Building a Brand of Unique Hotels

Dilip Ray, Chairman and MD of Mayfair Hotels & Resorts on his brand and much more.

DILIP RAY is a man of intense charisma. If you sit with him in a room, you can feel his mind working. His drive is incredible and legendary among his colleagues and friends and it shows most definitely in every detail of his hotel empire which he has lovingly made from the first in Rourkela to the most recent in Kalimpong, the way is clear for Ray and the Mayfair group, who are a name to be recognised in the Indigenous hospitality groups in the country

You may find that some of his properties to be over the top when it comes to decor, but you cannot deny that they are a personal style statement which is true to its origins. Roy is an intensely private, but very focussed hotel owner, one who is known to criss cross across Eastern India, where his properties are situated, waking at the crack of dawn to oversee and steward each of his properties with a fatherly eye. It is something which is imbibed in the hotel staff, who seem to be taking care of guests as if they were in their own homes and not in a hotel room. 

This is something that has been one of the winning factors when it comes to the hotels that make up Mayfair hotels, something that they are inordinately proud of and quite rightly so. BW Hotelier had the opportunity to catch up with Ray recently and this is an excerpt of the interview that he gave us.

BW Hotelier: What is your philosophy as a hotelier?

Dilip Ray: I am a nature lover and I don’t like to build anything verticle. Most of our customers come from the metros, who live in buildings where your floor is someone’s roof and your roof is someone’s floor. When they come to our properties, they want to stay somewhere different. I believe that I can make your dream come true for a little while. The hotel rooms are not the usual cookie cutter design. It’s like someone’s home, with a particular painting somewhere, an artefact somewhere. It’s like a dream house in the hills or next to the seaside. There is a lot of personal touch. I think the only hotelier that I respect was Captain Nair, who did this personalisation to a certain extent. No one else. 

BWH: How did you get into hospitality?

DR: We are from a business family, mainly dealing with liquor. It was my father’s main business. I was the only son and I for some reason didn’t like the business and wanted to do something on my own. While I was studying, my father passed away. My mum was very efficient and oversaw all the liquor. I started with an independent business in the early 80s, a small dhaba, called Tandoor, which was situated at the last point of Rourkela, where there was no streetlight or anything. It was almost a jungle and the area was known as Civil Township. My maternal grandfather Nilamani Routray, was the CM of Orissa at that time, and was scandalised that someone from the family was going to sell rice and dal. I said, if you can sell liquor then why not rice and dal. They disowned it. I wanted to get into this business only. I spent Rs 25000 and made a shed, got a few chairs and tables and began my business. I remember, at that time, the first day sale was Rs 3200 and I haven’t looked back since. 

After six months the business started doing well, I got a liquor license and got a fridge and started doing Rs 4,00,000 to Rs 5,00,000 a month. It was at this time that I also started the first weigh bridge in Rourkela and began charging Rs 10 per truck. At this time, I decided to do something with my plot, which was one acre, make  a room for me to stay. While making it, I decided to make a five room hotel this was in1985 and I named it Mayfair after the game of Monopoly game. I also named it Mayfair because I thought it may fare well or it may not.

We began by charging Rs 100 per day for ac rooms. At that time, I got a block booking from a group of Ugandan engineers for one year. I immediately increased my room numbers in one-and-a-half months. That was the turning point. The rest is history.

BWH: You’ve been a hotelier because of your passion. But you have a company where people have been working with you for decades, in an industry where people change jobs within months. What is the secret of your success?

DR: We make hotels with a difference. I get into the tiny details. When I go to a hotel, I see what is the good point and what is the bad point of the property. I learn from what I see. We have got people who have been working with me from the first hotel itself. Some are there, some have just retired. Most of our staff have worked for us between 20 and 22 years. I don’t tell anyone how to keep guests happy. I keep my staff happy and they keep the guest happy. So I don’t have to. If the staff is happy, everything is good. Even a sweeper can interact with me and tell me his issues. The company is more like a family. We look out for each other. I make each hotel and on completion, I turn it over to the staff for them to run. I don’t get into the day to day functioning of the hotel.

BWH: Your hotels are in areas which are not known for being great places as far as labour is concerned to operate. How do you overcome that issue?

DR: None of our hotels have any unions, because I interact and look after my staff. We are a very close knit group. We have some Odiyas in crucial positions and they interact with everyone and assimilate. Let me give you an example of how we can win people over. We bought a tea garden recently, which had a rundown hospital. We spent around Rs 50 lakhs and did it up, made it top of the line. The 600 employees who work in the garden realised we were looking out for improving their lot. We are very serious about our CSR activities. We sincerely use what we have to spend, plus add on more when needs be. 

BWH: What are the future projects that are in your growth plan at the moment?

DR: Right now, Raipur, called Mayfair Lake Resort, is on the verge of finishing. That should be up and running by March 2019. Kalimpong has just opened. The Siliguri Mayfair Tea Resort property we are waiting for clearances and should be ready within one year. 

BWH: Till now, you have looked at owning all your properties, are you also looking at taking on management contracts and running other people’s hotels?

DR: We have been speaking about it and we want to start on it. The only problem is that our Mayfair detailing may not be able to be done if we expand if we become a management company. If we take a hotel we want to do things which will be done our way, it won’t be always the same way. But my team says we should start a brand and call it in the lines of Mayfair Basics. We have had six or seven offers and we are thinking about it seriously. 

BWH: You are a man, who even though coming from a privileged background, is a self-made hotelier. What is your view of your children joining the business which you have built? How do you deal with that?

DR: That passion that I have is not there. Children nowadays, don’t want to follow their father’s or mother’s professions. All my children are in my business, but they don’t have the drive that I have. For me, my staff are more like a family. That closeness is there. We are doing a different kind of management, where the company is run professionally, with the family overseeing it.

BWH: In your view, what would you consider to be the most perfect hotel in the world?

DR: No hotel can be called perfect in that way, but I think the Thais make the best hotels. All my hotels have a Thai influence. I thought Bali would be good, but it’s nothing compared to Thailand. Before doing these hotels, I went all over South East Asia and Australasia, but I found overall to have our style with a bit of Thai influence to be the perfect mix.

BWH: Among your hotels, which is the favourite?

DR: I’ll tell you a little story. When I was studying in Darjeeling. The Mayfair hotel there, just below the governor house, used to be a private house belonging to the Nazargunj Raj family. I used to study in North Point and used to walk past it and gaze at the parties they used to have every weekend. I always said, ‘some day I am going to buy this’. My friends used to laugh at me. 

Many years later in 1995, when I was deep in the hospitality business, I got a call saying there’s a hotel for sale in Darjeeling, why don’t you come over. It belongs to a German with a Goan wife. I went and saw it and didn’t like it. I came back via Rourkela and I got a call saying that there’s a house for sale, would you be interested. Lo and behold it was the one I wanted. I immediately returned, travelling all day and night. Saw the place. They wanted Rs 2 crore 72 lakhs for the property. The lady wanted an advance. I paid Rs 10,000 in cash and then promised to pay back in one month with the full money. The day I purchased it, I called all my friends and told them I had purchased the house of my dreams. 

This article was published in BW hotelier issue dated '' with cover story titled 'MICE issue'

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