‘Collaboration, commitment and communication assisted us in getting through the pandemic’

In an exclusive conversation with BW HOTELIER, Satyajeet Krishnan, Area Director – North & General Manager of Taj Mahal, New Delhi shares more about the new protocols, technology and innovation adopted by the hotel.

Located in the heart of the national capital, Taj Mahal, New Delhi recently unveils it elegant new lobby and the Emperor Lounge after a stylish makeover. The iconic property is under its next transformations phase and is expected to showcase the revamped version by the end of the year. Taj Mahal Hotel offers a new touchless experience for guests keeping the new norms in mind. In an exclusive conversation with BW HOTELIER, Satyajeet Krishnan, Area Director – North & General Manager of Taj Mahal, New Delhi shares more about the new protocols, technology and innovation adopted by the hotel. He also talks about the current scenario of the hospitality sector in terms of operations, associates and revenue drivers of a hotel. On a lighter note, he chats about his favourite dish from 'Machan', the redefined restaurant of the Hotel.

How has your journey been in the hospitality industry over the years?

I have been with IHCL for over 25 years. I started my journey at the iconic Taj Mahal, New Delhi at the Front Office and it has been my privilege to be back at the Hotel, over 7 years ago, leading a wonderful team of colleagues. Its been an exhilarating journey across three decades and I have had the privilege to work across geographies in IHCL’s celebrated Hotels, Palaces & Resorts such as Rambagh Palace, Jaipur, Taj Holiday Village, Goa and Taj West End, Bengaluru to name a few. Each hotel is a destination and a journey in itself. 

I strive to achieve excellence daily with my teams in a continuously evolving world with passion and dedication to deliver the highest service level and create unforgettable memories for our guests. At the same time the business metrics are critical to ensure that the business remains healthy and delivers value for all stakeholders. Continuous learning, evaluating trends, incorporating them in business process, guest experience and showcasing the hotels through craftsmanship, creativity and innovation are immensely rewarding. 

With over decades of experience in the hospitality industry, what changes do you think this pandemic has brought or I must say forced the hospitality sector in terms of running a hotel?

The travel and tourism industry was at a virtual standstill for few months, which had a tremendous impact on the sector. However, with the recent phase-wise unlocking across the country, business has shown gradual and promising signs of improvement. We are witnessing new trends like Workcations, Staycations, Intimate Weddings, healthy pick up in domestic leisure travel and the rise of Hospitality at Home services. 

Another change that we can see is that guests have become not only more assiduous of hygiene and safety, but have also accepted the new normal. The safety and health of our guests and associates is of utmost importance to us. The augmented and exacting new standards as articulated in Tajness A Commitment Restrengthened, our training and learning & development modules, service design and cost management have been realigned to enable us to continue to deliver exceptional guest experiences that have been a hallmark of Taj Mahal, New Delhi. 

Our Hotels have been agile, our teams resilient and synergized and we have enhanced our financial prudence to manage the prevailing scenario. As articulated by our Managing Director & CEO, we have devised the R.E.S.E.T. strategy to manage and overcome the challenges due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The hospitality industry has been barely surviving due to the pandemic’s impact. Now, with restrictions lifted, how has The Taj Mahal Hotel planned to reopen in the new world order?

These are extraordinary times that call for resilience, agility, planning and monitoring various aspects of our business. For over a century, IHCL has been the pioneer and custodian of authentic Indian hospitality. Embedded in our DNA is our commitment to ensure the comfort of guests with the greatest sense of responsibility and care. 

Taj Mahal, New Delhi has been under extensive renovation since July 2019, reinventing itself to offer the essence of timelessness and heritage of Lutyens’ Delhi, coupled with contemporary flair and impeccable service the hotel has been renowned for. I am very excited to share that the iconic Taj Mahal, New Delhi reopened to an elegant new lobby and the Emperor Lounge after a stylish makeover. And, the Capital’s original and much-loved dining destination Machan has opened in an all- new avatar that is a confluence of the old and the new. The next phase of the transformation will include the redesigned rooms and The Chambers – expected to be completed by end of the year.

The challenges we face are unprecedented, but we believe the best way for us to demonstrate our commitment is to give our guests and associates the assurance of exacting standards of safety and hygiene. We have augmented our already stringent protocols as we look forward to welcoming our guests to relive the legendary magic of Tajness. 

We have implemented multiple SOPs across all our hotels, including Taj Mahal, New Delhi, in accordance with guidelines published by the World Health Organization (WHO), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and the Government of India. IHCL has also been working in close consultation with our longstanding global partners, who are pioneers in providing smart sustainable solutions for cleanliness and hygiene for the hospitality industry.

From zero-touch check-in’s and check-out’s, digital invoicing, online payment options and QR codes to digital menus in restaurants, our Hotels have incorporated digital transformation that will further ensure social distancing for both, guests and associates, while maintaining secure and seamless services. These digital initiatives come on the back of Company’s latest foray into the food delivery service from its iconic restaurants via a dedicated mobile app. 

Through Qmin, qurated quality quisine, our legendary brands House of Ming and Machan continue to delight guests with the signature flavours in the comfort of their homes/ offices. Qmin gives guests a differentiated delivery experience with an enhanced focus on maintaining stringent protocols of safety and hygiene. This includes contact-less delivery and the mandatory use of protective gear for delivery executives in extremely sanitized vehicles. The packaging will be eco-friendly utilizing bio-degradable materials, and with customized insulation boxes to preserve the food whilst being delivered. 

Kindly tell us about the new safety, cleanliness and hygiene protocols implemented at the hotel?

The new experience, which begins from the moment the guest steps into the hotel car, has been carefully thought through. Mandatory temperature checks are conducted with all guests and associates entering the hotels. Check-in and check-out formalities are processed digitally as far as possible in order to have minimum contact. All pieces of baggage arriving inside are sanitized first. Common and high-touch areas of hotels like cars, lobbies and elevators witness more frequent and industrial strength disinfectants being used as part of an escalated cleanliness routine. 

Restaurants and banquet areas have fewer tables and self-serving buffets are suspended. Menus are also largely digital or single use, with greater emphasis on wellness-oriented food sections for healthier meals and greater level of immunity.

With initiatives such as the introduction of QR codes for menus, contactless billing, well-distanced seating, sanitization stations, protective gear for our associates and enhanced training, to name a few, we ensure adherence to the guidelines laid down by the authorities as well as those articulated in Tajness A Commitment Restrengthened. 

At Machan, we have installed a state-of-the-art Swedish air purification system to control PM10, PM2.5 & PM1 as per WHO guidelines to mitigate the spread of harmful microbes and also to maintain the Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) as per the prescribed norms given by ISHRAE and ASHRAE. In addition, the H13 HEPA filter has been installed, is a medical-grade air filter, capable of removing a minimum of 99.95 per cent particles at MPPS (0.21 microns) to maintain PM2.5 levels below 25mg m3 and to arrest air borne virus carriers via return air grill. 

Which all new technology and innovation has the hotel adopted to maintain social distancing?

Harnessing the power of digital has become even more crucial in times like this. IHCL has recently introduced a new digital solution ‘I-ZEST: IHCL’s Zero-Touch Service Transformation’ which is an enhanced digital layer over our existing systems for safety of both, our guests and associates. The new digital features of I-ZEST allow guests to interact and engage with IHCL hotels by minimizing the physical touch, but maximising quality of service. The digital enhancements span guest experiences, from pre-arrival to departure offering zero to minimal touch options through innovative facilities such as digital pre check-in registrations to contactless guest access to their rooms via optional digital key cards, while maintaining the highest levels of safety and security. Check-outs are also optimized with online invoicing services without the need to use card machines. Additionally, Digital menus installed across restaurants facilitate dining orders through QR codes and digital payments.

I-ZEST’s technology-driven measures are also extended to employees, with hotel pre-opening processes now being driven through mobile-application based checklists, a contactless attendance system that uses closed-group facial recognition and QR codes as well as an HR automation platform for leaves and queries, among others.

F&B, MICE, and weddings are huge revenue drivers. What is your cost-cutting strategy to ensure smooth running of the hotel?

With the illustrious address and location, warm services and culinary expertise at Taj Mahal, New Delhi, the hotel has been a preferred destination for meetings, global summits, distinguished events and special celebrations. 

As far as weddings are concerned, over the last few months, we have stayed connected with our guests through our focussed communication outreach and by introducing initiatives and offers that catered to their demand in the prevailing scenario. With the auspicious weddings dates from October onwards, we have wedding related events booked at our Hotel.

Creative methods for driving revenue have always been the expectation but it's no exaggeration to say that a prolonged downturn and slow recovery has made us enhance our focus on finding ways to leverage what is already in place in totally new ways.

We have introduced new offers based on guest demand. The growing demand for staycation, workcation and dining out, in a safe, warmly serviced and trusted ambience, is clearly visible in the booking trends that we have observed. Our staycation offers, Urban Getaways and New Beginnings, ensure a seamless and memorable stay. It provides guests with a multitude of benefits including daily hotel credits, discounts on certain services and guaranteed room upgrades among others. We are curating highly customised offers that meet the guest needs for capacious and sanitised spaces, warm services and the assurance of augmented safety and hygiene measures.

Restaurants and fine dining have been a must-have for any hotel of good standing, but now it seems in-room dining will be preferred by in house guests. How do plan to run the operations smoothly keeping the new norms in mind?

The safety and well-being of our guests and associates remain our utmost priority. With initiatives such as the introduction of QR codes for menus, contactless billing, well-distanced seating, sanitization stations, protective gear for our associates and enhanced training, to name a few, we ensure adherence to the guidelines laid down by the authorities as well as those articulated in Tajness A Commitment Restrengthened. Self-service buffets have been discontinued and our restaurants offer an eclectic a la carte menu. A state of the art kitchen and culinary infrastructure, combined with the robust training and augmented safety and hygiene protocols, ensures a seamless dining experience for our guests. We also cater to customised requests of our guests for unique dining experiences, across the hotel – in indoor and outdoor spaces, with special focus on safety and hygiene. 

We have been getting very encouraging and positive feedback from guests who have stepped out of their homes after months only to experience our legendary restaurants such as Machan, House of Ming and Emperor Lounge at Taj Mahal, New Delhi. We are deeply privileged by the trust and patronage of our guests.

For in-room diners as well as at Machan, our culinary team has re-vamped menus with healthier options, including gluten-free, dairy-free, low fat, vegetarian, vegan and organic options.

Which is your favourite dish and desert from Machan? Why?

This is always a challenging one since the all-new menu at Machan has a delectable repertoire of flavours and unique offerings such as Tehucan Salad, The Ocean Turns Purple and the Himalayan Goat Cheese Pine Cone. The taste of nostalgia has me pick the Machan Sandwich, Kathi Keebab Kaziranga and the Bull’s Eye!

What is your favourite go to place in terms of leisure in the city?

The Lodhi Garden is a personal favourite and my family enjoys the outing very much as well.

As the head of your hotel, how do you keep the employee morale up during these tough times? 

The agility, resilience and synergized approach in which our management and associates have managed the situation over the last few months is a true testament of the glorious legacy of IHCL and the House of Tata’s

My management mantra, for my team at Taj Mahal, New Delhi and hotels in my portfolio, revolves around empowerment, teamwork and communication. I believe that each associate who operates as a business manager greatly contributes to the achievement of organizational goals & aspirations. Collaboration, commitment and communication (3Cs) are key to ensuring a well-managed work environment and these three tenets have assisted us in getting through the pandemic. With an untethering spirit to overcome obstacles, as a team, we are able to come out of this situation - stronger and better prepared. 

What are the key lessons for the future to be learned from fighting this pandemic?

The one important lesson is the absolute need to be agile and responsive from across levels and functions.

The importance we place on the safety and well-being of guests and associates remains a top priority and the primary concern at the centre of this pandemic crisis. 

IHCL has been at the forefront leading the fight against the global pandemic extending hospitality and providing meals to those in need during these trying times. The commitment and care towards the community, and our stakeholders, remains at the heart of what we do.

The F&B domain has an important role to play in accelerating the process of recovery through innovations and introduction of service delivery. A return to excellence with a tactical spirit is currently essential to stimulate the buoyancy of the industry that is working hard towards the new appearance to normal. 

The growing development and implementation of technological advancements and service innovations will hold the industry in good stead in the times to come.

Tags assigned to this article:
IHCL IHCL hotels Taj Mahal Hotel New Delhi Machan


Around The World