‘Our priority is to ensure a seamless guest experience’

Pranay Verdia, Cluster General Manager, Sheraton Hyderabad Hotel talks about the segments driving the revenue for the hotel and the future of hospitality industry

Situated in Gachibowli’s bustling financial and IT district, Sheraton Hyderabad Hotel takes guests close to all of the area’s leading global corporations and convention centers. With modern hotel rooms and suites, each with complimentary wi-fi and generous amenities, the fully equipped apartments make guests feel right at home. Guests can time out to work out in the fitness centre, visit the spa or go for a swim. The hotel’s restaurants are convenient gathering spots for guests, whether they are meeting for drinks, a meal or the Sunday brunch. If a business event, wedding or social function brings guests to the hotel, Sheraton Hyderabad Hotel’s expansive venues, unsurpassed services and custom catering make the event impressive and success.  

At the helm of affairs at Sheraton Hyderabad Hotel is Pranay Verdia who took over as the Cluster General Manager this June 7. In his new role, Verdia will oversee the hotels under the ownership of SAMHI. A Stanford LEAD alum, he is an award-winning hotelier with a career of close to two decades in senior management roles with Marriott International, Hyatt International, Taj Hotels and Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.  

In an interview with BW Hotelier, Verdia talks about the lessons he learnt from the pandemic, the new trends and customer behaviour post-pandemic and the strategies being implemented to attract more guests in the current scenario.

How has the pandemic transformed the hotel experience? Also, tell us about the changes that the guest will experience at Sheraton Hyderabad Hotel. 
The hospitality industry has brought a transformation in many ways. From initiatives like Marriott Bonvoy on Wheels – a new vertical under which our home delivery services are promoted to hybrid events attracting both in-person and virtual attendees and transforming outdoor venues for events, we have learnt to adapt and embrace change. Research of the current trends in hospitality industry show, the guests’ expectations for efficient and personalised services is increasing with time. Our focus has been on offering an experience of novelty on a consistent basis as it sets a standard of care that our customers appreciate. In addition, what customers now look for the most is enhanced safety protocols. We have redefined and elevated our safety programme under the label, Commitment to Clean. This is driven by the team putting efforts towards creating a hassle-free experience and inculcating a culture of genuine care for our guests. Technology driven processes, from arrival and the smoothness of the check-in process to room cleanliness to their eventual check-out and departure, our priority is to ensure a seamless experience.  

As the Cluster General Manager, what lessons have you learnt from the pandemic? 
Crisis response and having clarity among chaos is crucial during natural disasters and health-related crises. The pandemic has made me reiterate my belief that nothing is permanent in the world. Change is inevitable and it brings new opportunities. Balance and composure in any situation can help one with prudent steps to minimise the pain and, more importantly, prepare for coming days. My ability to unlearn, to discard old assumptions or prevailing beliefs and rethink has inevitable helped me achieve great heights. I have focussed on new opportunities to stay relevant while developing an effective communication channel for the guests and employees.  

Post-pandemic period is being considered the beginning of a new era in hospitality. The trends and customer behaviour predicted in the initial days of the decade are no more applicable. How is the future of hospitality industry shaping up? 
The challenges of this year have put the industry on a pause, and at the same time, have given it a unique opportunity to stop and reflect on itself. The industry is slowly picking up and marching towards a reasonable recovery. But there is still a long way to go. It’s important to remind ourselves that this isn’t the first crisis the hospitality industry has suffered. The crisis can be looked at as a rare opportunity to make improvements and transform the industry. Hotels would inevitably need to reconsider their planning and business models and adjust to the new needs and demands of consumers by offering something compelling and innovative to guests. While new trends will emerge, the industry will have to evolve to accommodate the travellers’ new demands. There are two sets of audiences – one that expects consistency, speed and efficiency in customer service across channels – making it inevitable for hotels to use customer support technologies for an enhanced and seamless guest experience while some guests prefer personalised experiences and special care and attention. We will be concentrating on making travel not just safer but better, giving travellers more control, delivering greater authenticity and customisation, and taking a customer-centric approach to ensure novelty and an enriching guest experience. These incredible and unique experiences will attract consumers as well as reassure them about their safety.  

With the absence of the big fat Indian weddings and inbound tourists, which segments currently drive the revenue for the hotel?  
Curated staycation packages for locals and domestic travellers, for young adults, couples and families looking for a retreat in order to break the monotony of working from home. Our primary segments are intimate weddings and small gatherings, families in residential communities, corporate meal packages, and subscription meal concept tied up with corporates for their staff families and employees affected with Covid-19. We have witnessed a significant rise in the number staycations with local residents ever since the lockdown restrictions were eased. We have focussed on planning and creating a genuinely compelling and differentiated offering. From initiatives like Marriott Bonvoy on Wheels, the approach has been unique and designed with an objective of driving immediate cash flow to the hotel.  

What is your strategy to attract more guests in the current scenario? 
Amid these uncertain times, it’s important to remember that this crisis is temporary, and we have been on our toes to prepare ourselves for the rebound in travel demand. We constantly observe industry forecasts and trends that will ultimately shape our recovery strategy. Our primary focus was to provide our guests with a sense of credibility and confidence which led us to launching our Commitment to Clean. People today are prone to opt for more fitness regimes and a healthy lifestyle. Considering this, we launched Svastha, a holistic wellness staycation package. One can unwind through exotic spa treatments, curated wellness activities tailored to sensibilities and dosha and kick-start the day with a comprehensive analysis of body type, BMI and nutrition consultation with the chef so our team of culinary experts can curate a diet plan in order to help guests achieve their fitness goals. Additionally, we have specially designed treatments inspired by ancient Indian healing techniques that focus on inner wellness and encourage detachment from the stressors of the outside world. Overall, we aim to offer our guests unique and result-oriented sessions that go beyond the regular. 

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