It’s exciting to see the benefits technology is bringing out already: Nicholas Dumbell

In conversation with BW HOTELIER, Nicholas Dumbell, General Manager, St. Regis, Mumbai discusses the launch of a staycation package,stringnet measures and protocols, the future of hotels, the role of technology, and more.

Hotels across the state of Maharashtra are finally getting back to business albeit this time with drastic changes to the sanitation protocols. The pandemic, after all,  couldn’t deter the hotels from running for too long. As hotels resume business, St. Regis Mumbai too is getting back to operations. Veteran hotelier and a manager armed with vast experience, Nicholas Dumbell, General Manager,St. Regis, Mumbai discusses the launch of a staycation package, stringent measures and protocols, the future of hotels, the role of technology and more in an exclusive interview with BW HOTELIER.

How do you view Maharashtra govt’s decision to resume hotels with 33 per cent occupancy?

Obviously that is now 100 per cent from the 1st of September, which we are delighted to see, however, it will be a game changer when Maharashtra follows the national government guidelines and allows us to open the gym and our F&B venues to non-resident guests. So the key things that would really support growing our business and getting our hotel back to normal will be opening restaurants to non-residents and allowing us to serve alcohol in the hotel to our guests. We will ensure utmost safety and security and will have stringent processes, protocols and training in place to maintain social distancing and hygiene standards both with our associates as well as with the guest rules. Our clientele will obviously understand that these rules are for everyone’s safety.

Mumbai is facing the challenge of both Covid19 and the intense monsoon season. How did you go about tackling both?

Covid-19 is the key one as we are used to monsoons and we have set processes in place to address any of the challenges that come with it. For Covid-19, as a part of Marriott International’s Commitment to Clean programme, we have a whole range of different processes, procedures, training online and offline that are in place. We are under this programme to ensure absolute precision in our cleaning and sanitization procedures. The programme is led by a Marriott Global Cleanliness Council which includes in-house and outside experts in hospitality, epidemiology, sanitation and protective health and hygiene technology. Armed with this routine, here at The St. Regis Mumbai, we identified 255 touch points throughout the hotel and worked out how we can minimize and reduce the risk to our guests. Masks, temperature checks, Arogya Setu App are all an absolute must. The most recent interesting and very exciting thing for us is that we have just received the electrostatic sprayer which is a great technology innovation and we are just starting to use it this week onwards. The sprayers take the cleaning or sanitizing chemical and adds a very slight electric charge to it, this charge helps the chemical act like a magnet to attach itself to the surface of the area as it is being sprayed and is highly effective. One thing that I think is most important is training, training and training of the teams. We’re only as strong as our weakest link and make sure everyone understands that what each person does is most important. We at The St. Regis Mumbai have already done 26k hours of training specifically on Covid-19 for our team members. 

Please tell us about some of the new contactless and on-ground arrangements made by St. Regis to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the guests as it launches new staycation packages?

Right from contactless bookings, contactless check-in’s to using QR codes for menu selections and payments processes, Marriott International ensures that every hotel is updated with all the latest modes of contactless experience for our guests. We have also equipped our cars with the barriers between the chauffeur and the passenger and the cars with fully sanitized before pick-up.  As mentioned earlier, all touch-points identified are cleaned with timely precision and our associates have guidelines on interaction with guests. At The St. Regis Mumbai, we have a remote Butler Service with our famed Butler Service Programme to ensure that our guest experience remains as safe and seamless at our hotel.

How do you plan on implementing the new hygiene and sanitation protocols that have been rolled out? 

We’ve been already working on this since lockdown and these processes are in place since April. It has become a part of the way we do things at the hotel. For example, we have a focus area in our daily morning meeting that we focus on and that can be anything from the importance of how we clean our hands to reviewing the QR codes and making sure all our menus are contactless as well as payments are cashless.  It’s become a way of life and a constant part of our day for every member of The St. Regis Mumbai.

What new strategies will be adopted by Marriott for the way forward to garner business?

I think we’ve already done a number of things and probably the most successful thing that’s come out of it is Marriott on Wheels. Our incredible talented chefs curate amazing experiences that are hygienically prepared at the hotel and served contactless to guests in their homes. We are, on average, doing over 25 orders in a day and is now our biggest F&B revenue stream. We also have offers around using the hotel residences as office space on a temporary basis or on a long term basis. I think what we will see from hotels going forward is that our reliance on the business traveler pre-Covid19 will reduce until later this year and our focus on the staycation leisure traveler seeing an increase. Guests have been cooped up in their homes and they want to go out, they want to meet friends or family that they haven’t seen and what better place than to come to but a luxury hotel which stringent rules for safety and sanitization, a luxury hotel with lots of space, a luxury hotel with a terrace where you can spend time outside without any risk of coming in contact with others and contactless F&B offerings. So the staycation piece is where I see the future being over the next few months. We started our delectable Afternoon Tea Ritual at The Drawing Room with the much talked about Champagne Sabering at the iconic Grand Staircase. We have also organized a fun board games evening and other fun activities that guests can enjoy with social distancing in place. Families and close acquaintances who are travelling together are seated on the same table but everyone is well over 2 meters apart from each other.  This allows our guests to get a break from their home chores, enjoy relaxing for a few days at our hotel and enjoy their time within the hotel outside of just being in the room.

Tourism, weddings are some of the key drivers for revenue generation in the hospitality industry. How do you plan to recover the revenue gap in those areas?

Weddings & meetings are a key part of our business here at The St. Regis Mumbai and the reality is that we are still working within the guidelines of the government. The government right now is only allowing us to do meetings with up to 15 people and weddings for up to 50 people, so that’s tough but the exciting and promising thing for The St. Regis Mumbai is when that number moves up to 100, 200 or 1000, we have on offer, so many amazing venues for doing this. I see us hosting weddings at some of our signature F&B venues throughout the hotel like Luna Gusta & By The Mekong and that’s in combination with our already existing social spaces that we can use. So I think it’s really setting us up for success and I am excited to see that we are having a lot of enquiries for the last quarter as well as the start of next year

Fine dining which is the very heart of hospitality is now moving towards contactless dining. How is Marriott ensuring that the glamour and sheen of it remains intact whilst the new health and distancing concerns? 

Obviously, there’s nothing that Covid-19 has changed to fine dining. If our traditional guests would like to see a physical menu, we have created disposal menus that will be discarded after one use. What I do find is that anyone I know is in favour of using their device and they are happy to have their device to be the medium where they check the menu and place their order. The service sequence, the quality of the food, the experience, the mood, the vibe, the lighting, the sound and the scent will be exactly the same. I think it’s incredibly important that hoteliers focusing on the fact that their efforts of trying to make it a sterile hospital experience will not do our industry any justice and we as custodians of luxury need to ensure while that focus remains, we find ways to keep the luxury experience at the highest standards.

With no signs of Covid19 subsiding anytime soon and people’s reluctance to step out from their homes, knowing that hygiene is more critical than it has ever been, when do you expect the hotels to bounce back to normalcy?

This really depends on the sentiment of the guests who use our hotel but we are seeing more and more people gradually come in to stay. About two months ago, no one was interested to come in and stay at hotels unless they had to do so for various essential reasons. Now we are having people come in for weekend stays and have a huge number of enquiries which I think that will snowball. The thing that I have been particularly happy about is the number of guests who have come and stayed in our hotel for a staycation maybe a month ago but have come back again this month. This is a direct testimony of their comfort level and trust with what they see and we are getting a lot of feedback from our guests that they feel safe in the hotel. We are looking forward to them spreading the word with their friends and family.  Most importantly the message that while they need to be careful, The St. Regis Mumbai has all the processes and standards in place to ensure that the risk is minimized and safety is of utmost importance to the hotel.

As new hygiene norms and standards have come into play, what training model did Marriott devise to instill the same in the staff for their everyday working?

This is a combination of the three different trainings, one is a lot of online training which is videos followed by a quiz or a test which everyone needs to hit at least a 90 per cent score mark. The second one is classroom training which we are doing following the government guidelines of social distancing and our training department has never been busier than they are right now. They are very active every day, be it leading the in-classroom training or monitoring the online training closely. Thirdly, and probably most importantly is the day to day training that the teams have of 15 minutes in their departments and making sure that the supervisors and leaders are reinforcing what they learnt in the classroom or online training.  So as I mentioned earlier, over 26K hours’ worth of training at the hotel and that will only grow as Marriott keeps on introducing these new training courses which are addressing any potential risk areas going forward. I attended this training course yesterday with colleagues which was all about the new electrostatic sprayer. Whilst only certain people have received in-depth training on how to function it, the rest of the associates and leaders should have an understanding on how this works, why this is being used and what their role is when it's being used sprayed. A lot of detailing is going into it.

During the current global health crisis, what role do you think technology plays in helping hotels in their recovery?

I think it’s a key area, and the way our technology has evolved in India and in our homes shows us that guests today have become very comfortable with technology. We have the Marriott mobile keys app that helps open the bedroom door with seamless check-in all through your phone as long as you are one of our Marriott Bonvoy members. So I see people feeling very comfortable and safe doing it and enjoy the ease but I think we need to be conscious that once we come out of Covid-19, guests may want the option of using technology or human interaction based on their preference. I think the future of hospitality or luxury hospitality is the offering of the ability to be able to choose what you want to use. Do they like the traditional style which is what luxury is really all about or would they like to go the technology way?  Either way, technology has come a long way and we are investing a huge amount to be ahead of the game. Technology also helps us promote our hotel and F&B offerings as guests share real time at the click of button their experiences with the hotel.  It’s exciting to see the benefits it’s bringing out already.

Thinking long term, do you believe that hotels should invest more towards technology in the post COVID world?

I think that the Indian government has focused on digital in a very big way over the last couple of years where small businesses have already ramped up their interaction with technology. This development has been beneficial to the country and to all citizens during these unprecedented times. Covid-19 has accelerated certain areas, there’s no doubt about it. Not taking into account the new processes related to safety and security with reducing the risk of spread, all other technology that we’re doing is something that was already on the plan that was to be done. For instance, the new areas we are investing in are more in new filtration systems and in the air conditioning system to make sure we have the MERV 13 filters. This filter restricts the virus particles in the air from entering the rooms during circulation. I do see technology growing and I think one of the advantages of being part of a huge organization that has 30 brands and 7000 plus hotels is the economies of scale when it comes to technology. It is much, much easier for a large organization to bring it to the company as compared to individual players able to do it. I think we are ahead of the game and I’m excited to see what Marriott is doing to drive this forward.

What are some of the key lessons and learning that the pandemic brought with it for the industry?

Looking at other revenue streams, like Marriott on Wheels, and making sure we’ve looked out of our comfort zones. Hoteliers tend to be traditional with their strategies and this has pushed everyone to think out of the box.  Some of the other lessons were about how we can do things differently and how we can ensure that all the teams are on board with doing things differently. I think when you look at the people's side of it, it is really not something that any of us expected, none of us expected Mumbai's local train system to stop working except a couple of times a year during monsoons with the floods. However, as a long term scenario, it’s been very different and we need to realize that it’s had an impact on how everyone leads their lives especially in this metro city. Currently, we have over 100 associates staying in the hotel because we can't expect them and we don’t want to put them at risk when they're trying to come in and out of the hotel on a daily basis. But all that takes a lot of planning and a lot of changes in people’s lives. Probably one of the hardest things was when we first started asking members of the team to come back to work was helping them explain to their families about what measures we’re taking to reduce the risk to them because their families didn’t want them to go out. Now the confidence is returning slowly but surely for everyone understanding that we can follow guidelines to keep us safe.  It’s been a huge learning and as we mentioned earlier, technology is also something we brought to the table. The most important learning and it doesn’t really matter what industry it is, is that time and every moment is important, and work is not the only thing you focus on. This has given us time to be with family, time to do things we enjoy and to do the fun stuff. And I think it’s very important for everyone in their lives to realize that.


Around The World