Formula for Running a Successful Hotel - A case study - Part 3 - Soul Curry
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.
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!
L. Aruna Dhir
Director - Public Relations