‘Leadership brings collective efforts to a team’
American hotel company Wyndham has a strong development pipeline of over 30 hotels across brands in Eurasia, shares Nikhil Sharma, regional director for Eurasia, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts
‘If you have dreams, you already have the potential to win them. You just need to trust the process and be patiently consistent’. This along with ‘having a student’s mind-set as it is essential to keep learning throughout’ and ‘trying to grab the learning opportunities available to you’ are among the few principles that Nikhil Sharma, Regional Director for Eurasia, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, has always believed in. “I feel they are important as they craft and mould you as a person, reflecting in your personality,” he says.
The day Sharma started his career in hospitality industry was when he interviewed for India’s premier luxury chain for the position of Management Trainee. Reminiscing, Sharma shares, “It was held at a hotel next to the Delhi Golf Course where Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw was on the panel. Post my interview, I felt that I did not perform well except for a few technical questions about which I was supremely confident. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it and was disappointed with myself.” After a few days, Sharma recalls getting enlightened by his father with a wisdom talk that shaped the bedrock of his professional career.
“I remember him saying: ‘Let me tell you something you already know. The world isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean place, and it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me or nobody is going to hit as hard as life. But it ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done. Now, if you know what you are worth, then go out and get what you are worth. But you got to be willing to take the hit, and not point fingers saying you ain’t where you are because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that, and that ain’t you. You’re better than that’. That was it. My career journey began and I took one step at a time. I did not stop myself from doing things I couldn’t perform. It motivated me to work on those in a better way,” shares Sharma who is one of the founding members of Lemon Tree Hotels and former COO of Ginger Hotels.
WYNDHAM’S INDIA PLANS
Elaborating on the role Wyndham Hotels & Resorts has entrusted him with, Sharma says, “My role is to manage the growing presence of over 50 hotels and 5,000 plus rooms across the Indian sub-continent. I’m also responsible for enhancing contribution and revenue performance and overseeing continued brand engagement and high-quality standards. My mission is to fulfill the organisation’s vision of becoming a global leader in the hospitality industry by scaling up its regional presence and granting enhanced support to its partners during and post-pandemic world. This also includes marketing, operational, business development, revenue management and sales support activities in the Eurasia region.”
The year 2022 marks a significant milestone for Wyndham in India. The largest hotel franchise company in the world, with an unmatched portfolio of exceptional brands and the industry’s simplest and most generous loyalty programme, has six brands in India: Wyndham, Ramada by Wyndham, Ramada Encore by Wyndham, Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham, Howard Johnson by Wyndham and Days Inn by Wyndham.
“Despite the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic, we have seen strong growth over the last couple of years with new openings in culturally rich destinations including Jaipur, Varanasi, Mohali and Udaipur under the Ramada, Howard Johnson and the upscale Wyndham brands. We also have a strong development pipeline of over 30 hotels across Eurasia, which are expected to open by 2025,” he shares.
Sharma adds that besides opening Ramada by Wyndham Katra in Jammu and Kashmir, the Group has recently opened Ramada by Wyndham Gangtok Deorali Hotel and Casino which boasts stunning views of the Himalayan mountains and offers many amenities. “We are pleased about the upcoming wedding season where our site, A Moment to Remember, can support those looking to book and plan weddings at Wyndham venues across India. Therefore, the upcoming months look promising in terms of demand for the festive season. We are all dedicatedly working towards making the most of it,” he says.
Sharing his views on the opportunities in India for Wyndham and his vision, he says, “With strong growth potential, the Indian region has been a priority market for our continuous progress. We hit the 50th hotel mark this year, a significant milestone for us to drive the growth momentum and expand in the markets of the Indian subcontinent. Eight more are set to open in 2022. We will continue to take the necessary steps to offer affordable and best services to our customers in the region.” He adds that there are ambitious expansion plans for the upcoming years and Wyndham is looking forward to continuing to grow its brand portfolio across the region with a strong focus on Tier II and III cities.
In post-pandemic scenario, Sharma says he has observed that leisure hotels happened to be the predominant driver of performance till April 2022. “Thereafter, we saw business hotels outperforming all the other properties for the first time since February 2020. In the current scenario, the growth metric has improved and the leisure segment and business travel have picked up as travellers are determined to travel irrespective of the season. Both the segments are doing well, and we foresee a great demand and forward bookings for upcoming months,” he says.
PRESENT-DAY HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY
Elated that the hospitality and travel industry has bounced back with a positive growth outlook for the business, Sharma says, “We observed that the bookings have been as high as 700 per cent as compared to the number of bookings at the same time last year. This is a good sign of recovery and we expect the trend to continue in the foreseeable future. Pre-bookings (from June-December) for room nights have increased by 650 per cent compared to last year and room revenue has increased by 230 per cent. Overall, we expect positive growth this year as travellers are keen to get back to exploring their favourite and new destinations.”
As a customer-first organisation, Wyndham has introduced several measures to encourage flexibility and ensure the safety of its customers and employees. “Our Wyndham mobile app is one of them. From easy booking of hotels to getting a full account of their Wyndham Rewards profile, preferences and payment methods, the Wyndham mobile app is designed to combine the benefit of convenience and easy navigation for a user. The app’s recent feature (Road Trip Planner) takes convenience to the next level and empowers travellers to map their future trips within minutes. Our customers can take advantage of our hybrid meeting solution which combines the best of live-streaming and in-person participation to streamline their workflows while working remotely,” he avers, adding that they also launched the ‘Work from Wyndham’, the first-of-its-kind work-cation initiative to enable guests to work from the hotels and get a perfect combination of productivity and tranquility.
The adoption of contactless solutions and digitalisation that has accelerated tremendously during the ongoing global pandemic, feels Sharma, will stay for the foreseeable future. “It has created a new outlook for the industry. Today, people have grown accustomed to remote working, with companies introducing new policies to provide flexibility, autonomy and work-life balance to their employees. This has led to an increase in domestic travel, pushing extended-stay and workcations in high demand from visitors and developers. Besides this, most travellers and guests have now prioritised health and wellness and choose hotels based on their safety protocols. As a result, hoteliers have a larger responsibility to be aware of the social, ethical and environmental issues,” he opines.
To maintain a healthy relation with its property owners, Wyndham takes a people-first approach to business and ensures adding value consistently for its partners. “Our owners are at the centre of everything we do. We offer the scale and distribution of the world’s largest hotel franchising company, along with unparalleled access to our award-winning Wyndham Rewards loyalty programme and its members. We are consistently introducing new initiatives and programmes to support our partners and their guests,” he informs.
In a period of ups and downs during the last two years plus due to the Covid19 pandemic, finding and retaining talent has been a major issue for the hospitality industry. Explaining how Wyndham hires, manages, hones and retains talent, Sharma shares, “We strongly believe in hiring the best talent as they reflect our overall brand and act as the face of the company. At Wyndham, we have a ‘Count on Me’ culture that supports celebrating team members across the company who demonstrate our core values and competencies such as integrity, innovation, business acumen and more. Over the last year, we introduced a talent engagement programme, which is available on Wyndham’s internal digital platform, Wyndham University, to approximately 470 hotel partners across EMEA and contains over 160 tools and resources. These include dedicated webinars, podcasts, videos and other materials to attract, nurture and retain talent. The toolkit consists of numerous resources from wellbeing and productivity to team member development, where managers can learn about their leadership style, the gift of feedback and building relationships with trust and understanding.”
The Regional Director for Eurasia, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts EMEA started his career as a Hotel Operations Management Trainee with Taj Group. “Today, I’m raising an organisation by wearing multiple hats and performing diligently. In the current scenario, the industry has slowly started to recover from the ill-effects of the Covid19 pandemic and we can expect a positive hiring rate across different departments of the hospitality industry in the coming future,” he says, adding that education plays an important role as it prepares the talent before one enters the industry.
“Some important skills and values must be imbibed in the individual to perform in an actual, practical situation. For example, hospitality sectors require skills like leadership, multi-tasking, flexibility, time management and the ability to communicate well. It requires a lot of patience and knowledge to grow in this industry, and in return, the hospitality industry provides ample opportunities to shape careers,” avers Sharma.
To be a successful hotelier, Sharma believes that there have been certain attributes that have helped him grow. “First is the hunger to learn every day and a commitment to ensure customer satisfaction. No other reward is satisfying beyond customers’ good feedback. Leadership is also an essential quality that brings collective efforts to a team. In hospitality industry, it is always the team behind any appreciation of work and one must hold the leadership quality to attain sustenance in the job. Enthusiasm, another major attribute, is the zeal to work every day that makes the work ongoing. Some days can be monotonous, but a hotelier must keep a smile to hustle every day. Lastly, one should be self-disciplined and organised to perform multiple simultaneous tasks,” he opines.
While the industry is notorious for work-life balance, the scale is constantly shifting positively, with more organisations pushing for a better work-life balance for their team members, feels the ever-smiling Sharma. “One must learn how to balance both and, in the process, one has to ensure it’s enjoyable. That’s how I pursue things to achieve balance in between. It is a juggling act. Since I’m very passionate about the travel and hospitality industry, it makes me feel at home. When not juggling between multiple zoom calls, I love to go for long distance runs, read nonfiction and binge-watch on OTT,” says Sharma who has also co-authored a book, Rumi & Kabir Consulting.
“In my experience, I have seen a bustling, Hobbesian and progressive corporate life but it can still get quite depressing. Hence, I always keep my mind at peace by doing things I love and enjoy. To achieve balance, you must dedicate yourself to each moment by being fully present in what you are doing. Our mind, body and soul should align to perform every work we do. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna gives reference of samatva when he says, ‘Success and failure are treated alike’. Hence, the Bhagavad Gita promotes Karma Yoga to come closer to samatva ie equanimity,” he explains.
Having worked with many mentors and industry professionals, Sharma opines the experience is always two ways. “I make sure I adapt, learn new things from people and share my knowledge. I have achieved great success in my life with all the support and learnings I got throughout my initial phase and it is only onwards and upwards till today,” he says.
His mantra in life: “I believe if you keep your happiness as your priority, you will excel in all aspects of life, whether work or anything else. As I’m an avid traveller and a foodie, I ensure to expand my list to explore and visit new places as it fills me with immense joy,” concludes Sharma.
This article was published in BW hotelier issue dated '' with cover story titled 'BW HOTELIER - THE TALENT POOL SPECIAL'
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