‘We found alternate ways to survive during lockdowns’

Srijan Vadhera, General Manager, Conrad Bengaluru, reviews the year 2021 for the hospitality business and looks ahead at 2022

Soaring 24 storeys above Bengaluru’s Central Business District, Conrad Bengaluru is a known landmark offering 285 guestrooms and bewitching views of the Ulsoor Lake. At the helm of affairs is General Manager Srijan Vadhera who brings over 21 years of experience in the hospitality industry. Vadhera took over the operations at the property in 2019 and since then has been responsible for hotel’s steadfast growth and expansion.   

Reviewing 2021 for hospitality  
As the number of vaccinations went up, people started becoming more confident to travel again. They wanted to be part of new and unique experiences while staying safe. Customers started to spend more of their discretionary income on experiential and luxury offerings. The year 2021 saw F&B outlets opening again, both for in-house dining, online ordering and takeaways. M-commerce and digitalisation played a major role in aiding communication and maximising revenue generated despite the pandemic. Not surprisingly, safety and hygiene became and will continue to be number one priority. Educating team members about new protocols as well as training them in multiple roles and capacities to enhance adaptability and efficiency during difficult times took a front-seat. Weddings and birthday celebrations returned due to the ease of restrictions and lastly, corporate travel and conferences made a slow comeback. 

Plans and expectations for 2022  
Staycations: People do not want to deal with the hassles of travel restrictions and Covid19 tests which is why they want to travel nearer home. As luxury guests expect intuitive and personalised service from hotels, Conrad Bengaluru offers staycation packages with Sunday brunches and special kids’ zone for families looking to getaway.  
Sustainability: The importance of sustainable practices has been rising in recent years for good. Guests want to experience luxury but not at the cost of environmental harm. Elimination of plastic bottles, use of more renewable resources and placing reusable amenities in guest rooms are ways for hotels to become more sustainable organisations.  
Experiential offerings: Guests crave for exclusive experiences, and want hotels to come up with special concepts like vineyard tours, locally sourced healthy brunch offers etc. Luxury customers with a high degree of discretionary income at their disposal will be ready to pay to be part of one-of-a-kind experiences.
Change in customer lifestyle: Nowadays, customers have started to lean more towards healthier lifestyle choices. People want healthier menus and plant-based meat options, locally sourced ingredients and more in dining outlets. Conrad Bengaluru has collaborated with local farms and companies like Wakao Foods to cater to these demands.  
Temporary workspaces: Few companies, especially technology-based ones, have started making #WorkFromHome culture permanent. This will lead companies using hotel spaces to conduct meetings or conferences and workers will want a change of environment and choose to stay at a hotel to work-out for a few days, till the first quarter of 2021.  

Tackling pandemic with safety and hygiene  
Hilton, in partnership with Reckitt, makers of Lizol & Dettol, launched Hilton CleanStay and Hilton EventReady, a hygiene and safety programme practised at Conrad Bengaluru. Under this programme, housekeeping and hygiene standards are heightened across all areas of the hotel in line with the government’s rules and WHO guidelines. All staff members are fully vaccinated and wear face masks at all times. The property has sanitisers in all areas of the hotel and public areas are disinfected regularly with an hourly cleaning of high touch-points like elevators. The hotel is certified ISO 22000:2018 Food Safety Management System, which is a testament to our high standards of hygiene and safety. The hotel has QR code enabled digital menus and has adjusted the restaurant seating plan as per government guidelines to ensure social distancing. We have a hygiene manager who conducts regular checks on staff’s hand hygiene and high touch point areas. Lastly, Hilton Honors members using the Hilton Honors app have access to all meeting venues, and can book and select rooms through the app, leading to a touch-less experience, from booking to payment. 

Takeaways from the pandemic  
Covid-19 pandemic has taught the hospitality industry how to sustain and recover from the most unexpected and difficult hits. It has taught us to react proactively and get things done quickly without waiting for things to happen. Another major change has been the importance of investing more time and resources into the use of technology in every aspect of guest experience as possible. Many hospitality businesses were able to sustain during the pandemic solely due to the use of technology. With respect to employees, the pandemic has taught us the importance of mental health and how crucial it is to maintain high levels of productivity at workplace. During lockdowns, employees were tracked through regular online meetings to ensure their overall well-being during the difficult times. The MICE industry has been affected drastically. More and more organistions have shifted from large conventions to online meetings across the globe. This has impacted both corporate travellers and event spaces for hotels. Businessmen are sceptical of leaving the safety of their homes to travel. However, this hasn’t stopped Conrad Bengaluru from attracting business travellers in the past few months, the city being the hub of the IT sector. 

Bringing recognition to hospitality business  
One would want to bring more dignity of labour to the Indian hospitality sector as no job is less superior to the other and everyone should be treated equally. All employees should possess the highest level of skillsets and there must be more diversity among employees at workplace. The destination as a whole needs to be promoted than just a hotel or restaurant. This will benefit both the state and the hospitality businesses. Lastly, I want stand-alone restaurants to become stronger, gain more safety and security, to be able to sustain and thrive through difficult times. 

Faring through high tides   
The pandemic has helped the hospitality industry to evolve for the better. We have found alternate ways to survive during lockdowns and restrictions with technology playing the main role. From digital check-ins to multiple payment gateways, hotels adapted quickly. First lockdown was severe, unexpected and a learning opportunity for businesses and by the second lockdown, the hospitality industry was well-equipped with contingency plans and strategies to face unpredictability. Employees became more versatile by working and training in different departments due to manpower shortage. The industry recognised the importance of team members’ mental health and how big of an impact it has on work productivity. Operationally speaking, hotel managers learnt how to survive with minimal cash flow, re-evaluate their expenses and operational manpower ratios to find areas to optimise. In conclusion, considering the impact the pandemic had on the hospitality industry, we fought hard to stay on our feet at all times. 

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Srijan Vadhera Conrad Bengaluru Plans 2022


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