‘India taught me true hospitality’
Rajeev Menon, President, Asia Pacific excluding Greater China (APEC), Marriott International Inc, shares Marriott’s pipeline for the region including India
He prefers not to be called a ‘true hotelier’ as the likes of Mr Marriott and Mr Oberoi for him are the ones who rightly belong to the category. “I’m just an aspiring hotelier,” says Rajeev Menon, President, Marriott International Inc, APEC. But the fact remains that Menon has been one of the most successful CXO exports that India has shared with the global hospitality industry. In the business for over three decades, he feels the journey of learning never stops and the same has been with him.
“I have had an incredible ride with Marriott. The company’s core philosophy is to take care of its people, its people will take great care of the customers and the customers will come back. This way the business will take care of itself,” says Menon who joined Marriot almost 21 years ago in Sydney, Australia. He was soon asked to move back to India to open the second Marriott property in the country, Renaissance in Mumbai. “The official launch date was September 15, 2001. On September 11, the world turned upside down, in the USA. All bookings cancelled and there was a challenge at hand. But with an incredible team of 600, we could break even a couple of months later. Never to look back. At present, it is around a 773 key property,” shares Menon who feels failing is necessary as it brings success and makes the person you are.
After brief stint in Australia and India again, Menon moved to Singapore. “Though Marriott’s headquarters were in Hong Kong, our President at the time Simon Cooper wanted to set-up a base in Singapore as we were growing well in Asia Pacific. When I took over as the COO for APEC, we had 10 hotels in early 2015. By end-2015, we had announced Starwood acquisition and today we have 470 operating hotels in APEC alone,” shares Menon. In 2019, he was made the President, Marriott International Inc (APEC).
Though he made it big in the world of hospitality with his hard work, honesty and dedication, Menon says it was never his first choice as a profession. “I aspired to become an Indian Air Force fighter pilot. I couldn’t follow that passion due to my eyesight. Hotel industry was my next choice,” he discloses. But not before he had to convince his retired father that he won’t follow his footsteps and pursue a government job. “My parents supported my decision. After completing hotel management, I was picked up as a management trainee with ITC where I started my career. Soon after, I moved over to Australia and continued to build my career thereafter,” says Menon who hails from a middle-class family based in Delhi.
Marriott’s pipeline for Asia-Pacific
Across APEC, Marriott operates 470 hotels in 22 markets. “We have the largest pipeline of any branded hotel company in the APEC region, with 280 hotels under construction presently, informs Menon, adding the growth in South Asia is among the best for the company and it is their largest single market. “We have 128 operating hotels in India. Add another 11 in Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka and we touch 139 across South Asia. We aim to touch the 200 mark in South Asia by 2025,” he says. Menon shares this stupendous growth is driven by the incredible Marriott brands but more importantly by its strong loyalty programmes. “Today, Marriott Bonvoy has 157 million members globally with 57 million in Asia Pacific. When we acquired Starwood in 2016, it was bigger than Marriott in Asia Pacific: 330 Starwood hotels against 220 Marriott ones. By end-2022, we will be touching the 1000 mark across Asia Pacific including Greater China,” says Menon proudly.
India plan and Indian hospitality industry
India has witnessed tremendous growth in travel and tourism sectors over the last 20-odd years, feels Menon and is quick to add that he will always remain bullish about the country. “Indian traveller has had this opportunity to explore his country like never before during the period of the pandemic. In near future too, people will prefer taking more and more short breaks within India. Also, with overall infrastructure improving which has been happening lately, the country will have the ability to get the foreign travellers to travel further than they ever got an opportunity to,” observes Menon.
During the two years of the pandemic, he says, the Covid19 waves witnessed business levels getting reduced but as soon as these diminished, and the state and Central governments started giving relaxations, people came out of their homes to travel and business changed dramatically. “In perspective, there is an incredible base of 1.3 billion-plus people who can travel within India if there are travelling restrictions on outbound travel. Now compare this with any South East Asia nation which is heavily reliant on inbound travel but doesn’t have such numbers. As a result, there is not only an opportunity to have stronger occupancy but more importantly, the ability to drive rates. If you can drive better revPAR and continue to build on the great F&B experiences that Indians expect which we can deliver. Better results are there for the taking,” he avers.
Menon informs that of the 200 hotels the company plans to operate by 2025 across South Asia, over 90 per cent will be in India. “We witness growth opportunities in the luxury, premium and in the select service space. Over the last 22 months which have been the toughest for the industry, Marriott signed 24 deals across South Asia with partners who want to grow with us. In many cases, these are luxury hotels in resort destinations,” he says, adding that as a company, Marriott believes that domestic recovery will exceed 2019 domestic travel this year. “In terms of international travel, we will have to see how restrictions play it out but we expect some international recovery this year. However, it could gain momentum next year,” he opines. The President, APEC, Marriott International Inc shares the plans of ushering in the Moxy brand to India in 2023. “If not early this year but later surely. The brand is growing at an exponential pace across the world and customers love it. We expect it to have a great India connect, particularly with the young and the young-at-heart customers,” he says.
Indian homegrown brands
“I have always had utmost respect for all Indian brands. For years, I’ve said this on public forums as well as in private that Indian hospitality companies have created an incredible legacy of hospitality. When you look at the great work over the years that the Oberoi, Taj and ITC have done. It’s been truly remarkable. I started my career with one of them and they’ve continued to build and get stronger and stronger. From my perspective, they are incredibly strong hospitality brands, particularly within the country and they have opportunity to go global. Some have, others haven’t. I don’t know them well enough to talk about their weaknesses necessarily but, to me, when you look back over the years, be it the great places that were created or food and beverage concepts like that of Bukhara and Dum Pukht that ITC did when I was with them many years ago, is incredible,” shares Menon, adding healthy competition is always good along with mutual respect for each other.
Marriott’s India team
Menon feels it is always critical to have an incredible team around. “We have been blessed with having this core group of talented and empowered leaders. They have the ability to make decisions, run the business and create localised solutions. Focussing on local talent, giving them global opportunities and empowering them is the key. Neeraj Govil who joined us as a Restaurant Manager in 2001 has today grown immensely as a leader. The same has been the case with Jatin Khanna, Gaurav Singh, Ranju Alex, Khushnooma Kapadia and others,” he shares.
“Owners, along with customers and associates, are one of our three most important stakeholders and play a critical role for a company like ours. We have been incredibly blessed to have great partners, and through the pandemic, we have learnt a lot from each other. Courtesy the owners, we’ve been able to navigate through the crisis easily. They have been helping and guiding us because they are on the ground in many cases. Sometimes you may disagree with an owner but as a partner, it’s the respect you carry for each other,” explains Menon on the relationship between owners and operators.
Menon did his hotel management from IIHM Pusa after completing schooling from Naval Public School. “I have some deep-rooted connections and amazing memories. How can I forget the food trips to Old Delhi or visiting the Hanuman Mandir and Bangla Sahib Gurudwara with my mother? I’ll love to come back and explore the city. It holds true when they say, you can take a Delhiite out of Delhi but never Delhi out of a Delhiite,” avers Menon.
Married to an Australian national and blessed with three kids, Menon flew back home to be with his family over the weekends. “Of course, this was pre-Covid19,” he says. A fitness enthusiast, believes that when you live the life we do, you have to be focus on health. “My fitness regime is simple. I target completing a marathon once a week but not necessarily in a day or two but over seven days. It is about setting a simple goal that you can push yourself against and continue to build from there on. I believe if you love what you do, you won’t have to work a day,” he feels.
This article was published in BW hotelier issue dated '' with cover story titled 'JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2022 ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL'
Around The World