Rethink hospitality for better customer experiences: Priya Paul

The fifth day of BW HOTELIER IHA 2020, began with the keynote speech from Priya Paul, Chairperson, Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels. ASPHL took several innovative steps to overcome the pandemic, reimagining F&B, and food deliveries, rethinking customer experiences, staying engaged with customers, supporting senior citizens, and providing free food.

Undaunted by the novel coronavirus, BW HOTELIER hosted the fifth edition of Indian Hospitality Awards and Summit. This time though a one-of-a-kind virtual event, with the theme ‘Reimagining Indian Hospitality’.

IHA hosted by BW HOTELIER is a unique initiative to bring the visionaries, hoteliers and experienced people together that will not only change the way the world thinks of hospitality but also harmonize creative and sustainable solutions in the midst of uncertainty. 

Resonating the message of concerted efforts, Priya Paul began the address by thanking BW HOTELIER team for upholding and organizing the awards and summit undeterred by the pandemic. She says, “It gives me great pleasure to be with you all at the fifth BW HOTELIER Indian hospitality Awards and Summit 2020. I extend my heartiest commendations to BW HOTELIER because it's absolutely a herculean task to do such a virtual summit defying all odds with 200 + speakers and an audience across the world. I would also like to congratulate the entire Indian hospitality industry for showing their amazing spirit, to fight these challenging times and to show absolutely the most amazing spirit across the country. Hoteliers, restaurateurs, vendors, suppliers, culinary experts and every single team member across all the companies that are represented here today stepped up and reimagined Indian hospitality in 2020 and beyond.”

Sharing lockdown stories, Paul reminisces, “When I look back to March 2020 for me personally, our company Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels, it was at a complete high. We were excited, and I was particularly proud of what our team at ASPHL had achieved, especially over the past few years. In March 2020, we were looking at 22 hotels with 2000 rooms owned and managed and a healthy pipeline of about 1500 rooms under development across our three brands. The Park Hotels, The Park Collection and Zone by the Park.”

She further states, “I am proud to see how these hotels have made, distinctive identity for themselves, being uniquely Indian brands that have developed over the past 50 years. Our recently acquired confectionery business was also doing exceedingly well.   We were in the middle of the roadshow to do our IPO which was just three and half to four weeks away. All that came crashing down on March 24, 2020 and we had to pivot ourselves and pivot the business completely. From running a 24/7 business to staying at home, from 90 per cent occupancy to zero. It's been a huge learning curve.”

In her speech, keynote speaker Priya Paul proceeded with the immediate decisions taken by ASPHL with the unforeseen, unprecedented crisis. She walks the audience through the pillars that helped her take quick decisions in a never anticipated crisis. 

Paul says: “At ASPHL we looked at our seven brand pillars and looked at reimaging, resetting, and restarting those. The opening was very gradual and there were new things that we all are responding to every time and every week and every month. Our teams are really looking at each customer, to see how we can continue to deliver anything but ordinary experiences. We used design to rethink all our customer experiences and introduced QR based menus, contactless interaction, online payments, and health & hygiene shield programme. So really using design in a unique manner to look at the entire customer experience and customer interaction. Ruling India's nightlife and entertainment scene for almost 50 years made our teams very anxious to continue with that live experience which is very intrinsic to our brands.” 

Furthermore, she adds “Another pillar is delivering food reimagined and certainly all of us had to imagine, reimagine our food and beverage business in this pandemic. So, there are deliverables, delivery during the lockdown, immunity boosting recipes. Chefs were engaging with all those types of things and then going forward and taking a deeper engagement with sustainable food sourcing and sustainable living from some of our food brands. The F & B team has worked very hard and some of these things will be rolled out in the months to come.”

On how some businesses continued, she adds, “Flurys our 90-year-old Swiss confectionary, was faced with the closure of all 40 of its outlets in Kolkata. They quickly realised there was a market in delivering all these essential commodities such as bread and cakes directly to customers, so they had a lockdown for just one day. The business has run very successfully during these past few months.”

Paul emphasizes on the need for communication between the hotel and guests during such times. She says, “One of the things is communication which is essential during time such as this. Our guests and teams have been constantly talking to each other, sharing stories. Many guests posted that they were missing The Park videos. And we liked some of them so much that we started creating a quarantine chronicle on social media to share these stories. Customers are social beings who want to be engaged, they want to come back and experience the brand in multiple ways. I think that's particularly important for an urban brand such as ours so that you continue that engagement and we have built over 50 years of hospitality and people want us in their lives.” 

Paul also urged the audience to take philanthropic steps of kindness and empathy towards the poor and needy during such times. Sharing the initiatives undertaken by her group, she says “I am extremely proud that our teams worked to help those in need particularly in the first few weeks and months of this pandemic. Especially ‘The Park Heart of Hope’ which was a neighbourhood service initiative to support senior citizens. Our team starting in Bangalore and then Hyderabad realised that senior citizens could not move out of their houses and they needed help to buy medicines and groceries and food. So, our teams actively reached out through the people they knew and then that set it off. And I think that was a very unique way to help people and of course we were giving free food to workers, to frontline workers and poor labourers.” 

Applauding the efforts taken by the Indian hospitality sector amidst the pandemic, Paul remarks: “It’s been very gratifying to see at the national level  the entire industry has been working together with both at the centre and at the state level and really sensitising people to the economic losses and job losses.”

Sending out the message of resilience to the hospitality sector in such testing times, Priya says “We have received some support but it's certainly not enough to counter the severe shock that the travel, tourism and the hospitality industry has faced and is facing. As we open there will be many more pain points and many more issues that we will face in the next year and a half and we will all have to continue to work together. There is much work to be done to make this a healthy and sustainable industry. I am however an optimist and I believe in this industry and the people who are the pillars of it. I believe in creativity, intelligence, and resilience. Many of us have faced tough cycles in the hospitality business and we know that we must keep on working on it. We know we have to learn the new norms; we know we have to adapt quickly and just persevere. And I know we will succeed eventually.”

Priya Paul yet again thanked BW HOTELIER for the opportunity and appreciated the meticulous hard work put to make it one of the largest hospitality awards and summits. She adds, “I would like to celebrate the success of the BW HOTELIER Awards. This is the fifth edition with a record number of 900 nominees for this year's awards. With a jury of about 36 members across India they must have had a tough time looking at all those 900 applications, sorting them out using a very rigorous methodology to announce the winners. I am looking forward to seeing the results.” 

“Everyone's a winner and we must celebrate all the 900 people. An award ceremony chooses a few but everyone needs to be celebrated and everybody in the hospitality industry needs to be celebrated. Thank you once again BW HOTELIER for creating this absolutely unique platform for the industry. My congratulations and thank you for inviting me to be a part of it,” she concludes.  


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