Securing groups at correct price points will also be a big play: Sharad Datta

In an interview, Sharad Datta, General Manager, The Westin Mumbai Garden City, shares views and plans for business revival.

Tell us briefly about the market response to the reopening of hotels in Mumbai?

The long-awaited reopening of hotels in Mumbai has infused a sense of hope and optimism. At the very least the opportunity towards the start of the recovery process has arrived. On the room’s front, whilst the Government mandate allows for hotels to operate at 100per cent occupancies, the market realities are currently not conducive for this. Most large hotels in cities like Mumbai have a large segment of Corporate and MICE that drives their occupancies (and rate), and these segments will not see an uptrend until global business sentiment, international travel and corporate spend regains a semblance of normalcy. There has been positive traction in the domestic market, we are seeing resort properties recovering well, especially ones that are drivable to. The faster recovery / greater window of opportunity, I think, lies in Food and Beverage. The reopening of restaurants for walk-in guests has shown promise, and restaurants in quality establishments are seeing a steady increase in patrons and thus revenue recovery. There has been an encouraging response from the market. It is also important that guidelines on the Wellness space be released as this is another area of revenue generation that will boost the recovery process.

Clearly, the two segments mentioned have been the drivers for growth for a while now. In the short to medium term, there will be a lack of momentum in these segments.  For hotels, the markets to look towards would be ones that (a) Create a base i.e. Airline Crew (b) Residential weddings (c) Domestic Leisure (d) Long Stay (e) Local Corporates. Securing groups at correct price points will also be a big play. Hotels will also need to be flexible and dynamic at the same time to ensure they punch above their weight in market share and have a super keen sense of what business opportunities are available out there.

F&B has been another significant contributor for a hotel. What creative initiatives have been taken by you to maximize your F&B business?

F&B has been a significant contributor especially in these arduous times. We have covered a vast spectrum of new ground, foraying into high quality home delivery models, including creating brunch experiences at home and delivering across the length and breadth of the city to maximize reach. We have created specialized teams to action this relatively new market. In addition, we have executed quantity catering orders for companies across Mumbai. The ‘Marriott on Wheels’ program has seen some super results for us. We focused on creating quality media content towards these initiatives, showcasing these on effective platforms and this has enabled us to create the right market and reach to our benefit.

What was the percentage of revenue that you used to generate from weddings market in the pre-covid times? What are the latest developments in this market?

For Westin Mumbai Garden City, Weddings contributed close to 35per cent of total F&B revenues. We are receiving a good number of queries and our in-house sales teams are strongly engaging with clients vide virtual and onsite show-around and discussions.  Currently, whilst there is a healthy number of weddings, we have locked in till end December and beyond, the regulatory constraints around number of guests will really determine the impact on revenues in this quarter and the next. We have curated small but impactful wedding packages that allow our guests to have memorable experiences within the framework of rules. 

As new hygiene norms and standards have come into play, what training model has been adopted for your staff for their daily working?

Hygiene and the implementation of stringent practices has been the norm since the pandemic struck. The ‘Commitment to Clean’ program we have implemented at our hotel encompasses extensive protocols and practices to facilitate a safe, clean and hygienic environment. We have followed the back to basics model for training our associates on the tenets of elevated practices of hygiene, involving professional partners and practical sessions to impart knowledge. Along with training on the comprehensive SOP’s put in place, we also hold fortnightly refresher trainings, spot check on implementation of the processes and ensure we are up to speed ref new information / best practices. It is paramount that our associates know that they are working in a safe and secure environment, and our guests visibly see the high levels of hygiene we are following to keep them safe. 

Housekeeping has a leading role to play in the new normal. What is your take?

Housekeeping has always had a leading role as quality hotels have always ensured clean and hygienic rooms, public spaces and heart of the house areas. The bar has risen exponentially in this regard and has served to intensify the importance of good housekeeping. In my view, each guest entering my hotel must feel they are entering a sanitized environment, and this task has been very efficiently done by my housekeeping team. The new normal necessitates that each associate in housekeeping internalizes the importance of sanitization and the degree of painstaking effort it requires to maintain this at the highest-level day on day.  I see this focus on hygiene continuing and us adopting measures under the new normal as a mandatory part of our operations going forward on a permanent basis.

With the increased focus on domestic tourism, what is your take on the revival of the industry?

The revival of travel is happening as we speak through domestic tourism. In-country travel will grow the fastest, and the domestic leisure traveler will be in the forefront. For the industry as a whole to revive, this will clearly take much more than a revival in domestic tourism. As we go forward, a lot will depend on the status of the pandemic. Linked to this will be lifting of international travel restrictions, the will to travel for business purposes, disposable income utilization for travel and many other factors. How deep an impact the concepts of work from home, zoom/MS teams meetings etc. will have on the future of travel is yet to be seen. The driving forces for the industry - international and domestic corporate travel, large conventions, Leisure groups – these are a must for true revival, else it is simply a question of survival. As many have pointed out recently, a complete revival of the industry seems to be between 2 – 3 years. These will be challenging years indeed.

What would be your message for the guests who may be making their travel plans for the near future?

As a hotelier, I am an advocate of travel.  To guests I would say, do travel and ensure you follow all necessary protocols to keep yourselves and your fellow travelers safe. We are fully equipped and committed to your safety during your stay with us, and the industry looks forward to the amazing vibe of bustling airports, busy hotel lobbies and above all, happy guests. 


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