It is important for a hotelier to be extremely empathetic, committed and possess clear communication: Saleem Yousuff

In a fun-filled conversation with BW HOTELIER, Saleem Yousuff, Senior Vice President- Operations, South, IHCL, talks about his journey in the hospitality industry and gives pointers for aspirants to excel in this field.

Hotel management has been a great higher education platform with a balanced mix of day-to-day business activities and customer service. The nearest to your role is that of a Skipper of a large cruise liner, just that here you run a fleet. What attracted you the most to pursue a career in hospitality?  

My journey with hospitality started almost three decades ago when this industry was a very niche segment. Even as a child, I was always a people-person and an ardent believer of learning from people by being amidst them. In the due course of time, my journey took a spontaneous path towards hospitality and I started my stint in the industry that was an ideal match to my penchants. Over the years, the industry has not only seen growth and competition but also ensured to keep guest centricity at the heart of everything we do. The pleasure of curating memorable luxury experiences for guests shall always remain the most distinctive aspect of this industry.

How did you get your start in hospitality and how has that career lead you to your current position at IHCL/Taj? 

The hospitality industry is one of the most welcoming and warm industries that gives everyone an equal opportunity to grow as long as an individual is driven by a deep sense of passion, commitment and willingness to learn. My journey with IHCL began from Bangalore and eventually over the years scaled into various roles from front office to food and beverage departments also. With every new role, came new challenges and new perspectives. I have forever been a believer to have faith in the organisation, its management and core values to steer an individual's growth. The organisation had clear plans of crafting the career ladder while I invested my focus and persistent dedication towards the tasks in hand. This philosophy has helped me over the years and continues till today.  

Do tell us a little about the current hospitality market scenario in the Southern States of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh and how have your hotels been performing?  

Since the pandemic, there has been a change in the market scenario in the Southern States of India similar to the entire business impact across the globe. While we faced certain unprecedented challenges, we have been focused on demonstrating our commitment with the implementation of enhanced precautionary measures to give greater confidence to our guests. The already existing stringent protocols have been augmented for our guest to experience the legendary magic of Tajness restrengthened. Since the fatigue of being indoors has set in, we have been receiving encouraging response from our patrons across our hotels in various regions.

What according to you would be critical for the industry to bounce back – from survival to revival? Which segments are going to drive the performance of hotels in this region?  

To revive from the impact of the pandemic, it is vital for the industry to inspire consumer confidence. Delivering the true customer service driven by the ethos of the organisation and meeting the customer’s expectations amidst these unprecedented times is crucial to build the confidence. Since travel has never been so sought after and been more exhilarating than it is right now. Dream, Drive, Discover, Delight (4D)–  is an offering that gives our guests the perfect opportunity to drive with families and friends to discover, unwind, and be one with nature once again. While the leisure segment has been the key focus during the recent past, to encourage the travellers to take a short and much-needed break, our hotels have been offering Urban Getaways offer.  Weddings have evolved recently and continue to be momentous occasions, and the ‘Intimate Timeless Weddings’ campaign launched at our hotels fuses the beauty and traditional essence of an Indian or international wedding in unique locations with the assurance of the highest standards of safety and personalised services. Adding to the repertoire of culinary experiences - Qmin App has been launched, that is available on both Google Play Store for Android users and App Store for iOS users. The user-friendly interface enables guests to choose their favourite cuisine from celebrated restaurants.

Coming out of the COVID-19 lockdown, people are eager to book new excursions and make good on their postponed vacation plans. How prepared are your hotels to provide the traveller with new hospitality experiences/protocols that shall also keep them safe and protected?

Considering the dynamic requirements of the situation in hand and the customers' expectations, there have been multiple adaptation implemented at the hotels. Our enhanced precautionary measures include thermal screening of all employees and guests, intensive hospital level sanitisation as well as new contactless processes and social distancing measures. The implementation of I-ZEST is underway in our hotels which is a suite of our digital solutions to offer zero touch experiences to our guests for check-in, check-out, billing etc. These solutions harness technology in a meaningful way to ensure minimal contact while offering the sincere care, warmth and guest-centric service that we have become synonymous with.  

Suitable for all kinds of gatherings, our hotels are also providing their guests an opportunity to enjoy sumptuous meals under the sky under their 'The Sky is Yours' offer. Sky Dining Experiences include alfresco dining and waterside venues across Taj, Vivanta, and SeleQtion hotels. Delectable meals, when combined with awe-inspiring backdrops, create delightful experiences. Inspired by global flavours, the signature hospitality offered in ethereal spaces make for a memorable experience. Suitable for all kinds of gatherings, be it a romantic meal for two, intimate gathering, or a gala, our hotels assure of maintaining all standards of safety protocols, including hygienic and social distancing.

To augment our culinary offerings in the city to address a growing demand for online gourmet food delivery services, Qmin was launched across multiple cities. Guests can order from our iconic restaurants in Chennai from Taj Coromandel, Taj Connemara, Taj Fisherman's Cove Resort & Spa & Vivanta Chennai, IT Expressway; Coimbatore and Cochin in Southern India. We are working with a dedicated delivery fleet and maintain the highest safety standards which include contact-less delivery and mandatory use of protective gear for delivery executives in thoroughly sanitised vehicles. Qmin meals are delivered in eco-friendly and bio-degradable food packaging and insulation boxes.    

To Saleem Yousuf, what makes a good hotelier? What has been your success mantra?  

The hospitality industry is extremely dynamic and robust. While there are a varied genres of people in different roles, it is important for a hotelier to be extremely empathetic, committed and possess clear communication. An individual needs to be approachable in this industry depicting warmth and care. A passionate and organised individual, portraying eminent leadership skills is imperative in hospitality. My success mantra has always been to place the guest ahead of everything I do and to align every thoughtful action to make a memorable experience for them with the warmth of our traditional Indian hospitality.

As a hotelier with decades of extensive experience, what would be your message to the aspiring hotel professionals?  

The young talent of this country is inevitably very knowledgeable and endowed with a plethora of skills. An ideal realisation of this dynamic diversity that they carry, can be carved into the most successful individuals in this industry. For someone who is zealous to take challenges and motivated by the exhilaration of welcoming new experiences every day, shall be a flourishing hospitality professional in the years to come.

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