Indian luxury hotels: Safeguarding service excellence

Luxury hospitality is multidimensional but at its core is excellence in service which is caring, efficient, personalised and even anticipatory, always enriching the guest experience

Across generations, Guest Is God has been the maxim of hospitality in India and the bedrock for superior guest experience, for which Indian luxury hotels are globally noted and applauded. In recent decades, leading Indian hotels have carved out an admirable niche in global luxury hospitality and garnered impressive accolades. Several Oberoi, Leela and Taj hotels have consistently been rated among the best in the world in global surveys by Travel & Leisure, Conde Nast Traveller, Forbes, Trip Advisor and others.

Traditionally luxury was more about exclusivity, aspiration, defined by price and material product quality, which in recent decades has evolved into being experiential and more about the strong feelings that it evokes; the joy of discovery and creating indelible memories. Today’s discerning guests have different expectations from previous generations and is more empowered and confident, better informed, caring more about memorable, immersive experiences and less about just the product. They are savvy and demand variety and myriad of choices, insisting on instant gratification. They prize unique experiences and storytelling opportunities and are not just looking for ‘rich’ but ‘enriching’ experiences. Plus, we are all seeing the rise of the digitally empowered millennials, who want personalised communication on multiple platforms, seamless planning, flawless execution, authentic experiences, along with savvy use of social media.

In the context of categorising Indian hotels, let’s not mistake ‘luxury’ with a general five-star deluxe rating, which is entirely based on a checklist of physical facilities, but doesn’t address the dimension of service quality for guest experience. True luxury well surpasses physical attributes and ultimately is experiential. 

The current pandemic has been brutal and has dealt a body blow, particularly to the urban luxury hotels who were mainly reliant on the overseas and domestic corporate segment. Saddled with high fixed costs, many hotels faced hard choices and were compelled to make drastic changes to the operational, guest service delivery and cost structure of their properties.

Overall, the commitment of our hotel GMs and leadership teams has been laudable. It fills me with pride to see how they remained full of optimism, energy and purpose while combating this crisis. In the past 18 months, we all have spent more time than ever before in a virtual mode – but now we must cross over to the physical realm. However, I do wish to remind them to now start spending less time in meetings and on their laptops, and more time walking their properties and talking to their guests and staff. Make sure your team members are physically safe, mentally comfortable and financially secure. 

Most importantly, retain a laser focus on guest delight and quality. Maintain standards assiduously, don’t lose the sparkle. Refrain from operating on a ‘minimum quality’ model – your guests deserve better. Remember that guest delight and excellence are the only currency that matter in the long run. Resist the temptation to eschew short term gains at the cost of long-term losses.  Make time to train and mentor your team and instil in them a passion for hospitality. Invest in what shall remain beyond your tenure- that is your true contribution. 

Luxury hospitality is multidimensional but at its core is excellence in service – service which is caring, efficient, personalised and even anticipatory, always enriching the guest experience. During Covid19 times due to emphasis on social distancing and contactless behaviour, the emphasis on service has been diminished which needs to be rebuilt and strengthened. We are a people industry and people are our most precious assets. Build a tall wall around your talent. Continually safeguard their morale and confidence. Remember that we have no patents in our industry and our staff are the closest that come to one!

In luxury hospitality, people are the real differentiator since ultimately the hotel is only as good as its staff! 

Prepare for tomorrow’s “new normal”, based on changing dimensions of business, consumer needs and expectations, emerging technology, evolving community behaviours and socio-eco patterns. 

Covid19 posed a mega challenge but the pandemic is temporary and shall soon pass. The hospitality industry may have to endure more pain for another six to 12 months, but shall bounce back strongly and soar well above pre-Covid19 heights. 

It’s a universal truth that human beings have an innate desire to connect with people, see new places and build new memories. They will continue to fly, travel and celebrate life together. As the Indian affluent market continues to grow, and globally with the rich getting richer, the luxury footprint shall only increase. There is always room at the top and luxury hospitality shall thrive and that’s a guarantee!

AUTHOR BIO: Rajiv Kaul is Advisor, The Leela Palace, Hotels & Resorts

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Rajiv Kaul The Leela Palaces Hotels and Resorts


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