Tuesday, 19 April 2016

What Do the World’s best Hotels and Hoteliers have in Common? Part 2 – The Brand ‘Big Picture’!

Hoteliering is indeed an exciting line of business, far detached from the ho-hum and banality of a lot of other businesses. There is never a dull moment, with each department running itself into a frenzy of heightened activity. There is always that mad dash to deliver the service to the most discerning of guests and to present the brand values in the best way possible. 

There is a perpetual sense of fire in the business of hotels – for one, the quintessential hotelier has the fire in his belly to endeavour for excellence in the simplest of tasks, to smooth out the rough edges and to envision creative strategies for the future path; then there is, obviously, fire in the kitchen and finally the fire stemming from work exigencies and a myriad crises that wrought a normal hotel work day.

With no two work days being alike and no two guests with the same set of traits and demands, hotels are always evolving and differentiating; attempting to develop the most suitable template for their target audience.

Amidst all this are hotels that reach the pinnacle in their game plan – that of putting out excellent infrastructure beset within an exquisite piece of architecture, boasting a team of zealous superstars, aligning themselves with the changing guest demands at all times, ensuring safety and privacy and offering the hospitality of the finest order. 

The world’s finest, having taken care of the ‘basics’, always have a ‘Big Picture’ to address on the strategic blueprint – 

1. Your flag on the map

It has been seen that location is many a time the key deciding factor in brand selection, a little more than the other facets. On a business visit, a city centre 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.

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 plan 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.

2. Keeping the guests ensnared

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 hill scape 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. Nurturing a Corporate Conscientiousness

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, PhD 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.

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’ websites and annual reports were analysed and the information found was categorised 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.”

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.

Picture Courtesy - Google Images

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

What Do the World’s best Hotels and Hoteliers have in Common? Part 1 – The Brand Basics!

The business of hoteliering dates back to the time when the first explorer trudged into a strange, undiscovered land and, wishing to put up his tired, over-wrought feet on a comfortable bed, sauntered into a kind man’s front yard seeking a bed for his body and bread for his hungry stomach.

Or perhaps, it all began with the wandering cowboy in the Wild West, who wishing to escape the law, sought refuge on the top floor of a drinking salon, paying for the shave, rounds of drink and a meal before he rode off. Whatever may have been the first reason for its genesis, man soon realized that this was a lucrative business that he could get into.

With need-based evolution, desire-led ideation and reacting to the diversity in the market mix, hotels have developed into several brand types and niche categories.

Regardless of the type and slotting into stars, the best hotels in their own coves have a common thread running through them. The world’s best brand leaders seem to share some common aspects that set them apart from the hoi polloi that dot the global hoteliering landscape.

Here are some of the ‘basics’ that make the best establishments stand above others –

1.     Business Acumen

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, 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; World’s best hotels employ a pronounced ‘outside-in thinking.’

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 spelt 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.     The A Team

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 qualified workforce.

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.

3.     Great F&B

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. And the world’s best hotels have that.

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.

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.

These three then – the core of business and its overall nous, the dedicated team and outstanding Food & Beverage – have been refined and polished by the World’s best hotels to build up their own benchmarks and best practices. They have developed such exacting standards that easily put them in the league of extraordinary gems in the hotel business worldwide.


 Picture Courtesy - Google Images

Monday, 4 April 2016

What Does an Iconic Hotel look like? Part 2 – The ‘soul’ of a Brand!

Moving up their own Maslow’s Pyramid of “existential” Hierarchy, hotels have been differentiating themselves from each other, some famously growing to rise to the top of the competitive heap to become the finest, the best, and the iconic.

The Raffles in Singapore, The Peninsula in Hong Kong, the Oriental in Bangkok, The Ritz in Paris, the Beverly Hills Hotel in California, Copacabana Palace in Brazil, Hotel Cipriani in Venice – are all icons and legends. So what makes them so?

In Part 2 of this feature, we look at elements that form the soul of a brand –

1.     Iconic hotels are in Step with the Universe

In today’s maniacal times of rampant growth, global warming is unleashing havoc on our lives. Every individual and organization is carrying a cross stemming from all the bad things we have done collectively to our environment. We have begun to regret the good things we did not have the 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.

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, prominent hotel chains are attempting to be in unison with the Universe by going green and trying to increasingly be more environment-friendly.

2.     Iconic hotels have a 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 the mindset and grow the client base from business travellers 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.

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.     Iconic hotels challenge themselves

In the continuously evolving world of hospitality, change is the only constant. The guest profile is changing, they are becoming more discerning. Our 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.

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. We had to restructure, reposition, redevelop and thereby rebrand the hotel company. 

The task was monumental for each of us. 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. In its earlier avatar, the hotel used to host a mix of old, retired Government officials who dropped in for tea or dining and East European backpackers who kept the tariff down. 

The need-of-the-hour was to tell the world that we were now there to be spoken of in the same breath as the world’s finest. That, we 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. We have been privileged to handle such a wonderful, path-breaking professional assignment and are proud to have left a rich legacy that is talked about with respect in the hoteliering circles.

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, the world of hotels is always poised to present unlimited challenges to us.

Then there are the additional demands on us – that of retraining team on new practices and insights, looking at new ways to conduct business, increasing the bandwidth of our guest profile, introducing new concepts and newer technology and wishing to establish our toehold in heretofore untouched segments. It is in our interest to bite the bullet. 

We must 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. All the star icons on the hospitality landscape have challenged the basics and evolved into models with exemplary practices.

The iconic hotels, with their distinctive growth passage, show us that this is the only way forward!


Picture Courtesy - Google Images