Hotels survive on their speed of adaptation and implementation: Ramanathan

In an interview, Lakshmanan Ramanathan, General Manager, The Westin Chennai Velachery, shares his views on the how they have started many initiatives like ‘Saturday Brunch at Home’, ‘Chefs at Home’, safe distancing between tables, increased frequency of sanitisation, specialised training, contact less menu options with QR codes, among others, for incremental revenue in F&B, to stay connected with guests and bring in business.

What marketing strategies are you employing to bring back business in the future?  

While the customers always knew that the hotels are the safest when it comes to hygiene and sanitation, it is more important that we take that message once again in the forefront. Cleanliness & hygiene standards and the confidence that the hotel can build on this basis in the customers mind will play a larger role when guest chooses a hotel to stay or dine-in. Given the current scenario it is even more important to be innovative in the ways to take the message to the customer. As next steps we have effectively utilised Social Media as our biggest catalyst to communicate with our guests. We are sharing relevant and engaging content daily, communicating about our safety and hygiene practices, Food and Beverage and Accommodation offers. We have successfully launched Marriott on Wheels, our F&B home delivery and Takeaway initiative, by also collaborating with delivery partners such as Swiggy and Zomato, which will help us gain the visibility. As Chennai has been witnessing lockdown every Sunday, we have turned it into an opportunity and created “Saturday Brunch at Home” initiative to drive incremental revenue from weekends.  We have been extensively and effectively utilising WhatsApp for business where we create various catalogues, link our hotel videos, and share it with our guests on a day- to- day basis. WhatsApp for business also helps us in generating more queries through social media platforms where guests can easily with a click of a button chat with us and place their orders, giving them more flexibility to customise their orders, contactless online payment solutions etc. For weddings, we have designed lucrative and wholesome packages that caters to guests’ requirements and we have been optimising our social media tools effectively to communicate the same.  Another F&B initiative that we have launched is ‘Chefs at Home’, where our specialty chefs visit the guests’ house and prepares a gourmet meal for them and their family. Such initiative helps us to establish connect with our guests even when they are not able to visit the hotel. 

F&B, MICE and weddings have been huge revenue drivers. They stand impacted now, at least in the short immediate run. How do you plan to recoup this revenue gap to recover and over what horizon? 

We are already witnessing positive steps on the recovery front on the F&B business in various pockets. With increased awareness on the new normal among the customers we are confident that this will only continue to grow. Contact less menu options with QR codes, contact less payments, safe distancing between tables, increased frequency of sanitisation, specialised training of our Kitchen & F&B Associates are some of the steps that will help build confidence in the minds of the consumer. The F&B space in hotels now have a new re-imagined face with various innovative offerings coming to the forefront such as F&B take away options, brunch at home on weekends, boutique weddings with limited guests, etc. The hotel is also offering a packaged deal for weddings which will include F&B, decor as well as stay making The Westin Chennai Velachery a ‘One Stop Shop’ in terms of your events.  Also, we at the Westin Chennai do provide home delivery of your favorite delicacies from all our restaurants, have our chef cook a meal at your home or curate a wedding event at the hotel keeping in line with all government guidelines.

How have you implemented social distancing and the new protection, cleanliness & hygiene protocols? 

As part of Marriott’s Commitment to Clean we have implemented extensive cleaning and hygiene protocols in the hotel. Each touch point that a customer comes in contact with has been thought through and in partnership with our hygiene partners this is now a part of our standard operating procedures as well. Protective shields at reception and other customer interaction spaces, contact less sanitiser dispensers, increased frequency of sanitisation of all customer touch points during a guest journey, etc. are a few to mention here. Safety is the same for guests and our associates and all the practices are also followed for our associates and at the heart of the house areas. We have removed non-essential high touch items from all areas that cannot be disinfected, and we provide disinfecting wipes in every guest room. We are focusing on deep cleaning and sanitising of each room during and after their stays. Marriott has incorporated technologies and the latest developments including electrostatic sprayers, etc. which are being used in all areas of the hotel. We have calibrated our cleaning frequencies during the guest stays, while delivering in-room dining orders and other associate entry into the guest rooms. To make our guests’ journey as contactless as possible, we have realigned in-room collaterals and updated them into a QR code enabled document which can be scanned by the guests’ handheld device to view hotel and room information & services. At our restaurants, we have digitised our menus and payment options and QR codes enabled, keeping our spaces as safe and hygienic as possible. We have implemented social distancing throughout our hotel, from the front desk, to elevators to associate dining room. In addition to all these, extensive trainings to equip all our associates with the latest to embrace the new normal will continue to be our focus.

What measures have you undertaken to build confidence in consumers? 

The current scenario has brought in a sea of change in the consumer behavior and expectations. The basic criteria for any customer to choose a venue depends on the highest levels of cleanliness and hygiene maintained at all touch points by the hotel. We have created an exclusive video highlighting all our steps and initiatives implemented based on the new normal, safety and hygiene standards. Our teams always undertake various measures to stay connected with our guests and build on our customer confidence by showcasing our Marriott’s Commitment to Clean.

With a revenue dent that will go beyond a few months, what are the few cost control measures you are undertaking? 

It certainly has impacted revenues across the board for the industry. While the costs can be curtailed to be more efficient it cannot be completely turned off in a hotel. If nothing else the further emphasis on the increased sanitation and hygiene will only have an impact upwards on the costs. What is key in turn is to focus on the revival of the business and stabilising thereafter. It is important to work with all stake holders and be innovative to being efficient.

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

Consistent engagement with the team has been the key for us at The Westin Chennai Velachery. The better informed the better the teams understand and stay connected. The hotel’s Excomm team including myself have always engaged with the team in person wherever possible and via virtual calls to cascade updates and to also take their feedback. The mental well-being of the associates during a time like this is critical and the first and foremost requirement is to ensure that they are always kept engaged and informed on the developments and progress.  This will play a crucial role in our bouncing back to normalcy as business starts to recover. Forming an ‘associate only’ group on a select social media platform through which we conduct virtual contests challenging one another kept the engagement rolling.  We introduced monthly newsletters which serves as a platform to honor our Take Care Champions even during these trying times and this has been widely appreciated by our associates. 

What changes do you think this pandemic will bring to the Hospitality sector in terms of running a hotel?

Every crisis is also an opportunity and is the same for our industry as well. The Hospitality sector is one of the first industry to have embraced the New Normal as we are an extensive customer focused industry. Our learnings have been quicker as the entire industry survives on our speed of adaptation and implementation to provide a safe environment. Clinical cleanliness and impeccable hygiene standards will continue to remain top priorities to instill a deeper customer confidence long after the pandemic is over. While luxury and elegance will always be part of the industry, the major deciding factor will include overall sanitation & hygiene standards of a hotel as well henceforth.

What is your message for the tourism and hospitality industry partners, as well as to your loyal clientele? 

Innovation in the realm of our customer offerings will be the key and drive the growth for our industry. The recovery is anticipated to be slow and gradual although we all wish it to be much faster. We need to work in unison with all stake holders to the benefit of the industry and come out winning through this phase to achieve a semblance of normalcy. We have to carry through our learnings for the well-being of our associates, customers, guests and the larger industry workforce for a better tomorrow.

What has been your hotel's contribution towards the fight against this pandemic? 

We do contribute in whatever little ways we can. One of them I can mention here is the Blue Cross animals that we support with our food supplies from time- to- time. Also, our associates have been actively engaged in taking care of the community by supporting the needy with financial assistance who have lost their daily wage earnings. To distributing masks and gloves to the underprivileged and distribution of ration to families during these tough times. We have applauded these individuals for contributing to the society in their own ways and mentioned them in our social media campaign called, #TheWestinVelacheryCares


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