre to the property management system. The guest should be welcomed by name on the screen, should be able to view their bill, order room service (with pictured menus), see hotel information /activities, tie into an "event network" if desired by the planner, check-out and more," Anand further adds.

And here's some fantastic advice from Corbin Ball, an international speaker, consultant and writer who has been voted one of "The 25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry" this year and whose Company helps clients worldwide use technology to save time and improve productivity. With regard to luxury properties Ball identifies the following - "A working office is essential part of the guest room experience. Therefore, a workable desk and an adjustable, ergonomic (Hermann Miller Aeron-like) chair are essential. I particularly like the split level desk that rolls out to provide more space with the lower counter level at a good height for keyboard inputting. Provide at least four transformer-friendly outlets at desk-height for guest to plug in phones, iPads, computers and other gadgets. Please don't make us crawl under the desk to find them! Also, provide an adjustable reading light with an easy to find switch. Although wired room phones will be used with decreasing frequency (guests are using their own phones), speaker phone functionality on the desk phone is a nice touch. Also provide an electronic telephone wake-up service using the phone keypad. This is usually faster and more reliable than a "human interface." Guests are bringing their own entertainment systems (computers, video players, iPads, Slingboxes, cameras, etc.) and will wish to use the TV for playback. Provide a variety number of AV input sockets (VGA, HDMI, 1/8" stereo, RCA video) mounted at counter height near the entertainment centre as well as easily accessible transformer-friendly power outlets to plug in the above devices. A wireless keyboard using the TV for internet access is a nice luxury for some travellers, although this will be decreasingly used as most business travellers are relying on their own mobile devices for this purpose. Finally, a Blu-ray/DVD player and stereo audio/home theatre system are welcome additions to luxury rooms as long as there is sufficient sound insulation between rooms."


 There are hotels with the poshest address stamped on their gilded envelopes. There are hotels that have been touched up admirably to infuse fresh life into their reputed pasts. There are also modern marvels with the finest of mortar and marble carted in from all over the world to create their personality. There are hotels atop famous mountain cliffs or carved out of black lava (Four Seasons, West Hawaii) or ancient caves (Cappadocia Cave Resort and Spa, Turkey). There are luxury places that robe themselves in bespoke linen and dress their staff in famous designer threads. There are lodgings that reek of history from every nook and cranny and then there are futuristic abodes that seem to be out of a sci-fi setting. In the name of luxury, there are hotels that will have you dine underwater with sharks swimming overhead or present you with a gold leaf covered dessert on a silver platter or fly in a known opera singer to croon for you on your anniversary or have you take the conjugal vows while securely fastened together to the bungee rope for a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Special places of stay have that ‘X' factor that makes them first among equals. "They have nice small touches that make you feel wanted," says Bolding. Rajeev Kohli shares a small, simple incident that took his breath away with its subtle thoughtfulness. "I stayed at the iconic Oriental hotel in Bangkok three years ago. I was lazing by the pool in the afternoon and all of a sudden I was served a little arrangement of Thai spiced olives and a shot of a fruity mojito with a small sign that said something like enjoy your afternoon. Was it an expensive service, no? But it was an unexpectedly thoughtful treat."

Sandeep Walia feels it is "Location, Location, Location. Prime location with excellent views plays a key role."

"Design that reflects the destination, even with subtle touches," opines Kurosawa.

Luxury hoteliers and guests alike agree that it is often the stellar software of the workforce that makes these places more special. Great places have a great set of staff that happily goes beyond the brief whether it is the Concierge taking that extra pain to find a seamstress or suit maker or the General Manager repairing an ordinary piece of luggage with his own hands, the latter actually happened to me at the Marriott in Washington DC.

Andreas Augustin of The Famous Hotels of the World fame wants the hotels to "tell me the story about their place. They should give me a sense of where am I, what is the specialty of this hotel in this particular country/city."

Julia Gajcak thinks that a luxury hotel can bowl over its guests "if it provides great local offerings such as access to private viewings at a museum, access to a top fashion designer, entry to a film set, after hours shopping, backstage passes to top entertainment event." Gautam Anand feels "a shuttle between the Hotel and Airport is a huge WOW, for first time guests."

"It is all about the atmosphere," says Gautam Anand. "Atmosphere refers to the overall impression a luxury hotel leaves its visitors with. The level of service, available amenities, attention to detail and even the building design, decor and landscaping must combine to create a pleasantly memorable visit. In addition, a signature lobby fragrance and indoor air quality are important," elaborates Anand.

Kohli regales us with yet another lovely stay story that impressed upon him the difference between the fluff and the finest. In his words, "A few years ago, I and my wife were on a break in California and had a few days to spare in San Francisco. I didn't want to stay in town as had done that many times before, so I googled romantic options and came across something called "The Inn Above Tide." It was a small boutique hotel on the water in Sausalito overlooking the SFO skyline. Every room had a small fireplace; evenings had wine and cheese service in the lounge. No fancy restaurants, no large lobbies. Very small, intimate hotel that made you feel at home. And it was not cheap. Could have stayed cheaper at the Grand Hyatt or the likes in the city, but this departure from the cookie-cutter definition of luxury is what appeals to the experienced traveller."


It is an established fact that the more money people have, more judicious they get about spending it. The filthy rich, be it the late Leona Helmsley, Buffet or Gates, they detest squandering their millions and like to see their dollar deliver to the last cent. They know what they should be paying mega bucks on - presidential suites, logo-embossed luggage, the larger experience; but hate to see it wasted on vacuous spend such as inflated mini bar items, unnecessary taxation, frills that are frivolous. 

Luxury travelers hate to be taken advantage of and like to be served to the optimum for the top bills they pay. Both Nigel Bolding, the veteran publisher of ‘The World's Best Hotels' and Varun Sharma, who has made a home out of the Luxury hotels he covers for his highly popular travel show ‘Inside Luxury Travel' say that "Value for money or differently put, not being ripped off is an extremely important consideration."

"Reward / loyalty points, complimentary room upgrades, complimentary pickup/drop to airport, discount cards in local up market stores are fabulous ways to stretch the guest's dollar in a well-strategized retention/recognition framework," advises Varun Sharma.


 Increasingly time is being seen as the premium commodity of luxury - be it reduced time taken to travel, communicate or do work. Every new innovation seems to be geared up to bring us an X satisfaction in Y time and sooner the better.

Life at luxury hotels is the same. The standard of service is measured by the timeliness of its delivery unless or until the guest himself wants to languidly laze over a brunch or a spa treatment. Tardiness shown by staff is seen as a strong contra indicator and defeats the basic principle of luxury espoused by such establishments.

Amit Oberoi puts it in hotel-management Plain speak when he says that "the staff should not have a sense of urgency when providing their starred service."

Mary Gostelow, the doyen of luxury travel, is quite categorical when she emphasizes, "I want what I want and when I want it and that is completely non-negotiable with high-end hotels."

The fascinating concept of luxury hotel living is perhaps best described by Susan Kurosawa, who says, "Instead of gold taps and silly trimmings, we want privacy and sanctuary. The biggest accommodation trend is towards walled private villas with petite gardens, plunge pools and ultra-discreet service. We long for the same level of stylish sequestration as celebrities escaping the scrutiny of fans and press. Luxury is also about a rediscovery of comfort. We have survived the edgy all-white minimalism of the 90s and now we want cozy comforts such as pillow menus and sink-into sofas and all the expected accoutrements of our homes but with the bonus of in-room dining, butler-drawn baths and views of an exotic elsewhere." 

Thursday, 11 October 2012


How do you define luxury in hospitality? Is it the history or reputation, location or view, brand value or affiliation, star employees or infrastructure and furnishings, the period furniture you sleep and rest on, the crystal ware, silverware, precious metal flatware you eat and drink from, the finest fittings and fixtures that assist you as you relax or conduct your usual business. In reality, the luxury world of hoteliering is all this and more.

While all of the above attributes make the luxury brand stand apart from competition also within their genre, the bottom line for top-of-the-line luxury rests on the time-tested virtues that truly are very basic in the business of hospitality – cleanliness, efficiency, very well-trained and knowledgeable staff such as the battery of personal Jeeves who delight the guest with their immaculate butler service, latest technology, 24-hour services – yes, all those things that we thought were common but are hard to come by if the hotels do not have their brand operating standards and value cum service systems worked out right.
 Whether it is the Forbes Travel Guide or the Preferred Group or The Leading Hotels of the World, each of these Hotel affiliation/recognition companies send out inspectors (many a times even mystery shoppers) to rate the star properties on these deliverables. The expectation from a luxury product is that it will score a perfect ten on each of these parameters quarter over quarter.

When I used to work for The Imperial in Delhi, I wrote the marketing tagline for the historically significant Brand – Elegant, Exclusive, Exceptional – and these three terms pretty much sum up the essential traits of an ultra-luxury hotel.

I decided to ask some of the stalwarts and experienced professionals from the hospitality and travel industry; people who advise Hotel Groups, consult on Boards, strategize for the Companies they represent, define and develop the concept of luxury and in the process experience it firsthand 24X7. To get a well-rounded picture, the cross section of people I have spoken to fall on both sides of the horizon – those who devise and deliver and those who are delighted by the enchanting dispensation of luxury. And this is what they all seemed to opine, almost unanimously.

So what are the truly bench-marking facets of a consummately luxurious hotel? In no particular order, the Top Ten would be:


 More than a decade back I was travelling to New York and was going to be staying at The Pierre, then managed by Four Seasons, in New York’s Manhattan district. I was flying into Newark Airport and since I was on a shoe-string budget I decided to bypass the 80 USD cab and instead go for public transport. I am sure The Pierre was not quite used to it but here I was alighting at the porch of the super deluxe hotel from a ramshackle bus struggling with my unbranded luggage. I was met grandly by the impressive Doorman who gently ushered me in and effortlessly whisked away my luggage to the almost invisible valet. Once in, I was given a lovely reception by the Front Office staff, greeted by whoever I encountered by my name and escorted to one of their Premier suites. I was booked as a VIP guest and the staff at the luxury hotel made sure that I was treated like royalty – from name recognition at all times and by all staff that I had an interface with to notes by the General Manager to a tray of different petit fours each night at turndown to special consideration of my eating habits to the Concierge tailor-making my city and walking tours. The experience has been so memorable and delightful that I have often given its example as an industry benchmark every time I have written or spoken on the subject of luxury hoteliering.

An ex-boss and a veteran hotelier, who has spent his life working for the finest hospitality brands worldwide, recounted a Four Seasons’ template of Recognition during one of the training sessions. It is said that both guest and employee recognition are really big ticket items at the premium hotel chain where all Excom members are supposed to know the names of not only all the hotel employees but also their spouses and the family dog. Just imagine, to what lengths they would be going to offer recognition to their guests!

“Recognition from staff” rates very high for Varun Sharma, the host of Inside Luxury Travel – a television show that focuses on high-end travel, airs in over 160 countries, in 18 languages and is beamed into 390 million homes worldwide. In fact Sharma goes a step further to suggest that what could also be really special would be the “recognition of hotel brand partners;” something I can assure you will definitely sweep the guest off his feet. Julia Gajcak, PR and Marketing consultant formerly with The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts, says that it is quite non-negotiable that the “Staff must recognize guests and use guest names while on property.”

Likewise, Nigel Bolding, Publisher of The World’s Best Hotels, opines that “Attentive service / recognition / welcome back” are great clinchers for extending a luxurious service to the guests and ensuring repeat patronage.

Guest Recognition through guest mapping by different layers of the hotel staff – from concierge and guest relations, Sales, PR and F&B to the GM and in some cases the Owner is a wonderful strategy that creates a pronounced guest-oriented environment, makes sure that the Hotel staff is familiar with its guest list and keeps the guests happy. “Luxury hospitality, globally, has set standards for experiential excellence – where guests are made to feel pampered in ways that are designed not only to ease the discomfort of being away from home, but to actively encourage the desire for newer experiences. Being the recipient of hospitality is an immersive experience and demands that facilities and services are rendered in discreet and seamless ways, while making each guest feel special. On a large scale, offering such a standardized experience, infused with the most critical component of hospitality – warmth and personal attention, then becomes a matter of rigour and discipline,” says Gautam Anand, Vice President - Operations Planning & Pre-opening Services, Hotels Division, ITC Limited.

“At a five-star hotel, each guest is expected and is dealt with warmth and dignity with usage of accurate name and credentials. This is enabled for the staff either by Guest History or Face recognition technology. At luxury hotels a concierge is king and is empowered to ensure you get what you want when you want it, “asserts Anand.

The Ritz Carlton Hotel Company believes in ‘Creating Memories’ and rendering ‘Wow Experiences,’ shares Sandeep Walia, Vice President for Ritz Carlton, Bvlgari and Edition Hotels for Europe. According to Walia it is much more than “personalized service, greeting guests by name in every interaction, ensuring that the greeting is warm and sincere and knowing what they like to eat and drink. It boils down to providing the Wow factor during the guest’s stay.”

For Sheila Donnelly Theroux, CEO, Sheila Donnelly & Associates, a premium Public Relations Consultancy, a luxury hotel stay must translate into “happiness” which she says is “a balance of perfection, discretion and recognition.” For Donnelly-Theroux “handwritten welcome from the General Manager and a personal hello to guests” goes a long way in ensuring Guest Recognition.

But the concept of Guest Recognition is described the best by Timur Senturk, a highly seasoned luxury hotel expert and currently the Managing Director for The Shanghai Tower J Hotel part of the new National Chinese Luxury Hotel Group. Senturk feels that to provide the finest level of Recognition, the hotel needs “To deliver on the mantra - Remember me, Recognize me, Give me what I want, When I want it. The brand must evoke in the guests the emotions of: ‘I am proud to be a customer here,’ and ‘It is perfect for me.”
Senturk seals the guest-hotel relationship with his fantastic analogy with Apple products and their brand following. He says that even in the context of hospitality the guests must feel "I cannot imagine a world without this brand/hotel."

“Exclusive invites to hotel brand events is a great way of recognizing special guests,” states Sharma.


 A hotel is much, much more than the richly constructed shell, the branded hardware and the awe-evoking infrastructure. It is actually the people who work towards presenting the brand service standards in the best way possible. And this is truly the most important discerning factor when sifting chaff from the real grain. “The hotel brand must engage guests through unique, memorable and personal experiences that transcend luxury hospitality and create indelible marks in their lives,” offers Senturk.

It is a fact that an old, time-warped little inn in a village in Italy can be as luxurious a stay as the sparkling, gilded monstrosities in razzmatazzy Dubai. “Luxury is many things to many people. There can be no one size fits all and that's why I think most hotels tend to go with the conventional. The true innovators are those who question the conventional and create a sense of awe for the guest. It’s easy to pamper by throwing money on physical things like pillows, towels and rugs. But to create that human connection is a luxury very few can perfect,” asserts Rajeev Kohli, Joint Managing Director of Creative Travel Pvt. Ltd. – one of India’s best known luxury travel companies.

A hotel that aspires to be top-of-the-line luxury endeavours to train its staff to a level of benchmarked excellence on a pre-defined template of superior standards that embody its brand value. Paolo Sagina, the Hotel Director at Kalidria Thalassa Spa Resort & Alborea Luxury Lodge in Italy, says that the luxury hotel staff must be trained to offer “exclusivity of the whole experience” and work towards making the guests “feel at home.”

More important than the owner or the General Manager, it is the direct interface employees such as the Airport representatives, chauffeurs, doorman, valet, bellhop, concierge, housekeeping, butlers and servers who are the real brand ambassadors of the hotel and who, at all times, must live and breathe the same code of work ethics and tenets as set in the brand operational philosophy. “Another thing luxury guests pay for is intuitive service: staff that reads the guests and offers the type of service they want. For business travelers that may mean quick, efficient “no frills” service, whereas for first-time leisure travellers that may involve going the extra mile to enhance their experience,” says Daniel Edward Craig, the hotshot global Hotel and Travel Industry Consultant.

Nigel Bolding believes that the coup de grace lies in the “sense of arrival. Everyone arrives at a hotel slightly stressed and in doubt as to whether the reservation is still in place. Any hotel has 30 seconds to impress and if it goes well the rest of the stay does.” Bolding believes that The Dorchester, having spent $ 500,000 in this area, has got the perfect formula down pat to create the finest first impression.

Mary Gostelow of Gostelow Report and girlahead.com fame is one of the world’s most prolific luxury travelers spending over 300 nights a year in top hotels. She demands that for a luxury hotel guest there has to be “absolutely no waiting” and a flawless delivery of spotlessly remarkable service.

The Doormen at Raffles and The Oberoi, the Bell girls at Peninsula and The Imperial, the valet at Island Shangri-La, the Les Clefs d’Or decorated concierge at some of the finest hotels around the world, the awarded chefs lording over their Michelin-starred restaurants, are all icons that have made an example out of providing legendary service to their hotel guests.

For a whole lot of luxury travellers, this front line direct-in-contact staff is the most important element of the hotel software and perhaps its biggest ambassador.

Anoothi Vishal, an established and prominent Indian Food & Travel writer, seeks out “an efficient and quick room service.” Gostelow puts a premium on “unobtrusive housekeeping.” For Sagina “travel concierge services” is a nice touch. Susan Kurosawa, the irrepressible and hugely experienced travel editor of The Australian with two decades of luxury industry exposure under her belt, tilts the balance just that tad bit in favour of “discreet butler service.”

But the employee number one who really seals the deal is a “top notch, smart concierge” as Julia puts it. Nigel Bolding too is charmed by “good concierge who can take care of anything.” And for Andreas Augustin, President, The Most Famous Hotels in the World, “a great and competent concierge desk” is a big step towards making the hotel really famous and coveted. Amit Oberoi, who manages the Shangri-La's Boracay luxury Resort & Spa, reiterates that “the concierge must always be confident and efficient.”

Also, Donnelly-Theroux states that “the charmer concierge should be equipped to get you what you want, including the insider scoop on local attractions and culture.” Oberoi believes in showcasing “comprehensive / One-stop shop concierge services” at luxury properties.

Julia Gajcak reasserts the importance of “knowledgeable drivers who are safety conscious.” And for hotels that cater to an increasingly growing international clientele Julia says that “staff with strong language skills is an absolute must so that they can converse with not only the British and the Americans but also the Russians, Japanese, Chinese and German.”

In order to create a cohesive exercise towards guest orientation, it is imperative that the training is immaculate, briefings are vividly elaborate and there is an open system of sharing and reiterating information pertinent to the guests. “Staff should be briefed well about the guests to guarantee smooth service,” says Andreas Augustin.

Defining the concept of Brand Ambassadors, Sandeep Walia affirms, “It is about People - ladies and gentlemen actually delivering the service need to be the very best in the industry as they are the heart and soul of the hotel. They represent the hotel and the brand.”

Timur Senturk strongly feels that the hallmark of a luxury hotel spearheaded by the scintillating service of its brand ambassadors should be such that the guests feel, "The brand is a name I can trust, it delivers on its promises and treats me fairly."

Senturk says that “the foundation of the guest-hotel relationship should always be defect-free, anticipatory service. And if ever there is a problem, the FIRST person has to fix it!” This is what is called service of the highest standard that can only be given by perfectly trained and attuned staff through a world-class stencil that programs them to be always ready and willing to go beyond the brief.


 Stay at luxury hotels is all about getting as far away from the cookie-cutter culture as possible and to treat every guest as the special one. Again, The Pierre example comes to mind. Once inside the haloed precincts of the ultra-luxe hotel, each guest is treated specially by every staff member, be it the Doorman, the Concierge, Housekeeping attendant, the Food & Beverage Director or the General Manager.

There are hotels that take personalization to a different level – The Oberoi offers personalized stationery to its Belvedere Club members; at Montage Beverly Hills, the US guests get to lay their heads on customized pillows embroidered with their initials; just as they do at the ITC luxury hotels in India. “Personalized service” is a key factor for hoteliers such as Sagina, Walia and Senturk. Julia Gazcak says that “check-in and check-out directly in the guest room,” is a great value-add to personalization. “A personal butler may seem very spoilt but I love the experience of one!” states Anoothi Vishal.

A dynamic, well-kept Guest history is the strongest tool in the Hotel’s armoury for keeping the high profile guests happy and loyal to its brand. From your favourite Earl Grey tea, the movies that need to be stacked up in your suite before your arrival, the choice of fruits that must fill up the fruit basket or the kind of flowers that should deck your temporary abode, your food allergies, your favourite Valet who must be made available specially for you at your every visit to even ensuring that a Yoga teacher is brought in specially for you or a particular brand of sparkling water stocked in the pick-up limo or your mini bar……….the guest history records each and every thing about you that will go a long way in making your stay all that special and privileged. One of the best software strategies up a top notch hotel’s sleeve is a clean, livewire guest history that is shorn off all dead wood and to which all key operational staff pays keen attention.

This not only ensures repeat guests but also that the guests do not walk over to competition. Andreas Augustin adds that “a perfect guest history records throughout the group, with the individual differences in mind.” Walia agrees strongly that “same level of service has to be non-negotiably offered in each hotel under the same brand.”

Personalization stems from well-defined Best Practices in service standards such that the service is quick and one that meets the request pointedly, at all times. Sandeep Walia asserts that “the up marketness of the brand is reflected in its eagerness to anticipate the guest needs, which could be as basic to demand yet critical to provide as the room location wherein some guests may prefer the view, some the closeness to the elevator and others the direction in which the room is located. This sort of guest demand may play havoc with the inventory planning but is one hell of an important factor in keeping the guest happy.”

Gautam Anand says that the two most prominent services that deliver great level of personalisation are “Flexible Check-out - with most international flights arriving and departing in contravention of the 12 noon norm, several guests appreciate this courtesy and an Efficient Travel Desk - Guests are appreciative of immediate facilities for their travel needs – locally and in case of emergency/impromptu travel plans.”


 In today’s ‘webbed’ world, a luxury hotel’s standard of excellence is gauged by the superior level of technology it offers its constantly-connected guests. That the internet connectivity is smooth, superfast, Wi-Fi, without any glitches and free is expected to be a given at the plushest of luxury-laden retreats. And the jury is “in” on this with Sharma voting for “complimentary internet,” Gostelow, Vishal, Kurosawa and Bolding stating “free and instant connectivity” as one of their top most needs. Augustin is quite unequivocal when he says, “there just has to be free permanently connected super fast internet and NO DISCUSSION ABOUT FEES.”

“Free basic Wi-Fi broadband internet access (with a minimum of 500kb/second download) is needed in the guest rooms and lobby. Although some luxury properties are clinging to internet fees as a profit centre, internet access is increasingly viewed by guests as utility similar to lights and water,” says Anand.
Sagina is clear about offering “high speed WiFi connection and IPod docking station” at his resort.

According to Sandeep Walia, technology sets a benchmark for an above par hotel with the property “being ahead of time in terms of electronic communication, Wi-Fi speed, updated and upgraded technology in the room.”  Amit Oberoi is proud of the fact that his hotels offer “uninterrupted Wi-Fi access in all areas - no loss of connection from the room to lobby; what’s more even our cars and boats have Wi-Fi.”

“I think that more than anything guests want comfort and convenience. The definition of this varies according to the purpose of travel. For business travellers, and increasingly for leisure travellers too, a big part of convenience is fast, reliable wireless internet access,” avers Daniel Craig. For Donnelly-Theroux “iPod stations and tech toys on the room service menu are a nice touch.”

“Helping travellers get oriented to the hotel and destination is important too. For leisure luxury travellers there are all sorts of Internet resources and mobile applications available for travellers to plan trips on their own, but with all the review sites, resources and opinions out there it can be a time-consuming and confusing process. Luxury hotels must help travellers cut through the noise and find the perfect local restaurants, activities and services for each guest. The best way of doing so is by offering a variety of do-it-yourself resources (on the website, mobiles apps and in-room) combined with the services of a seasoned and well-connected concierge,” adds Craig.

The erstwhile Chief Executive of the UK’s Barratt Group, David Pretty says: "Tastes evolve and change. People's idea of luxury still includes elements of space, comfort and quality, but increasingly involves sharp design, and cutting-edge technology."

“Make logging onto the Wi-Fi network easy. Opening the browser and clicking “OK” is all that it should take. As mobile devices are being used for internet access with greater frequency, hence make the logon screen readable in smaller formats as well,” advises the quintessential Hotelier Gautam Anand.

“Better yet, use autosensing technology and provide a mobile web log-in page optimized for a smaller screen. As multiple devices are being used (I regularly have both my laptop computer and my iPad on simultaneously), the ability to use them under one account regardless of location is needed as well,” Anand further adds.


 Food is truly the winning factor for most hotels – smart, simple, sensible selections for certain meal times of a business traveller and elaborate, exquisite and enchanting for those on the languorously leisure downtime. The restaurants (including room service) offering their culinary artworks are certainly the places to showcase award-winning talents of the hotels’ food & beverage team. There are several luxury hotspots that are known exclusively for their food craft and kitchen talent.

Luxury hotels, by virtue of being iconic in image and astral in brand personality, just must offer dining options that delight their varied clientele – those awe-inspiring signature dishes, the mesmerizing wine lists, ingredients specially flown in, fantastic concepts painstakingly created, creative presentations that promise to stay on the guest’s mind and above all culinary talent that is simply the best in the world.

Paolo Sagina says “luxury hotels must provide a gastronomic experience par excellence to its guests.”
Mary Gostelow, having criss-crossed around the globe to stay in some of the world’s finest properties, laments the lack of attention to quality. “A truly luxurious hotel will always get its basics right to the last ‘T,’” asserts Gostelow who expects “freshest of orange juice, strong and flavourful coffee and real bread with masses of nuts in it” from these haloed havens of hospitality.

Nigel Bolding roots for “a good bar and restaurant that makes you feel comfortable even as a single man or woman.” Both Andreas Augustin and Susan Kurosawa emphasize the focus that luxury hotels must give to its in-room dining. Andreas says that “hotels must cater for a super fast room service with finger food as sometimes you have no time for an elaborate dinner, but you are simply hungry.” Kurosawa feels strongly about “In-room dining that ranges beyond the expected club sandwich and soup of the day; and includes vegetarian and gluten-free dishes too.”

“A great hotel is one that ensures the same standard of F&B quality even in its room service, also guaranteeing timeliness and optimal temperature,” maintains Oberoi while speaking on behalf of one of the world’s best kept luxury chain of hotels.

According to Julia Gajcak, “a variety of cuisine options ranging from Indian, Japanese, Italian, French, Thai, Lebanese……….to cater to a jet setting guest list with widely exposed palates, great selection of international wines that are not outrageously priced and good vegetarian food choices make for a winning formula.”

“I was at a luxury resort in the Maldives this summer and in the afternoon one of the attendants just walked into the pool with a tray of chilled fruit sticks. It was so wired and funny yet so simple and effective,” recounts Rajeev Kohli reiterating that often it is the simple thoughts and ideas and the tiny gestures that set a leader apart from the hoi polloi.

“To be a cut above the rest, luxury hotels, besides housing multiple dining establishments, must also have a 24/7, round-the-clock restaurant, an elaborate, well-crafted menu of comfort food, a highly responsive in-room dining that even offers gourmet room service for guests at any time of the day or night, Wine cellars stocked with the most exclusive and sought-after labels and an outstanding outlet through which connoisseurs have access to gourmet chocolates, cheeses and pastries,” adds Anand.

The next five points will be covered in PART 2 of this article.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012


 Pic. courtesy - cnn.com

Richard Gere, the iconic and legendary Hollywood actor has recently forayed into hospitality by unveiling The Bedford Post – his one-of-a-kind boutique hotel. Gere should certainly know a thing or two about luxury living and hoteliering. Being a famous personality of high net worth he is used to travelling ultra luxe and staying in uber luxury abodes – both private and commercial. While I was with The Oberoi in New Delhi, Gere was one of our most high profile guests, luckily for the Hotel both long-stay and repeat. He stayed in his favourite deluxe suite and I am told that the reason he liked The Oberoi so much is because the Hotel was an exclusive address in the Indian Capital City, knew in depth about his likes and dislikes and went to great lengths to ensure privacy to the VIP guest. I remember one of Richard Gere’s main diktats to the Hotel staff was that no one should greet him in the lobby or approach him for photographs and we all were very clear about that. What comes out is that the major need of the mega star was to enjoy total privacy and the up-market Delhi hotel assured him that; keeping the paparazzi and peeping guests at an arm’s length and offering the celebrity guest with much needed R&R in private seclusion – just as he needed – before he went away on his peace missions to other parts of the country.

Then there are the Aman Junkies who will travel from one end of the globe to the other to enjoy exotic locales, breathtaking views, one-of-its-kind experiences, not-found-elsewhere facilities in the hotel(s) of their choice within the Aman bouquet.

So what is it that the luxury traveler really seeks from his hotel experience! When money is not the consideration, what do premium places of stay bring out on the silver platter to this discerning set of guests for whom luxury is a way of life! Here is my list in no particular order -

1.      HALLMARK - 

Pic courtesy - http://mvburke.com/

One unique conceptual facet that Gere is associating with his hotel is sex. "Sex -- every choice in here was about sex," jokes Gere while giving an introductory tour of his luxury Inn to CNN's Richard Quest.  His wife Carey Lowell is more politically correct and uses the right marketing terminology for their Property when she says that "romance and intimacy were key inspirations behind the hotel's design.”  So, it does boil down to one single most important or set of important discerning traits that a luxury hotel property is identified with. This somehow seems to be the key in defining the personality of a luxury brand. Peninsula Hong Kong, Raffles Hotel, Singapore and The Imperial in New Delhi are known to be historic institutions and have played a strong part in the history of their destinations. They continue to offer colonial-era decadence to their guests. History, then, forms the numero uno feature for such hotels. As Michael Aquino, a south-east Asian travel expert, writes about Raffles Hotel, Singapore, “The food is competent, but nothing exceeding expectation - let's face it, history is the main attraction here.”
Ritz Carltons urge their guests to “Let us stay with you” with their memory-laden collection of stay-stories, tips, recipes and moments. Therefore, personal, inimitable experience is what these hotels set out to market to their elite guests.

Special hotel properties such as a Palace in Royal Rajasthan or a European Castle turned into a hotel are great attractions. Their main selling plank – the guests are treated royally and can relive, in part, the life which was led by the kings and queens of yore.

 Pic. courtesy - http://www.ecofriend.com/futuristic-hotels-eco-friendly-credentials.html

There are hotels known and sought after for novel concepts that they have introduced to the world of refined hospitality. High Tea at the Ritz in London is an institution and a must try in every intrepid luxury traveller’s calendar. A personalized art tour of the in-house gallery showcasing an impressive collection of original lithographs by the designated art curator at The Imperial in Delhi is part of the itinerary of guests ranging from the US Business Council delegates to the visiting Thai Princess and her entourage. Sipping on a Singapore Sling at the Long Bar in Raffles Hotel, the place where it was incidentally invented, and chucking peanut shells on the bar floor just as how Somerset Maugham and his other contemporaries may have done in the early 20th century is a matchless experience that perhaps is worth more than the bucks you may spend in the place.

 Pic. courtesy - Rosedale Hotels, Beijing

Some hotels stand out for the incomparable aspects beset in their building features and facilities. MGM Grands’ Skylofts offer breathtaking bathrooms that boast infinity tubs with light therapy and “champagne” bubbles. Some hotel pools such as the one at Four Seasons, HK, get the guests to enjoy their swim as lilting classical music plays underwater.

Louis XV furniture, Silver chairs and lounges, antique four-poster beds, Bvlgari / Hermes / Aveda toiletries, period art or Art Nouveau paintings, Swarovski threaded chandeliers, flowers done by florists specially flown in from France, Riedel crystal glassware, Wedgwood plates, Christofle serving trays, crisp Pratesi linen - the amenities and features reek of refined taste and fine art of luxurious living; and stand out with a lot of ease amongst the usual suspects of the heretofore overused luxury standards such as over 300 thread count crisp Egyptian cotton sheets, down-feather pillows, 14” rain showerheads, Jacuzzi tubs, butler & maid service, overnight shoe shine, high-speed WiFi, Cisa safes, individual temperature control to mood lighting control.

 Pic. courtesy - Ramada Inn of Naples

Location is a definite winner when it comes to picking a luxury resort. Is the hotel on the banks of the holy Ganges or overlooking the Victoria Harbour; is it within a hop & skip distance of the Colosseum or in close vicinity of the Pyramids! The Oberoi’s luxury resort Amarvilas in Agra has earned its bragging rights from the impressive fact that the hotel offers a view of the Taj Mahal no matter where you may look out from. Additionally, one of the most unparalleled and unbeatable views anywhere in the world is from one of Amarvilas’ king-sized bathrooms – looking up from your leisurely, relaxing bath out of the giant glass wall you are blown away by the beauty of the Taj in all its resplendence anytime of the day or night.  

  1. FOOD
 Pic. courtesy - Caesar Park Hotels & Resorts, Buenos Aires

There are a cluster of hotels that are known for the Chef who lords over his Michelin star restaurant in the establishment and is happy to cook up a signature meal for you. Alain Ducasse, Paul Bocuse, Ferran Adria, Marco Pierre White, Heston Blumenthal, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Gordon Ramsay – all culinary greats with a star power normally reserved for film actors and with a waiting list of guests that runs sometimes into months and years – make hotels housing their restaurants a definite port of call on a luxury traveller’s itinerary with the promise of the delight that they bring with their willingness to paint their culinary art on the canvas of your palate. Some hotels go a step further, like The Hotel Crillon le Brave in Provence which offers truffle hunting expeditions with an expert truffier followed by a cookery demonstration by the chef and special truffle-rich dinner.

 Pic. courtesy - The Langham, Hong Kong

Utah's Deer Valley ski resort - Stein Eriksen Lodge has ski valets who escort guests to and from the slopes. The resort also boasts of heated sidewalks and walkways to keep the guests warm and cozily comfortable. The Oberoi Group ferries its VIP guests in a private jet to its lovely Vilases in the magnificent golden triangle destination circuit. The luxury hotels are more than eager to serve up their aces to the preferred guests in such creative ways that are a touchstone for the brilliance of their brands.

Unique to their properties, some hotels develop a signature style of service which becomes a major draw for the luxury traveler. The pillow menu has been done to death by a handful of luxury hotels where the guest can choose from a list of differently stuffed pillows that serve to soothe you gently to sleep or rid you off that stiff neck or even induce the most pleasant of dreams. The Imperial in Delhi went a step further to develop a statement fragrance for the hotel and for its suites. Boston Harbor Hotel gently nudges its guests into NiniLand with linen mists and sleep balms. To prevent the guests from getting into a headache-inducing traffic jam Boston Harbor Hotel organizes water taxis for the guests to cruise hassle free to the airport.  

 Pic. courtesy - St. Regis, New York

Even the choice of wheels are as hot and happening as the personality of the luxe hotel - from Phantom Rolls Royce, Bentleys, Maserati, Maybach, reworked vintage Ambassadors, horse-drawn carriages that pull majestically into the porch of the old fort hotel, camels and elephants – the luxury hotels pull out all the stops.
The Beverly Hills Four Seasons Hotel does it in impeccable style with its Hot Wheels menu of Lamborghini Gallardos, Ferraris, Porsches, Maseratis, Bentleys and some more offered to the top-tier suites guests under the complimentary Suite Drive program. The guests can select the Wheels of their choice to cruise around Los Angeles and can also pick up the car at the airport to drive into the hotel.  

  1. STAFF
 Pic. courtesy - http://londonhotelsinsight.com

Luxury hotels are Special Places where Les Clefs d’Or decorated Concierge bends over backwards to bring true every wish or whim of their special guests – from Pink elephants for the kiddo’s birthday to an exclusive chat with a historian on the colonial background of the City where the hotel stands to flying in that novel, hard-to-get ingredient for that special meal on the guest’s momentous occasion. Ritz Carlton Group’s motto “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen,” underlines the focus on guest orientation and the intense employee training that goes into making a stay at one of their hotels ‘Ritz Remarkable.’

Not just the concierge, the entire hotel is geared into turning the experience into a memorable one for the esteemed guests. “No” and “cannot” just do not exist in the hotel vocabulary. The doors of the celebrated ‘The Spice Route’ restaurant were opened two hours earlier by The Imperial management to entertain John Galliano and his entourage with a special meal that was personally cooked by the Restaurant’s celebrated chef. This way Galliano, who was touring India in his halcyon days, could enjoy the authentic meal in the actual ambience of the Restaurant while still being out of the public eye.

 Pic. courtesy - Jill Gocher

Iconic places have uniquely interesting stories, legends, innovations woven around their existence - King Cole Bar at St. Regis in New York, which houses a famous 1906 Art Nouveau oil mural, is considered the birthplace of the Bloody Mary just as the Long Bar in Raffles Singapore is of the Singapore Sling. The Imperial in Delhi has an alleged Kipling Corner in the 1911 Bar, Raffles Singapore has its Writers Bar and Personality Suites where Somerset Maugham and other literary greats of the time enjoyed their tipple and stayed, The Ritz in Paris was virtually the second home of Coco Chanel for years; yes the same hotel that also houses Bar Hemingway as a tribute to its other famous guest – Ernest Hemingway and where Diana, Princess of Wales had her ‘last supper’ with Dodi Fayed before that tragically fatal crash.


 Pic. courtesy - DJVue, deviantart.com

Luxury hospitality destinations are also about uniquely superlative touches. At the Lodge at Sea Island, Georgia you can savor dinner at the Steakhouse while a bagpiper plays just outside at sunset every day. At Rajvilas, an Oberoi Vilas hotel, the hotel priest conducts a religious ceremony (puja) twice a day in the ancient 280 year old Lord Shiva temple on the hotel grounds in which the hotel guests can also participate; elsewhere in another suite a majestic peacock saunters inside for a close dekko.

 Some top-of-the-line, ultra glam, super luxury hotels thrive on making the stay consummately and delightfully luxurious for their guests from the time the guests disembark to the time they bid adieu. Wynn Las Vegas lays out its ‘privileges red carpet’ inside the airport even before the guests are picked up in the hotel’s fleet of Phantom Rolls Royce.  The installation of flat-screen TVs in the poolside cabanas ensures that the guests are not deprived of their personal entertainment even when they are outside by the pool. 

But the expected, tried and now seemingly ordinary set of luxury amenities such as Porthault bathrobes, handmade soaps, Cesame and Kohler fixtures, Posturepedic spring mattresses, Bose speakers or the clock and radio, Bang & Olufsen Television, 50 channels in various international languages, complimentary leading newspapers from around the world have actually become quite de rigueur for these havens of luxury.
They, now, seem to be in a race to get steps ahead of their competition in presenting the new definition of luxury ranging from beguilingly bizarre to mind-blowingly breathtaking. Sample this – Rosewood Hotels in their North American and Saudi Arabian properties present a dedicated Fragrance Butler to their guests who serves up a fragrance menu tailored for lady guests (Chanel No. 5, Bvlgari Black, Daisy Marc Jacobs and Chanel CoCo Mademoiselle) and for the gents (Tom Ford for Men, Bvlgari Pour Homme and Hermes Terre d’Hermes). A thoughtfully appointed Tea Sommelier at The Lanesborough in London proffers an award-winning afternoon tea service to the guests. The Soap Concierge at The Viceroy Riviera Maya in Mexico presents a selection of artisanal, organic soaps made by hand by the Mayan communities in the vicinity. A 24 hrs on call in-room Mixologist at The Surrey Hotel in New York City arrives to do his bidding aided with a fully stocked cocktail cart. Ritz Carlton in New Orleans pampers you into the normal state after a hard night of partying with its Recovery Concierge who helps resuscitate your jaded senses with the selection of curative cocktails, sparkling water and savoury snacks. The Surf Butlers at St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort, Dana Point, California are really manna from heaven for the surfing enthusiasts as they go about their work of helping guests catch the perfect wave, fitting them with perfectly measured wetsuits, offering personalized service to new surfers and sharing tips on local wave conditions and secret breaks in the areas with the experienced ones. The Sleep Concierge at The Benjamin, New York City comes well-armed to combat any situation that the modern, hectic, stress-ridden world throws up with its remarkable array of antidotal measures - dozen-pillow menu (water-filled version, NASA-designed Swedish Memory Foam version, a five-foot body cushion or an iPod-ready lullaby pillow), aromatherapy bath products, comforting treats like warm milk, cookies and calming teas, sleep mask, lavender linen oil, coconut water and a wake-up call.
Taking it a few notches up are the Tanning Butlers at Ritz Carlton South Beach who are fully trained and trademarked SPF specialists qualified to offer you a range of sun-protection products and pleased to apply the products on hard-to-reach spots, clean your sunglasses and come up with local dining expert advice. Then, there are the Tartan Butlers, at The Balmoral, Edinburgh, Scotland, who help the guests to trace their Scottish ancestral roots, get them fitted in bespoke kilts made from their clan’s traditional tartan by the local craftsmen and arrange a tour of their native region. In a similar vein, the Lodge at Doonbeg, County Clare, Ireland employs on-site Genealogists who are members of the Clare Roots Society and the Council of Irish Genealogical Organizations. These experts help the guests research and discover their Irish roots and visit their ancestral villages. 

And in the realm of somewhat bizarre, magically oddball and phantasmagorically private are the following four – In line with the spirit of its location I would say, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas presents its guests with a room-service menu of lingerie and unmentionables from its in-house boutique Love Jones. The Pierre in NYC offers the perfectly quiet and secluded place to guests who wish to recover and recuperate after plastic surgery. As a very thoughtful and well-strategized offer, ‘the post plastic surgery convalescence’ package includes car service to and from the procedure, in-room spa treatments and a specialty menu designed to encourage healing. The Andaz 5th Avenue, a Hyatt hotel in Manhattan, New York boasts an artists-in-residence program whereby it commissions street artists, graffiti gurus and tattoo artists to work on extraordinary ideas and create wonderful art. Finally, the one right up my alley – Hotel Monaco in Portland, Oregon offers the services of an on-its-rolls pet psychic. During a complimentary wine hour, the psychic hashes out any behavioural issues of the pet and the pet parent and shares suggestions for improving the pet-parent relationship.

In the name of wonderful, never-felt-before experiences, hotels stretch themselves from fantastically awe-inspiring to quaintly funny. The novel experience can range from the very much intentional and well-planned to completely unintentional and purely incidental - lounging around in a South African wildlife resort amongst a pride of lions or a tower of giraffes can be labeled under the former and enjoying a lazy Sunday Brunch in the soothing winter sun at a colonial Delhi hotel with the resident eagle swooping down to share a piece of your pie definitely falls under the latter.
A luxury hotel experience comes replete with all the trimmings and trappings of ultimate pampering – whether it is organizing a local historian or writer as your personal guide to unravel some of the fabulous secrets that the destination has to offer, calling on duty a personal shopper who gets you the best buys and bargains, fixing a star city masseuse to perform their special hand magic to soothe your frayed nerves, getting you seats for an A-list, queued up show or a table at a much-awarded restaurant that seems to be perpetually booked up all the time while you relax in the plushest beds, rejuvenate in the best Spas, tingle your taste buds with matchless food cooked by award-winning hands, sip on the widest and best selections of wine, shop in an exclusive arcade, awaken your senses to the finest fragrances and freshest flowers, accomplish your business stress-free with advanced technology playing your best personal caddy – no demand is too much and no service too less for the privilege of hosting you as a preferred guest.

 Pic. courtesy - Le Negresco in Nice on the French Riviera


Wednesday, 4 January 2012

A Quick Checklist for a Communications Champion Part 2 - REVISED VERSION

In Part Two of my Communications' Checklist follow the remainder of the alphabets each hoping to enjoy a place in your mind space and get reflected upon on several thought-provoked occasions. Read on -


I mentioned this briefly in the FOOD head, but you need to have a big yen for photography. That a picture says more than a thousand words is so much more pertinent for hotels. There are guest room, Lobby, Spa, Pool, Banqueting, restaurant images to be shot for use in brochures and other collateral, food shots to be organized for marketing literature and the press and images to be developed for the virtual tours on the website.

Not only do you need to have a good panel of photographers you work with but you must also have a keen eye for angles, lighting, subjects, props, backgrounds, image size, clarity etc. and most of all a strong focus on the fact that the images define your brand personality and they must be within those boundaries.

Like for any other creative part of your portfolio, surf around for inspiration and do a competition check. You can also learn a great deal - at least where food photos are concerned - from your Kitchen's and F&B teams.


It is often said that a PR person is as good as his or her lists. And this is largely true. You need lists to work through for a large chunk of your portfolio. Media lists being the most prime amongst the lot. And within Media there is the Top Editors list, Electronic Media List, Lifestyle Media, General Media, Food Critics, Restaurant Reviewers, Hotel Specialists, Travel Media, Business Media, Features Writers, Art Critics.............it is as wide as the network you wish to ensnare and work with.

Then there are the other lists that you need to keep in your top drawer at all times - List of local and international celebrities you invite to your events, list of PR Agencies, Event Management Agencies, Printers, Graphic Designers, Photographers, Merchandisers..........again the extent covers the scope of your work.

Keep your lists updated, weeded out and dynamic. Moreover, from a purely professional perspective, there should be a synergy between the key agenda and structure of your Social Media Lists be it your professional Facebook Friends, LinkedIn contacts, Blog Followers, Fans or Group Members.


As a Hotel PR Head you end up handling a large part of the Marketing pie too. This may not be true with large FMCG firms or big Real Estate companies or some other sectors where there are designated departments handling collateral design and production, direct marketing, direct mail etc. But in hotels, it is you who are responsible for a lot of this work.

So, please understand the 4 Ps of Marketing and 7 Cs of Communication and all that lies in between rather well and in the soundest manner.

As a PR & Communications Head of your hotel, you are also the Head of Marketing Communications. Therefore, you are responsible for devising a lot of marketing strategies in tandem with the Head of Sales & Marketing, initiating many a marketing alliances with like-minded companies such as Credit card companies, travel companies, Airlines, Car Rental companies etc. You also have to develop a lot of promotional material and at times represent your hotel in the international travel & trade shows such as WTM, ITB, ILTM, ATM to name a select few.

With Marcom as a significant part of your portfolio, you are the person who has to plan, visualize and create all the Sales and Marketing Communications collateral required by the Hotel at large and by the Sales & Marketing, Front Office and Food & Beverage departments in particular.

Of course you will have the advantage of working with a panel of creative people ranging from graphic designers to printers to even paper companies but always remember that you are the TEAM LEAD.


I cannot lay enough stress on the importance, depth and broad spectrum of your media relationship. Sadly, even now, a PR person's job is often thought to be limited to media relations, press release writing and dissemination and coverage in the press and electronic medium. Of course, you and I know that the scope of your work is much more than this and is consummately communications driven in all its aspects. But because media relations is the most important, result oriented and visible work that brings in the hugely important Third Party Endorsement, people often mistake your role for just that.

On the positive side, you are the one who gets your company in the news. You are the one who ensures that there is positive coverage of your hotel and its products - be it rooms, spa or restaurants. And what an important role this is, as you go about getting noteworthy column-cm space or sound bites on the media platforms as against paid advertising which is really bought over publicity.

Given the importance of this part of the overall communications cake, it is imperative that you know the media well. And this entails national, international, regional and local media. You need to know the senior editors and international journalists just as well as you know the beat correspondents. Your media list should span the range from business, corporate and news media to features, food, lifestyle and the arts. For you, both print and electronic media hold a lot of importance and you bring them into play depending on the assignment at hand.

In the dynamic world of breaking news and news-by-the-second, you must be absolutely adept at and familiar with the vehicles that have bridged geographical boundaries, crossed over timelines and created new avenues of making and putting up news. With this kind of big opportunity available, you must be a social media expert too and use it to the optimum benefit of putting the good word out about your establishment, keeping the machinery of your organizational news mills well oiled and the large chunk of new audience interested in what you wish to share.

And since media is one of your strongest allies, you must develop a long term and strong relationship with them that is based on mutual trust, respect and two-way information sharing. You must also be accessible at most times, even the odd hours. You must understand how media works, how they work on steep deadlines and the demands of ‘here and now;' more importantly because you don't want your prize press releases to be linings of the News office bin.

Finally, knowing the Foreign Correspondents based in your region is also as important. As a hotel, your establishment may not churn out newsworthy piece of information, but there are times when the Foreign Correspondent will be working on a feature piece and your hotel will have a top of the mind recall.


This is a very interesting part of your portfolio. I have had the privilege of not just working with an exciting lot of merchandise manufacturers and suppliers but have also had the opportunity to develop some of the nicest hotel merchandise by myself. From picture postcards, note cards, Seasons' Greeting cards to golf balls, match box sets and silver cuff links, it has been highly satisfying to see the self-developed product range in the Hotel's Boutique collection, guest give-aways list or the guest catalogue.


This forms the core of what you do and how you are supposed to be. As a PR Expert, you must be a people's person. You must have good internal and external relationships. You must be able to communicate with and relate to a wide gamut of people ranging from the doorman to the hotel owner, from a socialite to a social activist, from an editor from the Fleet Street to a printer from the old world of papers and related paraphernalia.

As the Public Relations Officer, you meet an interesting array of publics, all in a day's work - from artists, dancers, musicians, film stars to activists, scientists and sports stars. It adds a lot of spice, glamour, drama and high energy to your role and provides you with a lot of staple for interesting anecdotes, stories and pieces of information that could be used in your PR communication at times.


Yours is a very visible role. You organize and attend press conferences. You give interviews. You wine and dine with the media, guests and other important hotel contacts. More importantly, with a strong focus on the external publics and your relationship with them, you are one of the most significant brand ambassadors of your organization along with being the chief guardian of the brand. With all this observable performance at play, you must have a pleasing personality both in terms of demeanour and the picture perfectness of the outward look.

You don't need to be a high street brands slave or overly conscious of your look but you must carry yourself well, be perfectly groomed and embody the personality of your hotel brand.

There is something particularly distasteful about clothes horses that are flashy and show off their collection. Be understated like the quintessential hotelier who is a global citizen representing his brand within the cultural sensitivity of the local region his brand is situated in.

Be proper, perfect in your mannerisms and personable in your appearance and you are onto a winning start every time you need to make an introduction for yourself or your brand.


Public Relations need not only be a spending department - spending on collateral, events, media, merchandise, give-aways, advertising, coverage and so on.

If you are a smart PR person with S.M.A.R.T tactical objectives and well thought out strategy, then you do not stress on a lot of monetary outlay to justify your work. Even when you handle a big PR budget, profit protection keeps at the core of your planning.

While advertising is important and more focused, media coverage is more feel-good, believable and notable.

Since yours is a Hotel, it is not always important to hire an event management agency. Your banqueting team is also quite qualified to organize the hotel events along with you.

With your years of experience in working with designers and getting collateral developed, at one stage you become extremely adept at doing things on your own, especially if you have a creative bent and have a penchant for designing. The same applies to all the writing work that you must do for the organization.

As part of your profit protection plan, get your website to do a lot of work for you in terms of publicity, newsletter dissemination and getting the favourable / promising / enticing news out about your company.


You will find that the nature of your work relies heavily on research. You need to search for information each time you want to make your press release and backgrounders loaded.

You also want to be a research expert if you present reports to your Company's Board, write manuals, conduct focus groups and surveys for specifically Communications or general hotel assignments.

I once had to work on an "Image Study and Positioning Analysis" for the New Delhi unit of the Oberoi hotel. It involved spot interviews, broad questionnaire based surveys, focus groups, guest interaction and a whole lot of research to make the Study composite and benchmarked.


As a Hotel PR person you are part of the Hospitality and Travel Trade. Hence know the Travel industry, its people and its workings well. Learn about Trade events and explore widely what is required from the PR front for representing your Hotel brand in these trade shows. Is there a Media Cell which has worked out a charter of things required to keep the publicity machinery actively pumping pre, during and post the event? Are there customized collateral required for certain markets? How much stock is needed of the standard collateral? Are you in a position to organize interviews and Press meets of your General Manager with the international media at these Travel Marts? The opportunities are endless.

A French boss I once worked with, certainly one of my mentors, urged me to acquire wings and travel to see the world. He said that as a Hospitality professional I should love travelling and have an inclination towards exploring other hotel brands during my stays abroad. What a fine and practical lesson there! You can't get a more real and useful tutorial than experiencing places and hotels first hand.


The Hotel website is your baby, you know that. You have helped develop it or are responsible for keeping it clean and dynamic with up to date information. You are the one that feeds it with new information streaming in from other departments or the Company per se. You work with the IT admin, the SEO consultants and Web designers to make sure that your website remains the best selling tool for the Company and materializes real time sale for it.

In today's world of Social Media deluge you have to be on top of the game of internet PR, Web 2.0 and Viral Marketing. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube are then your new friends on the technology driven media block. Keep abreast of the latest trends and developments and employ them effectively and optimally.


A PR person's professional life, if it is really filled with something concrete and tangible then it is words - written, spoken, said, unsaid. As the PR expert you write releases, reports, newsletters, backgrounders, briefing notes. You speak at events, training sessions, interviews, conferences.

With such a large portion of your portfolio relying on words - in all their elements - you have to be a wordsmith who can spin the magic with your language and not only grab attention but also garner sales with your writing. A tall order that. But something that you need to master.

One of the most visible and significant part of my work across the various hotel brands I have worked with have been the body of writing I have left behind. It has been ego boosting to see the Press Releases I wrote appear again and again, each time with minor tweaking. It has also been highly satisfying to create and leave behind a rich resource of documentation, reports, manuals and other reference material that has proved to be a great bank of archival data and training material for those who have followed.

The Hyatts had ‘Feel The Hyatt Touch' for a long time. And who has not heard of Mandarin Oriental's ‘I am a Fan.' During my tenure at The Imperial I had the unique distinction and first time honour to create these, I would like to think, immortal and unmatched marketing buzz lines- ‘The Imperial Experience,' AND ‘The Imperial - Elegant, Exclusive, Exceptional.'


As a Hotel PRO, because you are part of an international Hospitality and Travel industry, because your guests come from all over the globe and because you work in a multicultural / multinational environment, it is imperative that you have an international outlook, be in step with the international PR agencies & the Foreign Media and be abreast with the global trends.

Global approach with the local essence should be your method of work and process of thought and you should be glocally savvy. Have a comprehensive world view and broad outside-in thinking.

Finally, with a juggler like task with several elemental balls up in the air that you must not drop at any time, you have to a JACK OR JILL OF ALL TRADES and perhaps a master of few.

Enjoy the professional roller coaster ride!