Monday, 28 July 2014

Formula for Running a Successful Hotel - A case study (Part 3 – Soul Curry)

The final part of the Success Formula urges you to peer into your personal and corporational soul, chalk out the ‘right’ way of doing things and outline an ethical business practice.

1.      In Step with the Universe
In today’s maniacal times of global warming and the havoc it is unleashing on our lives, every individual and organization is carrying a cross stemming from all the bad things we have done collectively to our environment and the good things we did not have good sense or better planning to bring into effect so as to undo the bad. As people or companies, we can be easily put in the dock for incessantly leaving warning levels of huge carbon footprints on the Universe whose sole purpose is to nourish and nurture us. And for that, we just have to pay the price, as we already are beginning to.

Each step we take towards reducing our carbon emissions counts. When I was working with the local Hyatt in India’s Capital City back in the mid 90s, we formed an ‘Environment Brigade’ and as cause espousing crusaders went about strategizing to save different forms of energy and resources wherever we could, without short-changing guest comfort. We also looked outside and started participating in larger societal issues. There have been other chains who take on matters that deal with tree plantation, management of green islands around, water effluent systems, harvesting of solar energy or the rainwater. The possibilities are countless.

I was impressed with the heated towel rack at Rokeby Manor and had no qualms about hanging the wet, used towel over it, knowing well that by the time I returned to the room it would be nicely warm and dry. The resort has moved over from heavy duty heaters to air conditioners as the latter consume less energy. Also by providing small heaters in bathrooms they increase the option of greater control over energy consumption. Rokeby is also geared towards low wastage in most other areas too – they proudly run their own laundry which helps them keep a check on cleanliness and dithering of resources. The kitchens too are tuned into churning out homemade preserves and breads.

Lesson - As companies that deal essentially with people – both on the inside and outside, hotels have a huge role to play in striving to curb the menace and wind the clock back on the damages done. No wonder, big hotel chains are attempting to be in unison with the Universe by going green and trying to increasingly be more environment-friendly.

2.      Sense of humour
Having a sense of humour helps in several ways! It saves your skin on a bad hair day, gives your brand personality an edge, becomes a conversation starter with the guests and leaves a nice after-feeling with them.

Rob Palleschi, global head, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, not only oversees Hilton Worldwide's flagship brand and leads a portfolio of more than 550 hotels and resorts across six continents, he is also a master strategist. In a case study done by Bulldog Reporter, Palleschi shared how his Group employed humour to change mindset and grow the client base from business travelers to include leisure. The idea was also to grow sales as a leisure travel destination. “We used humour to create a campaign around ‘vacationitis.’ We worked with our internal and external partners to create a funny campaign that featured the tongue-in-cheek interactive microsite, ‘Hilton Urgent Vacation Care Center.’ The site featured a vacation diagnostic test that determined how "sick" visitors were and gave them custom prescriptions that involved stays at Hilton Hotels & Resorts properties around the globe,” reveals Rob Palleschi.

Rokeby Manor is replete with this positive attribute – in a thoughtful wall art placed at the Business Centre, a quirky lamp on the restaurant terrace, mugs with messages on the front porch and most of all the Guest Services handbook that tells you three is company when offering you an extra bed, promises to keep you warm and toasty with the heaters, defines ‘happiness as a nice hot cuppa with a slice of cake in The Tea Garden.’

Rokeby Manor’s sister establishment – Tabor Cottage - is dotted with hilarious signages picked up from curio shops in London – from urging Hippies to use the backdoor to giving a philosophical advice on marriage or life to telling the guest not to sing, dance or swear as it was a Respectable house they were stepping into – the abundantly displayed humour keeps the guests cheerful and in a good mood regardless of the seriousness of the business they have come to conduct.

Lesson - When you do things with a zing, you manage to suffix extra to the otherwise ordinary and carve a little niche for your brand. The humour helps alleviate many a hairy-hoary situation, leaving guests feeling more forgiving should you have erred or relaxed should the heat – circumstantial or climatic – be on a high. And like in the Hilton example it helps in creating more business too!   

3.      Being Socially Responsible
At one of the international chains I worked with, we committed ‘X’ number of volunteering hours to be spent with inhabitants of a Blind Relief Society. At another place, we kicked off a cleanliness drive on World Environment Day and carried the ardour through the year not only to clean up the neighbourhood but also prominent riversides and beaches in designated cities.

In a 2009 Study on ‘Corporate Social Responsibility in the Hospitality Industry,’ Professor Christine Lynn, Ph.D. states that “Disaster management, such as needed after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, found several takers from prominent global chains. Best Western, Hilton group, Accor, Intercontinental, and Six Senses committed over $2.5 million, and other chains also provided aid.”

Brands that do good also do well – a Study in 2003 HSMAI Marketing Review gives an example of 
social inclusiveness. “Marriott’s “Pathways to Independence” program puts welfare recipients through 
rigorous training to enable them to move into employment positions with Marriott,” the Study cites. “Charity 
is good, but integrated pro-poor activities such as these enable people to help themselves out of poverty 
while at the same time benefitting the benefactor,” reasserts Lynn.

Sanjay Narang, the young entrepreneur-owner of Rokeby Manor has ambitious plans. He believes in ‘incorporated development’ and wishes to move ahead with an ‘inclusive approach.’ Narang avers that since Independence India has not built a hill town and he plans to build a hill township in the Uttarakhand hills and a college town akin to what may be found in the Swiss Alps. He plans to create world-class colleges, tie up with some of the Ivy League universities and ensure that at least 25% of the students are taken from the deserving children of the lower strata. 

In March, every year, Rokeby organizes a big ticketed event with a major Rock Music festival with bands from all over the world plus the local Woodstock band; so as to promote music and give a sound platform to the local talent – a platform which acts like a springboard for the young musicians.

Already, Narang’s Company works with many schools and assists in rebuilding and upgrading them. In Mumbai, they work in slums to rehabilitate battered women. Narang believes in doing a lot of charity work directly and not just in donating funds. His big goal is to be able to “give 100% of his profits and plough it back into the society resourcefully.”

In a Paper titled ‘Corporate social responsibility: What are top hotel companies reporting?’ that appeared in the 2007 edition of the International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, J. L. Holcomb, R.S. Upchurch and F. Okumus write that “Eight out of the ten top hotel companies (80%), as designated by Hotels magazine (official publication of the International Hotel and Restaurant Association), reported giving charitable donations, 60% reported having diversity policies, and 40% mentioned social responsibility as part of their company mission statements. The top ten hotel companies’ web sites and annual reports were analyzed and the information found was categorized into community, environment, marketplace, vision and values, and workforce. Hilton Corporation was found to have the most comprehensive CSR reporting. Marriot came in as second most comprehensive and the Accor hotel group was third.”

Lesson - There are several benefits at so many different levels to being socially responsible. If you are a conscientious, socially responsible corporate then you are viewed as a wholesome leader of the pack, are respected by customers on both ends of the fence – the employees look up to you and the guests hold you in high esteem, your brand recall value is far greater than when you put in large percentage of your earnings into hugely expensive media plans. What’s more, being socially responsible not only makes you look good, it makes you feel better.

There is no better approach to imprint your positive image on the collective mindscape of your target audience and to leave, inarguably, an indelible footprint on the global hospitality stratosphere.
4.      Challenge Yourself 
In the continuously evolving world of hospitality, change is the only constant. The guest profile is changing, they are becoming more discerning, the co-players are devising new methods to play the business game, the infrastructure and technology are always in the shake, rattle, refresh and renew mode. With so much going on, the solution lies in challenging yourself and upping your antenna for upward growth.

Sitting atop a hill in a mountain town, away from the route of direct access, Rokeby Manor – the rustic home in the mountains - has been setting its own rules and playing well by them. From getting all kinds of stuff required to run a modern hotel including raw material to shaping the mindset of the locally hired staff (that needs constant training, regular follow-up and a lot of patience), Rokeby has been meeting it’s unique set of challenges with measured success. “Putting ourselves in the place of the guest and seeing everything from the guest’s perspective makes things easy,” shares Sanjay Narang.

“Being located in the ‘no new construction zone’ sometimes we have to find an unusual route for say an exhaust pipe through old thick walls to give it a vent out. It is a challenge but the end result is hugely satisfying,” explains Narang proud of what he has created.

When I moved on from an established brand to an old hotel that had been languishing in a decrepit condition for long, we had a huge mandate on hand. As part of the Change Agent Team, the big challenge staring back at us was to turn around the Brand completely and restructure, reposition, redevelop and thereby rebrand it. The task was monumental for each of us and as integral cogs in the wheel we all had to be well-oiled to deliver beyond briefs and expectations. From redoing the look with new construction, new upholstery, uniforms, linen, flatware we took a comb through the way things were done and brought in up-to-date policies and procedures, wrote new manuals and put in place benchmarked new best practices. Having done all that, a bigger challenge lay ahead of us. We had to reshape mindsets and change our guest profile – from the earlier mix of old, retired Government officials who dropped in for tea or dining and East European backpackers who kept the tariff down to telling the world that we were now there to be spoken of in the same breath as the world’s finest and were ready to host the luxury business and leisure traveller from any corner of the globe.

The end result – each of us who worked on this majorly challenging assignment has shaped into a consummate hotelier, been privileged to handle such a wonderful, path breaking professional assignment and is proud to have left a rich legacy that is talked about with respect in the hoteliering circles.

Lesson – Whether It is launching a new hotel or relaunching an old one (the latter being a more difficult task), exploring new markets, reinforcing presence in the markets we have existed in, retraining team on new practices and insights, relooking at new ways to conduct business, increasing the bandwidth of our guest profile and wishing to establish our toehold in heretofore untouched segments, introducing new concepts and newer technology, the world of hotels is always poised to present unlimited challenges to us. And it is in our interest to bite the bullet, not only be prepared to turn all the professional handicaps into aces that underline the success but to upset our apple cart, step away from our comfort zone and go out looking for challenging frontiers to put our personal flags on.

That is the only way forward!


Picture courtesy - Google Images

Friday, 25 July 2014

Formula for Running a Successful Hotel - A case study (Part 2 – Mind over Matter)

While Part 1 of the Formula took you through the ‘Heart of the Matter,’ Part 2 lists out those mindful things that are at the center of thinking out, planning and presenting your Brand strategy and reinforcing your Brand philosophy.

1.      What’s Your Story?
A place must have what I call a ‘story’ about it. You can call it history or legacy. The 1887 born Raffles Singapore has been the grand old lady of the East. From witnessing the Japanese occupation of Singapore to becoming the transit camp for the prisoners of war, from being the birthplace of the Singapore Sling or the preferred hideout for some of the world’s finest authors to being the subject or setting of some films and novels, The Raffles is full of awe-inspiring lore. Similarly, The Imperial in New Delhi was a participant-observer to the saga of India’s independence. In fact, annals of history show that the Declaration of Independence may have been signed at this grand hotel which became part of Edwin Lutyens’ vision for New Delhi as the new capital of India.  

A rich past lends an outstanding personality to a hotel. The history helps weave a web of stories in which the guests can be fascinatingly ensnared and with the fabric of which many a PR yarn is spun. One of the hotels I worked for was one of India’s grand old men having witnessed the Freedom Struggle and having been part of the Raj era. We reaped an interesting harvest of this rich legacy from seeds sown in that time. Not only did the loaded past fluff us up with a sense of pride, making us feel as if we had been a part of it, our guests loved it to – holding meetings in the room where the Partition treaty was signed, banqueting in the Royal Ballroom where the Earls, Knights and the Indian Rajas and Ranis had waltzed, eating with perhaps the same heirloom silverware that the blue-bloodied had partied in.

Elsewhere, hotels have named suites after eminent writers who stayed in them; so there is a Maugham, Kipling, Christie suite. Coco Chanel and Rockefeller made virtually their homes in luxury hotels. There are cakes named after celebrities who loved the presentation or perhaps gardens on the premises christened after the famous feet that tread upon its grounds.

Rokeby Manor, a mountain town landmark, was built in mid 19th century by a British officer serving in the Raj era with its name taken from one of the lovely writings of Sir Walter Scott. It was bought and managed by Frederick 'Pahari' Wilson, a controversial adventurer and entrepreneur, who became the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling's classic story, "The Man Who Would Be King." Towards the end of the Century Rokeby Manor was bought by Rev. J.S. Woodside, one of the founders of the legendary Woodstock School. And by 1930, it enjoyed yet another twist in its tale by being bought by the Women's Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church who ran it as a boarding house for young missionary ladies who were studying Urdu and Hindi at the Landour Language School. Rokeby Manor remained a missionary guest house for the better part of the 20th Century. Today the heritage building with hugely interesting strings of stories in its history and origin is run as a contemporary mountain resort with all the mod-cons yet steeped in the deliciousness of its decadent past. The intelligently restored resort (which has not been structurally changed as it is against the law in the hill town it is located in) retains its old-world charm, showcases its pock-marked origin of prestige with pride and offers delightful anecdotal features for guests to soak themselves in.

Rokeby’s intriguing legacy lends an air of mystery to it, taking back guests to a time when colonial officers, renegade soldiers of fortune and pious miss sahibs lived under one roof. The guests can still enjoy a piece of history in this heritage building with elaborate brick arches and niches, intricate stone walls, real wood floors and beams and cozy fireplaces carefully restored.

Lesson – Every place has its unique, what I call, ‘story.’ How it came about? What slices of history has it shared in a common past! There may be an heirloom spin about the owners or the notable guests. So, be very proud if there is a ‘story’ from the annals of time that you can tell and then go ahead and tell it with a sense of flair and relish. Your guests are going to love it.    

Not all hotels have the privilege to have been landmarks and milestones in the history of the world. Still, there are unusual facets and delectable twists and turns that make the tapestry of its birth and life worthy enough to be talked about and rejoiced in. 

So find your mojo and use it to the best optimum way possible; both for yourself and the guest.

2.      Activity or many-a-times even non-activity
Perched at the highest altitude in the region, Rokeby Manor offers jaw-dropping views of the great Himalayas above and the enchanting Doon Valley below. Besides, at that height, you are so close to nature that your sounds mingle well with that of the flora and fauna nestling in the area; the air is refreshingly unadulterated and soothing to your senses; and the spirit naturally cheerful, relaxed and in a recuperative state of self-healing.

While there are games and activities – mind to board games, ride on the thrilling ATV, excursions to some fascinating places around – it is the so-called non-activities that turn up the excitement quotient. Rokeby takes these to a heightened level as you rejoice in simply relaxing in the lap of scenic luxury casting a faraway look at the majestic mountains, sighting a range of interesting birds, getting on a botanical exploration of the lovely flowers, herbs, trees and shrubs, trekking around labyrinthine walks that take you through historic churches, somber cemeteries, quaint curio and antique shops, strangely named bazaars of four shops and roadside cafes that have seen the birth of many a writer or musician.

Lesson – While working with one of India’s oldest hotels, I along with the Art & Antiquity Manager delighted in giving an art tour of the in-house galleries to the discerning guests. That the hotel houses a large collection of lithographs and period artefacts made for such an inspired walk-through and a splendid activity.

Jules Undersea Lodge in Florida, world’s only underwater hotel that guests have to ‘dive’ 21FT. to enter offers an experience which breaks away from every other tried and tested mould. Yes, there is the mandatory scuba diving, but living amidst sea life, dining with the sharks and reading your favourite piece of literature while being watched by a floating whale here or a sea horse there is a matchless experience that will stay with you forever. By delivering a fresh pizza to you through a diving delivery man, the Lodge turns something banal into bombastic.

At the other end of the continuum, Ananda in the Himalayas – arguably the best Destination Spa Resort in the world – urges you to rediscover yourself in its tranquil surroundings. At the mountain resort, just meditating, watching the skyline, strolling around the hillscape make for such alleviated levels of pleasure and contentment.

Therefore, whatever kind of place that you may run and wherever it may be located, ensure that there are things to ensnare your guests and entrap them in the homegrown or locational string of activities or non-activities.

3.       Sweat the small Stuff
One of the legendary hoteliers is known to send his staff – from the General Manager to the Doorman – into a maniacal tizzy every time he plans to visit one of his hotels. Even after having successfully created, managed and run award-winning hotels in India and overseas, the Gentleman is known to have a keen eye of observation and will not let pass a crookedly placed rose stem in a vase, a spot of dust in the inner fold of a guest compendium, an otherwise sparkly-shiny glass with just two tell-tale blotches of dried drops of water that escaped the steward’s attention, the serif missed out by the designer in the Ad. copy, the words dropped unwittingly by the Guest Relations girl from the standard greeting – you get the picture! This expectation of perfection percolates down from the Top Dog through the managers to the rest of the employees, making the Brand one of the most highly regarded globally.

It really appeals to me when Hoteliers pay attention to detail and sweat over the tiniest of stuff. Landour as a hill town is battered by rain in monsoon and snow in winter with the moisture from both wreaking havoc for prolonged periods. In such conditions, to have a resident musty smell and somewhat damp interiors is only natural. The General Manager warned me about the possibility of the weather-triggered offensive odour even before I had made reservations for my stay; but I was surprised to be met with a welcome toastiness and the subtle scent of the forest. Before you are set to arrive, and they are sending you your reservation confirmation, out of an established practice the hotel will forewarn you about the challenges of a hilly location, dampness, musty smell etc. etc. But by the time you land and are led into your cozy quarters, they have done everything in their hands to obliterate those issues to the best of their ability, using Dehumidifiers in monsoons, Scent boxes and bespoke fragrances to take away any sign of squalidness.

One is quite wary of the hotel bread baskets where all the breads are not of the same quality and freshness. Likewise, with the butter dish which may have been passed around all too many times. So, while lunching at Emily’s I was pleasantly surprised to find the crispness and flavour of even the cumin bread sticks retained in the cradle of Rokeby’s baked goodies. The same basic goodness ran through the gamut of things. The pastas were cooked just right to hold their bite and the sauce was fresh, aromatic and left a delish after-taste. The biscotti at teatime held forth its crunch. The tea, itself, held on to its authenticity whether it was the milky, rich biscuit – brown broth relished in India or the subtle, light, green variant that has been taking the world by storm. In the rooms too, there have been elaborate deliberations about the linen and the light, about warmth and the wonderful view that each angle offers. I am a sucker for attention to detail and it was satisfying to see a lot of thought given to even the little things.

Mussoorie has always been one of the most sought after hill stations in India, yes, right from the time of The Raj when it was given a choice epithet of ‘Queen of the Hills’ by the English rulers. So much so, that it has faced the ravages of overkill – too much construction, too many shops, too many hotels of all shapes and sizes, too much commercialization. So, for the discerning traveller seeking quality, quietude and an overly pleasant stay without other tourists and locals stepping in his way all the time, places like Rokeby Manor offer the perfect respite. Secluded alcove in the bazaar of madness, a serene oasis of calm with thoughtful little touches all over the place, Rokeby Manor is an island of charm, character and comfort.

Lesson – When dealing with a people-centric industry, even the smallest of demands, desires and likes of guests become significantly important. As hoteliers, we must keep in mind a layered pyramid of guest wants, quite like the Maslow’s pyramid, putting in aspects from the most basic (such as cleanliness or running hot water or trained staff) to the very exquisite (dinner on a romantically lit dhow with performance by a violinist or bespoke wine served under the shadow of the Sphinx). And it becomes our ‘karma’ to ensure that each need is met with guest satisfaction and delight.

4.      Your Unique Selling Proposition
In the crowded market place of hospitality, with a multitude brands essentially selling the same thing, it becomes imperative to have a Unique Selling Proposition; that unquantifiable yet tangible special facet. 
Rokeby has attitude and atmosphere. It is a modern resort with a forward-looking strategy, yet it is warmly ensconced in a time-warp of the awe and magnificence of a bygone era.  Rokeby rests comfortably on the cusp of old and new and in fact tries to create a fine balance between the two. The old staircase and most doors and windows are from the original setting.  Waste wood from wood mills in Dehradun Valley has been recycled as Reception wall and desk.

The rooms and areas of the Lodge, though orderly placed, have not been messed up with and have been creatively used. For instance you chance upon the Business Centre just as you climb up the old staircase on way to the main restaurant.  A lot of old wooden flooring has been retained and not much of the original structure has been touched. Lime mortar, which was the original plaster, has been chipped in places all around to expose the rock-brick facade. A lot of books and artefacts are specially sourced antiques bought from either the old curio shops tucked away in the various nooks in town or London.

“The USP of Rokeby Manor is that it offers an escape from the maddening crowd, peace of mind and a secure feeling that one gets from living in a mountain home,” says Narang who counts “innovation and passion” amongst his two premier brand strengths. “There are no half measures in how we do things,” insists Sanjay Narang.

Narang retains his Brand USP by encouraging individuality in his staff and developing personalities. He says the important thing is to “Identify right people. I don’t mean technical qualifications; I mean good people and good human beings. Technical skills can be taught. We don’t want to have a cookie-cutter formula. My people should have a strong character. Sometimes passion, zeal and sincerity are more important than flawless training and perfect skills.”  Perhaps this is why Rokeby can be labelled under ‘quintessential places of charm’ away from the assembly-line sameness, commonly found in the ho-hum of hotels that abound.

This lends a unique personality to the hotel, transporting guests back to the time when the British officers of the Raj period and the missionaries lived in Mussoorie, at one time an alternate Summer Capital for the English rulers of the erstwhile Colony. Yet, the hotel leaves no stone unturned to serve the finest wine or cheese or seafood to the discerning palate in a surrounding beset with all modern features.

Lesson - There are hotels around the globe that hold on to their uniqueness dearly and with a lot of pride. The Peninsula in Hong Kong, The Oriental in Bangkok, Le Bristol in Paris, Cipriani in Venice, Amankila in Bali – all are gems that stand out and above on account of their individuality.
So, whether it is intrinsic elegance, locational vantage point, helicopter shuttle service from the hotel’s rooftop helipad, a confluence of history, mystery and magnificence, a piece of geographical wonder, whatever is your magical power, hone and polish it and keep it ever gleaming in a perpetual state of readiness.

 Picture courtesy - Google Images

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Formula for Running a Successful Hotel - A case study (Part 1 – the Heart of the Matter)

Running hotels is an exciting business. Very stressful and challenging too. But as any experienced hotelier will tell you, it is one of the most satisfying lines of work – to first see the seeds of your thought germinate and take shape physically, then to see your baby blossom into a thriving place of activity. It brings a special sense of joy and exhilaration to note that customers appreciate the hard work you and your team has put in and support your business, both by returning to you time and again and by recommending you to others in their network.

For this Case Study, I picked up a lovely, picturesque hill hotel – Rokeby Manor - that has shot up in terms of popularity and appeal to see if there is a formula for running a successful hotel. I am pleased to announce that there is one and that it can be easily replicated, if you have the passion, sincerity and zeal to embrace the challenges and turn the boulders along the way into meaningful building blocks.

Little over two years back Rokeby Manor was wrapped under the cloud of anonymity. Even about a year back, not many knew about this gem set preciously in the lushness of the Himalayan foothills. So what changed for it in about 365 days?

The Formula for success has three parts – with heart, mind and soul inhabiting each part. Let us look at the ‘Heart of the Matter’ in Part 1 –

1.    Knowing your business –
Sanjay Narang, the proud owner of Rokeby Manor, is a quintessential hotelier. He has been born into the hotel business but more importantly he has carved out a special niche for himself in the cut throat world of hospitality where business fortune can change with the seasons.

Narang has built a unique reputation for himself as a noteworthy ‘Brand maker.’ He, along with his dynamic sister, has created successful brands in the Indian subcontinent. A Cornell graduate and a member of the family that owns the Ambassador Group of Hotels, Sanjay Narang has excelled in breaking away from the old guard to create new brands that have each become successful milestones on the hospitality map. “Innovation is our Passion,” says Narang, who as the force behind Mars Hospitality has been presenting awe-inspiring dining out and stay options to the discerning customers of the hotel and restaurants business. Options that have become market leaders and set the benchmark high, options that have presented novel ideas and have been much ahead of their time, options such as the very successful Birdy’s (1993) - a chain of gourmet bakery & pastry shops, The Pizzeria and Pasta Bar (1994) - a casual dining restaurant that was amongst the first in India to serve 'fresh-dough' pizzas and home-style Italian cuisine prepared in an open kitchen where people could watch the pizzas being baked and create their own pasta dish at the pasta bar, Jazz By The Bay (1996) that stamped in the relevance of quality live entertainment, Three Flights Up (1997) that Introduced India to the mega nightclub concept, Just Around The Corner (1998) - the first 'self service' diner / restaurant with an American style menu, SkyGourmet (2002) - India's most successful Airline Catering Company set up with the specific objective to build/operate highly efficient catering units, Waterstones (2007) - the most exclusive ‘by invitation only’ Club, The Waterstones Hotels - a young, hip, modern, boutique hotel known for its friendly ambience and efficient service. With Rokeby Manor, Narang is putting to use all that he has learned, grown up with, seen, developed and experienced.

You will see in a bit how Sanjay Narang leveraged all the experience he enriched himself with by creating brands and establishing them successfully for transforming an old, derelict Missionary Guest house into a pulsating, vibrant place.

It is only comme il faut that one must build upon one’s knowledge and experience to such levels that egg you on to do inspiring work. So, if you wish to create brands and run them as successful and profitable places then you must know your business like the back of your hand. There is need to know your market, understand your customers, run parallels with competition, comb the globe for inspiration, not be scared of treading on new pastures, stoke your drive for innovation and entrepreneurship and evolve your uniquely, outstanding product.

Knowing your business also extends to knowing your guests extremely well. When you consciously rely on word of mouth recognition as against paid publicity, like in the case of Rokeby Manor, it becomes extremely essential to be clued on to your guest profile, their characteristic and differentiating facets, likes and dislikes. So, whether it is serving whole fruits instead of sliced because guests like it so, putting a hot plate under that personal pot of coffee, increasing healthy choices across all meal options, adhering to a no-alcohol policy even at the expense of foregoing profits because guests wish to ‘live’ in a quiet, serene and peaceful ambience; Rokeby Manor employs a pronounced ‘outside-in thinking.’

Sanjay Narang’s three-pronged strategy for attracting the right profile of guests is -

a.      Word of mouth. “We never advertise,” he asserts. That makes sense. Reference or TripAdvisor ratings from happy and satisfied customers are worth so much more than advertising outlays.
b.      Location
c.       Pricing

Narang is extremely particular about the importance his hotels and restaurants accord to his guests. There is no short-changing that. “We sacrifice some of the income to preserve the experience. We might close the restaurant over the weekends and keep it only for hotel guests to retain our profile,” shares Narang. The structure of the resort is such that it is a very intimate property hence the hotel is not inherently propped up for loud people. Going by the Resort’s success, there are a large number of guests from around the world who come looking for this quiet, redolent home in the hills.
“We encourage that guests give feedback on our website too. We respond to every guest feedback, either on comment card or website or TripAdvisor. And we especially respond to a negative comment, employing corrective action where necessary,” he adds.

Lesson – In the course of my working with hotels, I have seen legendary owners get down to the Housekeeping basics as and when the need arose. I have noted entrepreneurial General Managers know as much about ducting and laundry machines as about the food and wine. And the guest has definitely been God whether it is the individualistically iconic Aman Group or the template-benchmarked Four Seasons or the service-trendsetting Ritz Carlton. From Cesar Ritz, Conrad Hilton, Bill Marriott to Jay Pritzker, Biki Oberoi and Adrian Zecha – these legends have known their business so well that they have envisioned way forwards and outcomes, set trends and spelled out how hoteliering should be conducted. Therefore, in order to be a consummate hotelier you must endeavour to know all. No piece of information is too small and no responsibility big enough for you to learn and handle.

2.    Location
Rokeby Manor sits atop a hill and it’s Highlands – the party, barbecue, Jacuzzi zone with the finest Sunset view - is the highest point of the peak at 7550 feet above the sea level.

It has been seen that location is many a times the key deciding factor in brand selection, a little more than the other facets. On a business visit, a city center hotel is of main consideration. When transiting frequently, the airport hotel regardless of its standards is what we tend to pick out. On a holiday, the location with the best views or close to main attractions or with special features of its own is what we are keen to choose.

On this score, Rokeby Manor comes out on top. It is nestled in the bosom of pine trees, set in a pristine setting away from noise, pollution and clamour so characteristic of a soiled city life. It offers some of the best views and whether it is early morning, noon, tranquil evenings or a starlit night; Rokeby’s personality has something uniquely different to present at each time.

Lesson – As a hotel owner, do a lot of due diligence on the location. I recall the location issues the top sub brand of a leading international hotel chain had to battle as the Chain opened their Five- star deluxe hotel in the Commercial Capital of India with much fanfare but with a view of a large cluster of slums. No amount of fine dining, finer aspects of luxury, a pulsating events calendar and the charms of a great Spa and Wine Cellar could help the hotel downplay the negatives of its disastrously unenviable location.

“The location has to be right and the size has to be right. You can’t build the hotel and then build the market,” asserts Biki Oberoi, the father of modern hoteliering in India in his interview with a leading Financial Daily.
As a proprietor, choose wisely before allowing the blueprint to take birth. And as an on-the-line hotelier make the most of your location. It is a strong force of attraction for your clientele and a strong selling point.

3.    Breakfast at Tiffany’s Syndrome
By this I mean that the food at the place must be such that people travel from far and wide just to experience the culinary marvel that the Hotel can proudly boast of.

Is the food at your place so great that it becomes a sight that guests must visit to see and an experience that they wish to make that special trip for? Think Tea at the Ritz, Brunch at the floating Jumbo restaurant in Hong Kong, a once in a lifetime meal at the now closed elBulli by Ferran AdriĆ !

Food is, indeed, the other pivot on which your success story can rest. If you do great food then there is a lot you can get by. Guests will happily dine at your restaurants, will entertain proudly at one of your crown jewels, chat with your chefs, get enamoured by the little stories you weave around your ingredients, how they are sourced, how they blend into your majestic presentations, the appeal of your culinary craftsmen and the superlative taste most of the items on your menu promise to leave on the discerning palate.

Great set of restaurants, strong focus on food quality, plating par excellence and taste including an above-par Room Service will help in entrapping even the toughest of guests and bind them into your fold.

Rokeby Manor is proud of its food forte. It is supremely confident of both its software and hardware and happily showcases the two in its open kitchens and glass walls that spell a story of high quality equipment and produce, strong hygiene standards, excellent workmanship and most of all a bunch of happy faces laboring in a sense of bonhomie over your pizza, paella, pilaf or pastry. The promoters are quality conscious and will only source the freshest and finest available. The staff will test, try and then tempt the guests with their offerings. They will cheerfully do repeats of what you like, make enthusiastic suggestions on what they think you must try, accept a mistake and rectify with a smile and a substitute, listen acutely to guest advice and be ever eager to ensure that you enjoyed the fare and their hospitality.

Rokeby is so comfortably confident about its food & beverage that not only does it parallely-run the Clock Tower Cafe in the heart of the hill town, it also, behind its show walls, puts on grandstand its master craftsmen who work ergonomically and interestedly in a meticulously clean kitchen. If you know hotels then you know well enough that only the very courageous and secure in their good reputation can pull this through.

Sanjay Narang, the owner tells me, “Open area and glass wall to the kitchen serves as an attraction to the guests. They can merrily see what they are eating and how it is prepared. It also helps put pressure on kitchen boys to keep their turf clean.”

Lesson - The good food crafted by trained hands and delivered by guest-oriented staff is a great strategy for winning and keeping guests. Rustle up food lores from the historical annals of the culinary fare you serve, create your irrepressible food scents around your specialities popping out of your specialized boulangerie, patisserie, delicatessen, let the guests eat out of the hands of your rocking F&B star team members, proudly present a wine list that is the talk of the town, get a mixologist to train your barmen to become blending masters. The opportunities are endless and serve to work as a sensory binding of the guest loyalty for your brand.

4.    The Serving Star
Could you win any combat just on the basis of a great war strategy (think Brand positioning here) and a very able General (think top leadership) if your henchmen and foot soldiers failed to toe the line with their loyalty, commitment, passion, hard work and astuteness? 

Ask any well-bred hotelier and they will tell you about the million battles they must meet head-on, all in a day’s work. A hotel job is inundated with gazillion crises that must be fought and smoothened in little time. This would not be possible without enlisting the moral, physical and cerebral support of a committed and trained work force.

The winning factor of Rokeby Manor is easily it’s pleasant, guest oriented staff that is trained well to be professional at all times. They smile their shiniest and sail over if the guest makes a faux pas. They smile even brighter and get into correction mode when they commit a mistake, immediately attempting to right the wrong with humble flair. “If there is nothing to hide, there is nothing to fear,” Narang tries to instill this maxim in his team.

In fact, all staff, whether it is the Reservations Clerk, the Housekeeping Attendant, the Manager lording over the F&B services, the General Manager, heck even the owner are naturally tuned towards making it a memorable and pleasant stay for the guest, with their immaculate service, pleasant demeanour, ears and eyes sharpened for guest likes and dislikes and a fervor that helps them go beyond the brief.

Lesson – Your dedicated team comprised of happy, satisfied and trained staff are the biggest reason that will make your hotel stand out and above the competition when most other parameters are more or less the same – you know the set of services, the offerings, the linen, crockery, bathrobe, technology, even the plush airport pick-ups. 

As an Owner / Manager, always endeavour to keep your team happy, satisfied, motivated, committed, enthusiastic, conscientious and yes, crisis-ready.

Ensure this and you have a dreamboat to navigate.


Pictures courtesy - Google Images, Wyndham Hotel, Istabul.