We are Working on bringing New Guest Experiences: Ashwani Nayar, GM Crowne Plaza

In an exclusive interaction with Prerna Lamba, the General Manager of Crowne Plaza Greater Noida, Ashwani Nayar talks about the recent developments and initiatives that the hotel is bringing in to establish itself as a hotspot of Delhi NCR. He also shares his thoughts on the current hospitality and tourism industry of the country.

You have been in the hospitality industry for over 3 decades with multi-brands. How do you leverage your global experience to dominate in its space as the General Manager? 

First things first, I have absolutely no ambition or aspiration to dominate the space. If I can use or leverage my knowledge and experience, that I gained while working for different places in the world and learning from so many companies, to create a better future for the industry. And if I can contribute more for my stakeholders, which is the hotel team, investors, managing companies that I work for and most importantly the guests, to their experience then I think I am doing the right thing, at least in my mind.

How do you position Crowne Plaza in Delhi-NCR and compete with other significant players in the hospitality industry?

Crowne Plaza Greater Noida is a very uniquely positioned hotel. I feel we are one of the front runners of being a destination hotel as a convention and a MICE center. Whilst we are within the Delhi NCR zone yet the location, position and accessibility of the hotel give us a great advantage or even offering a bit of a destination appeal. So, not exactly being a city hotel, but being a sort of a destination. And if I may even take the liberty to say like a destination resort which is so close to the city, it functions very well as a business hotel. At the same time, it offers a great getaway for someone who is looking to do a destination wedding, destination conference, or even for a simple weekend staycation.

What are the top 5 USPs of Crowne Plaza?

The single biggest USP for the hotel, of course, is it's a very unique location on the outskirts of the Delhi NCR market. Whilst we service, very strongly, a lot of business and manufacturing hubs in and around the Greater Noida zone, we are also servicing the India Expo Mart which is the primary hub for larger exhibitions and congresses that happens in the country. Apart from that, as I mentioned earlier, it's a great getaway for a destination. I think that unique positioning no one can take away from us.

The second thing which is a very strong element of the hotel is the space or area which we cover. We are built over 8.5 acres, and within that, we provide about 51,000 square feet of banqueting, indoor and outdoor venues. We have three large venues, about 5,000 square feet pillar-less halls. So that kind of infrastructure in the MICE segment for conferences, weddings, etcetera, I think a very few hotels can boast of. Combined with the inventory of 400 rooms gives us great positioning again.

Another area where I feel is a big strength for the hotel is our food & beverage and dining experiences. We have three restaurants and bars with all-day dining, specializing in multi-cuisine. Apart from these, we have two specialty restaurants, one of them serves Chinese & Italian cuisine and another one which we recently opened Spice Art is probably one of the only North Indian authentic fine dining restaurants that may have opened in the past 25 to 30 years. Because if you see, most of the Indian fine dining restaurants have come into the progressive space. The restaurants are very progressive but no one has focused on the authenticity of the North Indian Punjabi, Awadhi and Mughlai cuisine n the fine-dining space. It is something that we bring as a USP to this hotel. We're also going to open very soon, an exclusive Korean and Japanese restaurant, which again given the Korean Japanese community manufacturing hubs around greater Noida, we would be the first hotel to have that cuisine in the hotel.

Another USP, I feel for the hotel comes primarily from the fact that we are amongst the first hotels to always embrace new technology. The recently opened virtual reality experience center is the first in the world in any hotel. To be literally on the outskirts of Delhi NCR, and then to take a global lead in technology solutions, think that's a big USP for any hotel. Whilst virtual reality has been used in different areas, however, this is the first time somebody is going ahead and opening an experience center. This also gives us the ability not only to map the destination but also to map it with a global platform with a network of suppliers and vendor partners. With the direct interface, the technology that is being used is 8K which has not even come into the United States at the moment. And this is the first time this technology is being used anywhere in the world.

Another USP, I personally feel very strongly about, is that we have pledged as a team in this hotel to go plastic-free. From glass bottles to clean wrap to a lot of other areas where plastic or single-use plastic is being used in the hotel, we are eliminating that from our day to day lives. We are even educating our vendor partners to do the same. I think, 2020 for us is going to be the year where we are going to win our fight against single-use plastic in this hotel and we really hope that others can learn and see from us. We have identified some 360 odd touchpoints where single-use plastic is used in a normal hotel scenario. We have already eliminated a very large portion of that and are in the process, as we speak, the larger and the bigger ones.

Tell us about your management style?

My personal management style that I feel is that I don't have a fixed style of management. It kind of adapts and adopts the situation which I'm dealing with. So rather than come in and dictate my terms that this is the way things will be, I personally feel that before you adapt and adopt, you need to be adapted and adopted by your team. Singularly, that's my management style, that I come in, try to be adapted, be adopted by the people or the team who are going work with me. And then I adapt and adopt the situation.

We marry what it has been and what it will be, creating a vision for ourselves and then work towards that. Sometimes, you do need to take certain decisions which are called executive decisions when there is not a consensus available or in certain situations gut feel prevails, you have to take that call. But then I am mindful of the fact that if I do take that call, then that is on me. Apart from that, building consensus, working together with the team, letting people breathe, learn and grow. That is how I like to work with my team.

With the well-informed guests nowadays, how do you enhance their experience at Crowne Plaza?

There are different ways of doing it. One, we are blessed to be a part of IG as a management company. There's a huge thing tank that is constantly working to better the guest experience. So we adapt those technologies or those new ways of doing things.

The most important thing that I personally feel is that we need to define what we do into two buckets. The first one is the basics, the fundamentals, and the other one is the wow elements. Many times I've seen hotels trying to attempt the wow or the aspirational items, but they forget that the basics needed to be done too. So there's no point in giving someone a 550 thread count toweling experience when you can't even provide basic hot water.

So there are some things which are the basics of how you receive, greet and make a person comfortable in your hotel. And after you've done that, put in that wow element of personalization, recognition, catering to people's individual needs, as far as possible. And giving them an experience that they're going to try and remember. That I think can only come from the fact that if people are hospitable from their hearts. It cannot be taught or forced as an injection into anyone. These are things that come in straight from whether you have it to deliver or you don't have it to deliver.

I am very fortunate that I have a team that loves doing what they do and I love what I do. And together we are here to serve our guests, we love to see the smile on a guest's face. If you're able to achieve that, at the end of the day, I think we go back happy that we've done our day's work and we come back excited about the next day that we going to bring that smile to another guest.

According to you, how is the hospitality industry performing currently? What are some of the hiccups that need to be addressed?

If I talk about the hospitality and tourism industry in the country, we still have a long way to go. When I came back to India from my stint in Thailand, I was speaking to one of the industry captains who also heads one of the biggest tourism associations in the country. They were having their annual meet and I mentioned that I wish I had registered for it. To which he said, doesn't matter come next year because 20 years back when we were the starters in this industry and our peers & pioneers at that time, the question and answers and the things they used to speak and the problems they used to talk about, we are talking about the same problems today. So nothing has changed, only the faces have changed. And it goes to say a lot of the state of the industry, unfortunately, it has not been granted industry status, which is sad because the number of tourism dollars and employment that this industry can generate, we have not even scratched the surface.

Today, we say that we have inbound tourism of maybe close to 10 million but the real figure we all know is much lesser than that minus a visitors that are repeat for certain purposes or NRIs or CIS. So minus all that, the actual tourist count is really negligible compared to a lot of other destinations. Even smaller places like Thailand, Dubai or Indonesia get, maybe from double to 10 times the number that we are able to generate. And they've started out much later than us. It's just the focus, which is missing.

Though, we have a very strong domestic tourism. We also have a fairly strong wedding industry, probably the second largest in the world. But is that really enough is what I question. Considering the diversity and the beauty of the product that we offer as a country, I don't think we've even scratched the surface. Even from terms of domestic tourism, a lot of people travel to domestic destinations, mostly for religious purposes that's one part of it. But for actual tourism purposes, that an urban person might take but their aspirations are to go outside of the country. We are not able to create that pride in our own product.

I would love to see every nook and corner and breadth and length of our country before I move out to see other destinations because we have so much more to cover and we've got everything that the world has, we've got to offer in our country itself.

So I think to bring all that together whether, through public-private partnership or any other, it just requires a lot of passion and drive to put it all together. And it needs individual players, companies or private people to push it from below and someone in the policymakers or lawmakers to have the will and drive to push it from the top. The concentrated effort can create the results that we really deserve to have.

As you mentioned, a push is required from the top and bottom for the tourism and hospitality industry. In your view, how is the industry going to perform in the coming years?

I am completely optimistic about the fact that at least from when I started working in this industry where we were talking in terms of, let's say a million inbound tourists or breaching the 1 million mark but at least now we're talking about breaching the 10 million mark. There has been a slow and sober but there's been some growth. I'm sure that the growth will continue to happen, may not happen at world-class or matching the top world destinations’ pace.

There are so many factors related to it, but at the same time, the fact is we are getting that, and I feel tourism is really the barometer of the industry. Whichever destination is able to generate the maximum interest in terms of economic activity and growth is somehow linked to generating a similar amount of interest in the tourism flow. Like I say economically, you're either sexy or you're not. If we want to be there if our industry is really there and people have an interest in us, they will read about us, want to know about us, want to come and experience us and that's how the tourism is going to flow.

What are your future plans and how do you want to position Crowne Plaza in the next 5 years?

Future plans are, definitely, continue to grow in terms of our product. We have a fair amount of work cut out for us as the vision that we have or ourselves as a hotel. We would be working a lot more on creating experiences for our guests inside the hotel. I'm already done with the opening of the Indian restaurant and we are looking at the new cuisines that are coming in. We've done a lot of work with the bar in making it a very luxurious place. We are looking at bringing in some more nightlife entertainment into the hotel.

Having done that, we will be focusing on guest experiences in terms of the outdoors. We have a lot of outdoor areas and will be working a lot more on outdoor guest experiences within the property, creating experiences for children and families.

The next one I'm working on is going to be on our spa. We have a beautiful spa with 8 treatment rooms, each one with ensuite facilities including steam baths et cetera in each one of the treatment rooms. We have a spa garden attached and we are going to be working a lot on these wellness facilities, like creating spacations (spa vacations), sparties (spa parties) for families or for groups of friends or kitty groups and so on and so forth. And then the chef is also lucky on wellness menus that will compliment all of that. Our next step, that we're going to be following, will be based on experiences.


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