'Being Adaptable in Business is Key to Move Ahead'

Harleen Mehta, VP, Sales Operations of South Asia, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts speaks with BW Hotelier on what is needed to have a successful sales and marketing career in hospitality.

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FROM HOLDING a number of operational, senior sales and marketing roles to being the Vice President, Sales Operations of South Asia in Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, Harleen Mehta has an unrivalled passion for hospitality. This has helped her to chart out a successful sales and marketing career in the industry. Mehta has moved from strength to strength with every professional challenge that has come her way, which has resulted in a firm grasp and understanding of the hotel and hospitality sector in India. A result-oriented and logical hotelier, Mehta has been instrumental in leading and pushing forward the sales performance of Hyatt’s 26 hotels in India. We speak to her in detail on the future growth aspects.

Excerpts:

BW Hotelier: How did you enter the hospitality sector?

Harleen Mehta: I actually entered the industry by fluke. When I was planning to be a Chartered Accountant, a group of friends guided me to pursue a hospitality course in IHM Gwalior. So I joined to make friends in college. I thought I’ll continue my CA but post my industrial training I realised the bug of hoteliering got into me and there was no looking back. I am still making friends in the industry and I haven’t had the chance to get bored.

BWH: Who inspires you the most?

HM: My mother. I always say I don’t need inspiration from outside. I have worked in 3-4 large companies including Hyatt and in every tenure of my career, I have experienced different roles in different departments - operations, reservations, sales and marketing. There's learning inspiration with whoever you work with. Even youngster inspire you, so multiple people help you learn and grow in life.

BWH: What is the best piece of career advice you have been given in life?

HM: There’s no second to hard work in this industry. If you don’t have the passion you cannot survive in this industry. Being adaptable is the key to take your business ahead because the customer profile changes every minute a new face enters the hotel.

BWH: Do you think that the corporate culture is altogether different because they have set duty hours of working?

HM: I wish that was true, but we are having a big drive internally to ensure that women are able to manage their work-life better as it has been a concern. We are implementing a few measures like flexi-hours and work from home, and it stems from our culture of caring for people so they can be their best. However, we had opened 6 hotels in India on 26 November 2010 and today we have 26 hotels operational, so it’s been a very fast growth for us and by the end 2017, we will have 29 hotels. I think it is the question of how passionate we all are about work and life. We are slowly moving towards 8 offs a month. Grand Hyatt Mumbai has adapted this already. The idea is to bring more balance in life.

BWH: What do you hope to achieve in the next two years?

HM: We as an organization are looking to achieve the right market share. Our objective is to keep our teams motivated. In terms of expansions in India, this year, we are opening Hyatt Regency in Lucknow with 206 rooms. Post this is Hyatt Place in Hyderabad in October and Grand Hyatt in Kochi which has a large convention centre. Kochi will be 265 rooms with ballrooms around 22,000 sq ft and 28,000 sq ft. A destination like Kochi is purely leisure and is on our radar. Post this, we are looking to open in Jaipur, Agra, Mcleodganj.

BWH: What describes you?  

HM: Since the day I joined the industry, I was a perfectionist. I have learned over the years that there is nothing known as the perfect world. I like to drive quality because I believe that is important from the industry and professional point of view. Learning has kept me going.

BWH: Has GST impacted the industry?

HM: It is too early to comment on this. I think like every other change that happens, especially like tax reforms, it is very difficult for everyone to understand what it is as it is not just about the organization but also about an individual.

BWH: Skill shortage is a major concern in the hospitality industry. How is Hyatt dealing with it?

HM: As part of EMEA South West Asia division, we have just gone through the extensive learning course with a strategy workshop for our employees. It was practically going back to school where we learnt about strategies, business, profitability, market share and also there were people from various universities to teach us. The company has spent a lot of money for us to get this exposure so there is a lot of skill development. The trainings happen at the grassroot level. Till 2003, with a few hotels there were very few job opportunities but now there are diverse portfolios suitable for different skill sets.    

BWH: In the last couple of years, the hotel industry has not been doing so well. Has it been tough for you to perform?

HM: I would say we have been compared to the benchmarks or what is happening in the other markets. Now as an industry, I personally believe that we are still a very new industry and we’re still not considered as an industry. This is the challenge of the growth. If you remember a decade back, there were only 5 star hotels but today there are all categories available to suit one’s preference-- Hyatt Place, Andaz, Park Hyatt. Delhi itself had 1800 rooms, now there are 10,000 rooms. Our industry fortunately or unfortunately is dependent on the market dynamics whether something happens geographically, environmentally or commercially impacts the industry. Indians travellers are evolving. It also shows a steady stability which is not reliant on external factors but domestic growth also plays a big role.

BWH: How important is the India market for Hyatt?

HM: India is a very important market for Hyatt. We are after U.S and China which is the third for our organisation. As our organization is growing in India, our needs are also changing at a very rapid pace.

BWH: How much is Hyatt involved in technological advancements?

HM: Technology is very important for us. It’s about how we are making work easy for our employees and stakeholders. For us, technology is not about what you only see, it’s also about what we need to ensure our brand has. As an organization, we have invested in softwares, also re-engineered some softwares to suit Hyatt’s requirement-- just to ensure that we deliver a quality product to employees to be able to function well. For example at Andaz, when you check in, the idea is to make the guest sit and have a cup of coffee while we check them in. We have a WhatsApp number to take care of our guest’s needs. We have just introduced online message so while sitting at the airport one can check in. When I reach the hotel I can just take the keys and walk up to the. So there are multiple tests happening at the beta stage and again it all depends on the customer reaction as at the end of the day it needs to benefit the customer.

BWH: How important is customer feedback?

HM: We try to bring in more and more guest experience and we call them the empathy round of questions where we encourage small changes in the hotel. We encourage our teams to interact as there is nothing better than getting a direct feedback from the client. From the customer point of view, whatever outward change you bring in, it should bring a positive experience for the customer.


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