Extending sustainable luxury experiences

Zubin Songadwala, Area Manager – South, ITC Hotels and General Manager, ITC Grand Chola says he foresees a new design emerging with regards to hotel infrastructure

He heads the largest hotel in the world and commercial building to achieve LEED Zero Carbon Certification in new construction category – ITC Grand Chola. “ITC Hotels has been a pioneer in sustainability, delivering luxury experiences with sustainable practices embedded in the process, starting with ITC Gardenia, Bangalore in 2009 and then deploying it in all its luxury hotels. It is the first hotel chain to pre-empt environmental challenges with ground-breaking initiatives on environment, hotel ecosystem, health and well-being. ITC Hotels has been future-ready for over a decade,” shares Zubin Songadwala, Area Manager – South, ITC Hotels and General Manager, ITC Grand Chola.

All the practices implemented by ITC Grand Chola are embedded in this core philosophy and are visible and measurable; this alignment of philosophy and practice has manifested in the coveted LEED® Platinum rating for all our luxury hotels, he adds. “The hotel avoided cutting down trees at the property ever since the pre-construction phase by transplanting all the existing ones around the hotel. Of the building material value, over 10 per cent is composed of recycled raw materials, 40+ per cent is manufactured and / or extracted within a radius of 800 km and over 5 per cent is made of plant products typically harvested with a 10-year span or shorter. During construction, around 17 per cent Portland cement by weight was replaced by fly ash and over 50 per cent wood products used in the construction are from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified forests,” informs Songadwala. 

ITC Grand Chola recently achieved Drinking Water Positive Status with Sunya Aqua V 2.0 powered by Atmospheric Water Generator (AWG) technology. “It has done so by implementing a sustainable technology which does not require water as an input resource. Instead, it utilises renewable energy from ITC Grand Chola’s own wind farms to produce water locally at the hotel with the highly advanced patented and ultra-efficient AWG technology,” shares Songadwala. 

However, the Area Manager – South at ITC Hotels feels the biggest challenge for sustainable tourism today include the threat of exploitation of natural resources and maintaining environmental integrity which requires an investment into a philosophy and a specific ecosystem. “Building a truly sustainable ecosystem necessitates a capital investment far higher than what it would take for a conventional hotel building,” he says, adding sustainable tourism comprises three pillars: social justice, economic development and environmental integrity.

Songadwala opines that we can keep tourism sustainable by ensuring synergy with local communities by using their services, promoting indigenous culture, reducing carbon footprint by using local produce and drawing maximum energy from within the ecosystem. As also recycle, repurpose and use biodegradable, environmentally friendly materials. “Going forward, ITC Hotels is committed to this endeavour and the process of exploring new technologies and opportunities for raising the bar shall be an ongoing one,” shares the alumnus of IHM, Mumbai and an ITC Hotel Management Institute graduate.

A lifer with ITC Hotels for over three decades, Songadwala’s journey in the hospitality industry began with ITC Windsor, Bangalore and since then he has held senior management positions at several ITC Hotels in Agra, Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai. He was an integral part of the pre-opening team of ITC Maratha, Mumbai and instrumental in setting up the food and beverage operations of the hotel that has been the talk of the industry. Before being entrusted with the present role, Songadwala headed the Western Region at ITC Hotels. 

A seasoned hotelier with expertise across all departments, Songadwala believes there is no substitute for warmth and quality experience in the hospitality industry. “Using a contemporary and modern management style combined with deft operational skills are my forte. Driven by creativity and quality of new inspirational upmarket trends, my endeavour has always been to cultivate and sustain the finest hotel operation and to develop and maintain meaningful relationship with guests, team members and peers,” he shares.

Talking about the fast-changing demands of guests, especially post-pandemic, he opines that the biggest paradigm shift is that consumers will trust brands with better mechanisms to adhere to health and safety guidelines with a strong orientation towards sustainability. “In the recent past, the concern for Planet Earth has dawned on everyone. At ITC, our belief in ‘Responsible Luxury’ – luxury without compromising the earth or the idea of luxury, has kept us future ready. The pivot for ITC Hotels has always been adaptability, evolution and being a step ahead,” says Songadwala, adding that ITC was among the first to adopt stringent health, hygiene and safety standards that are now accredited and are a part of our everyday DNA in all their operations. “This has been a huge draw among our guests who flocked back when hotels reopened and ordered takeaways all through the shutdowns. I foresee a whole new design emerging with regard to hotel infrastructure, in keeping with sanitary and sustainable considerations,” he avers. 

To enhance guest experience, Songadwala shares the first ‘wow’ engagement guests experience at ITC is with the accredited WeAssure health, hygiene, and safety programme. “They are assured, relieved and comforted  in the knowledge that they are in a safe, secure and hygienic ecosystem. Our warm, authentic and personal service informs all aspects of our operations. Guests enjoy interacting with our associates. The butler and concierge services are gratefully received by the discerning and busy guests. Our exquisite F&B offerings from the options of 10 award-winning restaurants to choose from are enthusiastically indulged in equally by gourmets and gourmands. With healthy options and local love thoughtfully integrated into our culinary offerings, guests are deeply appreciative of the repertoire. Signature bespoke destination experiences including curated visits to heritage sites, spiritual, cultural, architectural and shopping trails all exponentially enhance the experience of the seasoned traveller,” he says. 

Present-day hospitality, feels Songadwala, is in a very good place now with great signs of buoyancy, with more and more people venturing out, eating out, travelling local, opting for staycations and holding small intimate events including weddings. “The future is bright too, with people craving to make up for the frustration of isolation and lack of travel during the lockdown days and indulging in good life in large numbers. The trend we have seen in pent up demand for travel on vacation is also being seen in travel on business (corporate travel),” says the General Manager ITC Grand Chola.

This article was published in BW hotelier issue dated '' with cover story titled 'BW HOTELIER MAY-JUNE 2022'


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