In terms of marketing strategy, going geo specific will result in intense reach to the targeted demographics with zero spillover: Amit Kumar

Amit Kumar, General Manager, Courtyard y Marriott Chennai feels that digitally we need to engage with consumer wants and weave stories on consumer experiences rather than just the service offerings. He shares more on challenges and possibilities for the hospitality industry.

Do you have any inspirational stories to share from the lockdown period? 

The lockdown period was a challengingly phenomenal experience for me and for the hotel. It would be unfair for me to singular out an inspirational story, but instead, I’d like to take this platform to express unmatched gratitude for the team of 15-20 Associates who were at the hotel during this high intensity circumstance. Since the property was open throughout, these were our Frontline Heroes. These Associates unconditionally put themselves out there and took utmost care of our guests, our colleagues, and the hotel. They put the priorities of the hotel and the situation beyond their own. They were the connecting thread whilst some of us were stranded remotely. They worked amidst sheer business contingencies, battled the risk and prepared the hotel for the New Normal. And for this, they stand to be my true Inspiration.

How has specifically the digital medium become particularly important for communicating, marketing as well as networking, especially for hospitality?

On the constant change of the digital era both customers and businesses are getting benefits from improved digital communication, especially on reservations, and guest service systems which help to avoid customer service issues. Marketing and networking in the hospitality industry - Customers choose hotels and other hospitality services for a variety of reasons. From location to facilities and perks, as a service provider we have to be sure that we’re providing what buyers are looking for. In property centric digital platforms it starts from GMB(Google my business) listing to social networking we have to be engaging on consumer wants and storytelling on consumer experiences rather than our service offerings. 

How do you plan to implement social distancing and the new protection, cleanliness & hygiene protocols? Which government protocols are you following?

Marriott International has always placed an emphasis on health and safety for our guests and Associates. The COVID-19 pandemic has required us to raise our demanding standards to an even higher level with new protocols for the current circumstances. We are committed to providing our valued customer, with a safe environment that aligns with expert protocols for working to defeat COVID-19. Consisting of in-house and outside experts in food and water safety, hygiene and infection prevention, and hotel operations, Marriott’s Cleanliness Council is redefining our cleaning and safety standards. We continue to monitor and stay up-to-date on the latest guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO), Central and State government guidelines.

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

As revenue dent is been expected for more than six months from the existing forecast & budgets   

Major property centric cost control are taken on:

  • HLP - Daily monitoring of the electricity units, water, Gas and Diesel consumption level to implant energy saving practices.   
  • Renegotiate Annual Maintenance Contracts of lift maintenance, IT Equipment’s and internet service providers.
  • Repair & Maintenance works are majorly done by in-house resources.
  • Payroll saving- by exhausting the excessive and high paid leave balances.
  • Most of the cash purchase has been avoided and monetarising the purchase patterns to listing out essential items which is required for smooth operations.

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

With the transformation in our lives, and the business landscape, our focus towards our People has been primarily centred on Emotional Connect, Empathy and Flexibility. The pandemic has impacted all of us at both professional and personal levels. Leading this unit, I partnered with my Human Resources Leader to drive thorough personalisation, where we focused on maintaining various levels of connect and engagement with all the associates through pulse check calls in remote circumstances, virtual department communication cascades, skip level meetings, wellness check-in e-cards, etc. Learning and Development has taken a stronger foothold, where we leveraged on the paradigm shift to virtual learning, thereby focusing on honing leadership skills through competency development, conditioning personal self-care, training and awareness for our commitment to clean protocols, etc. it was and will remain the priority to drive utmost safety, positivity and inspiration to the teams and pave forward to brighter roads ahead.

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

The pandemic has bought in a revolutionary change in the industry in a short span of time.  Adjusting to this pace of change in the wake to overcome hardships and in line with the NEW NORMAL is much needed to be successful. The entire service flow has to be revamped to a greater height revolving around digitalisation and contactless customisation. Hospital grade disinfection and cleanliness is now the expected standard; for this, identification of High Touch Points and increasing the frequency of disinfecting is the way forward. Visible display of safety protocol in public areas, Educational Marketing in Digital spaces is expected as reassurance of ones protocol towards safety and hygiene 

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

Responding effectively to new environment with an ownership to abiding the guidelines given by experts and staying together in times like these was our commitment. A clean and healthy environment for guest, customers and Associates was offered since the beginning of pandemic. We have been Laser-focused on providing our team with tools, training and resources that are necessary in this environment and to be aligned with the commitment made

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

Safe, hygienic and clean spaces is the new amenity or rather a luxury in current times. Mental and Physical Health must come first; we must invest and provide our Guest and Associates an environment conducive to harness on this. 

  • Our People are our Heartbeat – Personal Safety and Health is of Paramount Importance
  • You Must Move Fast – Adapt, Embrace the Change, and have a Foresight because Focus is Effective
  • Self-Sufficiency Matters
  • Never Waste a Crisis – Learn from this one and be better prepared for the next

What are the main challenges for the hospitality industry in Chennai and specifically Tamil Nadu? How many licences are required to build a hotel? Is it easy to obtain liquor licenses?

  • Government taxation policies - In India, hotels are taxed anywhere between 20 per cent and 25 per cent depending on the state that they are operating in, when other Asian countries are levying 8-10per cent. In addition to this, different tax structures in different states are difficult for tourists to comprehend.
  • Debt funding by the Indian banks - Debt-funding for hotel projects in India is characterised by a relatively short loan term, typically of 10-12 years, but with high interest rates of 12-14 per cent
  • Licensing issues - The current regulatory environment in the country makes hotel development a difficult terrain for owners. Beginning with the land acquisition stage, for which the archaic laws differ from state-to-state, to securing approvals and licenses, an owner faces bureaucratic bottlenecks irrespective of whether he uses a top-down or a bottom-up approach to cut through the red tape, though the former is likely to yield quicker results. There are numerous licenses and approvals (can add up to more than a 60+ in Tamil Nadu) that one needs to get in present times to open a hotel in India leading to loss of time, effort and money. Furthermore, the various bodies giving approvals/issuing licenses tend to work in independent silos, leaving the coordination up to the applicant.

Liquor Licenses:  FL3 license in Chennai is handled by Excise Commissioner, Commissionerate of Prohibition and Excise. Which has extensive process and checklist to be followed along with that below mandatory details have to be shared by the applicant 

  • Correctness of the amounts remitted with reference to the Star gradation and remittance certificate with reference to treasury verification to be sent.  
  • Payment of taxes due to the Corporation/Local bodies) for running Boarding and Lodging/Certificate for the current year) 
  • Authenticity of the documents (i.e. partnership deed, sale deed, lease deed etc. attested copies to be sent)   
  • Actual measurements of the proposed permit room/storeroom with clear boundaries made in the plan itself. 
  • Provision of Fire Extinguisher (both in the Bar and storeroom) 
  • Licence from Local Body authority to run the business for running Boarding and Lodging-current year licence to be sent) 
  • Particulars required under rule 19 of T.N.L.(L&P) Rules, 1981.
  • No.of occupants of the hotel in the last 6 months and average per day. 
  • Restaurant sale value for the last one year. 
  • Details of nearby IMFL shops. 
  • Combined plan of the hotel showing the bar premises.  
  • Authenticated photographs of kitchen;2 rooms with toilet, Restaurant, Conference Hall, Reception, Car Park, Recreation Room and outer.

What now is going to be the direction of your marketing and sales strategy to get the extremely competitive little business in the market that is out there? 

Staycations and travel within the state or neighboring regions would be our initial focus. We see a steady improvement in domestic air travel; highlighting on our award-winning Loyalty Program – Marriott Bonvoy would help us in strengthening the relationship with customers and guest further. Dining at home and contactless delivery service is at its prime – our carefully curated culinary delights are now delivery to your doorstep through Marriott On Wheels -MOW. This concept has been a success. Realigning and arranging customised intimate wedding are other business opportunity in the market now. Referring to marketing strategy – going geo specific will result in intense reach to the targeted demographics with zero spillover. It is crucial to emphasize on safety and hygiene protocols to build the trust back in connoisseur who would want to step out to dine and bring back the joy of travel. 

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