Safety is the new luxury: Sharad Puri, JW Marriott Mumbai Juhu

In conversation with BW HOTELIER, Sharad Puri, General Manager, JW Marriott Mumbai Juhu discusses the reopening of hotels, tightening safety guidelines, learnings from the West, role of technology going forward and much more.

While the Maharashtra government’s decision to reopen hotels was hailed by the hoteliers across the state, the challenge of intense monsoon soon came knocking at the doorstep. As hotels resume operations after months of unprecedented lockdown, Sharad Puri, General Manager, JW Marriott Mumbai Juhu in conversation with BW HOTELIER discusses the reopening of hotels, tightening safety guidelines, learnings from the West, the role of technology going forward, and much more. 

How do you welcome the Maharashtra government's decision to open hotels at 33 per cent occupancy?

We are delighted about the lockdown relaxations with regards to hotels and look forward to welcoming our guests to the JW Marriott Mumbai Juhu. As a responsible hotel with very strict guidelines on safety and hygiene, we have taken many precautions to ensure the safety of our guests and our associates. We have implemented Marriott International’s ‘Commitment to Clean’ programme across all functions in the hotel to assure our guests of their safety.

Mumbai is facing the twin challenge of Covid19 and intense monsoon season. How are you going about tackling both?

Mumbai has always been and is a city of immense resilience; Mumbaikars are blessed with the strength to emerge out of every crisis and become stronger. Our staycation and Monsoon Bliss packages have been accepted very well by our guests and we have seen a lot of guests staying with us from within Maharashtra on the staycation package.

Please tell us about some of the new contactless and on-ground arrangements made by Marriott to ensure the safety of the guests as it launches new staycation packages?

Safety is the new luxury and is a top priority for us. It is important for us now to earn the confidence of our guests to deliver luxury experiences again. The aforementioned ‘Commitment to Clean’ programme has been developed after consultations with medical professionals. The programme is our commitment to cleanliness, sanitation and hygiene in everything that we do. It lists several standard operating procedures - deeper and more frequent sanitization of common touch points, introduction of technology such as QR codes, contactless payments, mobile check-in and check-out through the Marriott Bonvoy ap-plication to ensure contactless service. Commitment to Clean has specific emphasis and tools to ensure safe distancing between guests as well as associates. Seating in all restaurants, bars, banquets and the lobby have been rearranged. All associates are equipped with PPE based on the levels of interactions. The staycation package has been successful and includes a lot of activities for families and children in a safe environment.

How do you plan on implementing the new hygiene and sanitation protocols that have been rolled out?

An extensive set of new hygiene and sanitation procedures have been implemented to ensure the safety of guests and associates - dedicated hand sanitizer stations are placed near high touch points, single use items are optimized across the hotel, dedicated disinfecting wipes are used for consistent cleaning of different surfaces. As per government regulation, a 24-hour period is left between room allocations to ensure thorough disinfection after use. Signages encouraging hand washing and social distancing are placed across the hotel and associates are encouraged to maintain social distancing and hygiene stand-ards.

Marriott International has introduced the concept of a ‘Cleanliness Champion’ who monitors the safety and hygiene standards across all functions of the hotel. At the JW Marriott Mumbai Juhu, we have appointed Rohit Tiwari, a seasoned hotelier with several years of experience in luxury hotels who is responsible for ensuring the strict execution of each step of Commitment to Clean. We have also im-plemented the protocols of 'Connect with Confidence' - a dedicated programme by Marriott International encompassing the new standards of procedure for events and meetings. Our team has been trained in the art of delivering personalized luxury services keeping in mind all the safety measures.

What new strategies will be adopted by JW Marriott for the way forward to garner business?

Our primary endeavor is to earn the trust of our guests and portray the hotel as a family staycation destination, and we have received a fantastic response so far. We have also capitalized on the “worka-tion” trend and are offering multiple spaces - rooms, executive office and conference venues, where guests can choose to work.

Marriott on Wheels has been extremely successful since its inception in April 2020 and we will continue to expand the reach of this initiative.

Tourism, weddings are some of the key drivers for revenue generation in the hospitality industry. How do you plan to recover the revenue gap in those areas? 

Weddings will continue to be a crucial segment for us. Given our global presence, we have had learnings from the West on how to adopt some strategies on making micro weddings lavish. Considering the government restrictions due to the pandemic, I’m proud that my team has adapted very well to the new standards of sanitation and hygiene and we look forward to curating top-class wedding experiences.

Fine dining which is the very heart of hospitality is now moving towards contactless din-ing. How is Marriott ensuring that the glamour and sheen of it remain intact whilst the new health and distancing concerns?

In fine dining, our guests seek personalization, innovative ideas for curating luxury experiences and a variety of cuisines. We believe that all this can be done with contactless service and following the detailed protocols of the Commitment to Clean programme.

With no signs of COVID-19 subsiding anytime soon and people’s reluctance to step out from their homes, knowing that hygiene is more critical than it has ever been, when do you expect the hotels to bounce back to normalcy?

We are now witnessing a change in the consumer behavior dynamic as compared to a few months ago; people are accepting Covid-19 and taking precaution, whilst continuing to live life normally. Families with young children are visiting the hotel, guests have expressed their confidence in our safety measures and we are gradually gaining back their trust. I feel it is the collective responsibility of every hotel and our industry at large to earn the trust and confidence of our guests that our hotels are safe. The sooner we can give them the confidence, the sooner our revenues will bounce back.

As new hygiene norms and standards have come into play, what training model did Marriott use to instill the same in the staff for their everyday working?

I am blessed with a brilliant leadership team who has invested a great deal of effort to keep the hotel operational throughout the lockdown. These past few months have given all of us the time and oppor-tunity to enable our associates to operate in the new normal. We have urged the importance of being multi-skilled and have instilled the need for adaptability in the minds of associates. We keep reminding ourselves every day of a very famous quote by Mr. Marriott - “View the problem as an opportunity to grow”.

During the current global health crisis, what role do you think technology plays in helping hotels in their recovery?

As a part of Marriott International, we have a tremendous advantage of access to new technology, considering the global presence of the organization. This pandemic has propelled people to embrace technology and this change is here to stay. The presence of technological advancements such as digital payments, QR codes, mobile check-in and check-out and a user-friendly digital application for each service is a key aspect of business recovery.

Thinking long term, do you believe that hotels should invest more towards technology in the post COVID world?

Yes, definitely. The hotel industry has been relatively slower in embracing new technology as compared to other industries, considering our endeavor to touch people’s emotions which is best done through human interaction. I’m very confident that the use of technology will not lead to less personalization, in fact, we can use technology to enhance personalization. It will be key for all organizations to adapt to technology sooner as it will have a positive impact on the environment as well.

What are some of the key lessons and learning that the pandemic brought with it for the industry? 

The ability to change and adapt is the most important skill and every individual must be prepared to embrace change. My team and I have also learned to give significant importance to profitable ancillary revenues - case in point - Marriott on Wheels, our food and beverage home delivery initiative. Moreover seeking and creating growth opportunities in various avenues of business is the only way to stay afloat and emerge stronger.

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