Wednesday, 27 July 2016

The Ultimate Luxury Hoteliering 101! Part 2

What is it that the luxury traveller 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?

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 aspects 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.

Here follow the remaining parameters that underline the ultimate in luxury hoteliering –

1.     Exemplary Service Standards

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 cosily 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 traveller. 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. 

2.     Privacy and Security

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 and 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.

Two of the top most things that high-profile jet-setters desire most, indeed, are - exclusive treatment and the highest level of privacy. In the case of celebrity guests, privacy is of paramount significance.
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.
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.”

3.     Attributes that exceed Guest Expectation

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.

Luxury hospitality destinations are also about uniquely superlative touches. At the Lodge at Sea Island, Georgia you can savour 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.

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.

4.     Promising Return on monetary and physical investment

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, 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 travellers hate to be taken advantage of and like to be served to the optimum for the top bills they pay.

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.

5.     Defining Story

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.
It does boil down to one single most important or set of important discerning traits that a luxury hotel 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. 

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.

6.     The ‘X’ Factor

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.

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. 

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 all the time while you relax in the plushest beds, rejuvenate in the best Spas, tingle your taste buds with matchless food cooked by prize-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 stree-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!


Picture Courtesy - Google Images

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

The Ultimate Luxury Hoteliering 101! Part 1

I was recently invited by a leading Hospitality Industry Portal to offer my thoughts on how hotels can provide the best brand experience for their guests; what really goes into true customer satisfaction and what do the world’s best hotels really do, so discerningly, to be slotted as top luxury hotel companies?

It set me thinking about what hotels think is a luxury experience for their guests, vis-à-vis the guests’ actual expectation of luxury.
Is it the Carrara marble carted all the way from Italy, the bespoke scent developed in step with a celebrated Parfumer, glasses blown especially by a lineage rich craftsman in Murano, the exquisite crystal from Baccarat, the priceless lights from Lalique, the made-to-order toiletries from Bvlgari? 

But all this can be bought and brought in by any wealthy industrialist aspiring to be an hotelier or by a rich real estate magnate who has set his business goal towards constructing monstrous buildings that he hopes to open hotels in.  

We often mistake plattering out of opulence for luxury. Luxury is far bigger than the price; it is a principle that defines the gold standard of a brand.

In the last few days, my newsfeed on one of the social media platforms is being flooded with shares from friends about their recent luxury hotel stay at one of India’s most luxurious chains. 

What has taken their breath away is how hotel staff are leaving little notes behind along with an item that they felt the guest needed the most at that point in time but did not have it available. The items are commonplace – ranging from a tube of paste, shoe mitt, laptop cleaner, earphones – but the attention to detail and acute guest orientation is what is inspiring awe in the guests. Isn’t this the fine art of luxury hoteliering?

Luxury is not something that can be carried back as a memento in the LV Tote; it is a subliminal interface with the hotel’s Product-Service confluence that stokes the guest’s finer sensibilities and finds a permanent corner in the guest’s memories, bringing the guest back again and again.

The jury is in on what is truly a luxury experience for guests worldwide. Let us closely look at facets – agreed upon by experts and aficionados alike - that truly make a hotel a luxury brand –

1.     Guest Recognition

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!

Guest Recognition through guest mapping by different layers of the hotel staff – from concierge to the GM and in some cases even 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.

2.     Employee Excellence

A hotel is so 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 the chaff from the real grain.

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.

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.

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.

The Doormen at The Raffles, the Bell girls at The Peninsula, 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.

Luxury hotels are Special Places where ‘pinned up’ Concierge bends over backwards to bring true every wish or whim of their special guests – from Pink elephants for the little guest’s birthday; or 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 towards turning the experience into a memorable one for the esteemed guests. “No” and “cannot” just do not exist in the hotel’s 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.

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.

3.     Intimate and Exclusive Personalization

Stay at luxury hotels is all about getting as far away from the cookie-cutter culture as possible and treating every guest as a VIP.

There are hotels that take personalization to a different level – Hermitage Hotel offers personalized stationery to its important guests; at Montage Beverly Hills, guests get to lay their heads on customized pillows embroidered with their initials; just as they do at the ITC luxury hotels in India.

A dynamic, well-kept Guest history is the strongest tool in the Hotel’s armoury for keeping the high-profile guests (as a matter of fact any guest) 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 everything 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.

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.

4.     On top of Trends and Technology

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.

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, super fast, Wi-Fi, without any glitches and free is expected to be a given at the plushest of luxury-laden retreats.

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."

5.     Unique Features

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 shower heads, Jacuzzi tubs, butler & maid service, overnight shoe shine, high-speed WiFi, Cisa safes, individual temperature control to mood lighting control.

6.     The Wonder Wheels

Even the choice of wheels is 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. 

7.     Delighting the Guest with Distinct Dining Experience

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 ones 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.

There is a cluster of hotels that are known for the Chef who presides 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 route. 

These Rock stars promise to delight your taste buds and 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 a special truffle-rich dinner.

The fascinating concept of luxury hotel living is perhaps best described by Susan Kurosawa, one of the finest Travel Writers we know today. She 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 cosy 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.”  

Note 1 – To be continued in Part Two.

Picture Courtesy - Google Images

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Professional Traits that define a Leader!

Leaders in a group, community, company or country have a huge responsibility to carry on their professional shoulders. Always in the public and camera eye, they seem to be working in a glass cubicle and hence must remain answerable, accountable, effective and exemplary.

Leadership is not usually a legacy that we are bestowed upon with. It is a role we aspire to, work towards and attain through experience, intelligence, astuteness and by proving our usefulness for the bigger responsibilities such a stature brings.

In the world of hospitality, there are several opportunities for us to exhibit leadership at both micro and magnum levels – as department heads, Team leaders, General Managers, Regional Heads, Brand Chiefs, COOs and CEOs.

Here are ten professional traits that define a true-blue leader –

1.      Leaders are knowledgeable

Leaders aim to be virtuosos. They train themselves to be an expert in their field; be it keeping a guest room spotlessly spic and span or managing a large hotel chain, ensuring that it stays highest ranked in any rating or recognition.

The bank of knowledge keeps them ahead of the game. In their constant striving for excellence, they endeavour to break the glass ceiling. A leader sets commendable standards with his working style, his know-how and eagerness to present his best, always.

Leaders are clued on to the smallest to the biggest things that happen in their business world. PRS Oberoi, the formidable owner of India’s much-acclaimed and awarded hotel chain named after his family, is known to let his keen eye miss absolutely nothing when on a hotel visit – from a crookedly placed rose bud in a vase to the temperature at which the finest bottle of champagne is served; from the misplaced crease on the Doorman’s epaulette to the worry line on the forehead of another team member.

2.      Leaders are perpetual learners

Leaders know that the place they have reached has not come easy. They are also aware that the road ahead is going to be tough, arduous and competitive. Leaders refuse to rest on past laurels. 

They are mindful of the fact that their skills and the business must evolve in step with the dynamics of the world and the changing times.

Besides; their drive and zeal nudge them to push the envelope of learning, mental growth and physical limits of performance.
One of the finest examples of this is the life lesson left behind by Conrad Hilton. He began his hotel business with Mobley Hotel in Texas – a 40-room property that he bought in 1919. His first high-rise hotel was the Dallas Hilton that he opened in 1925 before expanding into New Mexico. 

However, as luck would have it, Hilton was gravely hit by the Great Depression and was forced to sell off some of his hotels so as to keep away from bankruptcy. But his exceptional hoteliering skills came in handy and he was retained as the Manager of the hotels; which he promptly bought back once the national economic state bettered and he began fairing well.

Hilton went on to build hotels, grow his business admirably; such that Hilton Hotels became the first international hotel chain; no mean feat even today.

3.      Leaders are competitive

Not only with others but with themselves too; in fact, it is more with themselves. They must meet their own high expectation and come up to the level they visualise themselves at. Leaders blossom in good, honest competition. There lies an inherent eagerness to outclass and the passion for charting new courses. The excitement of better, brighter goals keeps them motivated and stimulated.

Leaders admire other skilled workers & specialists and must compete with them to get to greater heights of brilliance. This sense of competitiveness gets going the ball of learning, improving, growing into the state of work awesomeness; to the satisfaction of both the doer and the recipients.

Steve Wynn, despite the hardships he steered his family out of, had the steely will and foresight to create a hotel empire that has brought him worldwide recognition and commercial success. 

Wynn is credited with resurrecting the internationally famous Las Vegas Strip by injecting renewed interest in the area and by creating such iconic properties as The Mirage and The Bellagio, truly among the biggest and the brightest hotels globally.
4.      Leaders are bottom-line friendly

Leaders endeavour to perform such that the outcome of their actions is always profitable. They despise anything that brings loss; in terms of bad service, inability to close the service delivery loop, losing a client, profit deficit, business failure. They are conscious of the fact that for them and others to grow and flourish, the business must remain successful.

What's more, they acknowledge the fact that it is often bad actions, bad planning and bad decisions that lead to bad business. And they wish to be associated with none of these.

Barry Sternlicht, often called the ‘King of hotels,’ put his fervent business acumen, background in real estate, fine judgement for prized properties and deep understanding for creating brands to found and grow Starwood Hotels and Resorts into one of the widest, biggest and financially successful hotel groups.

5.      Leaders respond and resolve

This is one of the most common grounds on which somebody is called a leader. Leaders bring together their learning, experience and attitude to give sensible, effective and optimum resolution to your issues. Because they have the expertise, they need not skirt the issue and hide behind files and faux reasons to escape the matter.

More importantly, they hold in high esteem the tag they have earned on merit and they are not willing to lose that by being seen as laid back, inefficient, careless and non-committed. Hence, leaders always respond – to situations at hand, to people matters and to larger business issues.

One of the nicer aspects of dealing with such people is that even if it is to decline or regret; leaders leave such a great after taste that you wish to do business with them again.

Kemmons Wilson’s personal disappointment with the kind of roadside accommodation that was available for his holiday led him to envision and create the Holiday Inn model of hotels.

Stemming from his own experience, Wilson’s clear cut brief for his Chain was that the properties should be standardised, clean, predictable, family-friendly and readily accessible to road travellers. From 50 hotels in 1958, 100 in 1959, 500 by 1964 and 100th Holiday Inn in 1968; today the Company has grown to be one of the world’s largest hotel chains with 435,299 bedrooms in 3,463 hotels globally hosting over 100 million guest nights each year. 

6.      Leaders are SMART

Leaders espouse the principles of S.M.A.R.T working, both in their approach and the results they show. Their performance is, indeed, specific (leaders are focused), measurable (result-orientation is a key factor for them), attainable (leaders are practical and seldom have their heads in the clouds), relevant (their efforts must bear fruits of business, satisfaction, customer retention, problem-solving for themselves, the Company they represent and the guests) and time-bound (leaders apprehend the importance of time and are aware of the ills of non-deliverability or deliverability in an untimely fashion, which may be as good as task not done).

One of the best-known hotel trivia revolves around the genesis of the word “ritzy.” It is an established fact that the usage of the term stemmed from the name of Cesar Ritz and his namesake legendary hotels he founded in Paris and London.

The celebrated hotelier’s life is noteworthy on so many levels. It is said that he started small and then scaled up to skyscraping heights of success with grit, determination and ingenuity that made him stand apart. Cesar Ritz began his career as a Maître d'hôtel in a restaurant before stepping up the ladder to manage hotels in Lucerne and Monaco. 

He built a reputation for his impeccable taste and instant rapport with wealthy guests thereby developing a profound understanding of the guests’ needs and desires and pioneering the foundation of luxury as we know today – two tenets that he lent to his hotel brand.

7.      Leaders take charge

Have you noticed how there is that one Server who will outperform and over-deliver should things go wrong with your order at a restaurant? He will assume command over the situation, apologise sincerely, rectify the order, make certain that you are not made to wait any longer and cap it off with a comp side or dessert. He is a professional who knows his work, is in control, values you, is adept at saving the reputation of his Company and ensuring that the business stays with them and does not walk over to the Competition.

In a crisis condition, have you taken note of the Security guy or Guest Relations Executive who will go beyond expectation to take stock of the situation, swiftly, and then strategize to provide safety while soothing your frayed nerves with a personal touch. He or she need not be a certified Fire Fighter; it is enough that they are the best in their role, are quick to assume the responsibility of their actions and do not ever mind pulling the weight of others when they fail to match up.

Such professionals have a strong leadership quality even in their everyday work situations. And in times of crises, they are stars that shine out with their rock-solid resolve and stellar skills.

Given this attribute, leaders impart lessons by setting an example, by being there and being available. The irresistible celebrity CEO and Visionary and now the Founder-Owner of Virgin Hotels – Sir Richard Branson has committed to be present at the opening of every Virgin hotel; much like the other great hotelier – Ritz Carlton’s Herve Humler who, allegedly, never misses a hotel opening anywhere in the world, and Ritz-Carlton has so far opened about 90 hotels in 29 countries.   

8.      Leaders are experienced

Several years of hard work – first study, then practice - have gone into shaping the leader into what he is today. The professionals who lead, dip into their rich pool of experience to outshine and often go beyond the brief.

J. Willard Marriott, as the founder of the eponymous chain, has always been considered a doyen of the international hospitality industry. But it is his son, Bill Marriott Jr., who has grown the brand into what it has become today with his insight, inclination towards a franchise model business, innovative spirit, his attention to detail and ideal work ethics.  

Having led the Chain for more than 50 years, from a family restaurant business to a Monolith with 3100 + properties spread across 67 countries, Bill’s imprint on the Chain and the industry is so indelible that Marriott gets ranked as the “best place to work in” year after year.

9.      Leaders are visionaries

Leaders are on a journey – their destination is ‘being the best in their field and roles;’ higher after higher scales of excellence are the milestones. To be such work wizards they strategize to develop new tactics, perfect their old good practices and draw a road map that is onward bound, both in terms of productivity and passion.

Conrad Hilton, one of the finest hoteliers the world has ever seen, was far-sighted and inclusive in his business approach even when his Company had not grown to the mammoth size it is now. 

In 1944, he established The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation with a mission to alleviate human suffering worldwide. Hilton Hotels International Company, followed in his footsteps and furthered his goals by instituting the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize in 1996 and The Conrad N. Hilton Chair in Business Ethics and The Hilton Distinguished Entrepreneur Award in subsequent years.
Leaders are far-sighted and that is why they always manage to rise above the small issues and petty people with their sights aimed at bigger, more far-reaching goals.

10.  Leaders always see the Big Picture

Leaders usually do not sweat the small stuff.

Their sights are set high; hence little everyday battles are simply stepping stones in their way; as it is the war of wisdom, wonderment and world-class achievement that they must win.

Born into the extremely wealthy and influential Astor family, John Jacob Astor IV used his rich background and enviable educational and life experience to establish new standards of luxury in the world of hoteliering. Even today, when an analogy has to be drawn for the finest standards in luxury, it is John Jacob Astor IV’s two best-known creations - Waldorf-Astoria and St. Regis - that are cited as benchmarks. 

It is also known that the legendary hotelier, who the world lost in the tragic sinking of the Titanic, was multifaceted. Astor is the author of a science fiction novel ‘A Journey in Other Worlds’ (1894) about life in the year 2000 on the planets Saturn and Jupiter. With a penchant for scientific innovation, Astor is known to have patented several inventions, including a bicycle brake in 1898, a "vibratory disintegrator" and a pneumatic road-improver. He also helped in the development of turbine engine.

It follows from the lives of these hotel legends that leadership stems from innate passion. It is shaped by the goals one sets for oneself. And it is polished through consistent, diligent and honest practice. There resides the potential to be a leader in all of us. The honed-over-time zeal, determination, conscientiousness and foresightedness arm us well in our aspiration to become an outstanding leader in our chosen field.
 Picture Courtesy - Google Images