Leading through COVID 19 Lockdown, My first year as GM and National Head at Zone by The Park

By Vikas Ahluwalia

During COVID 19 lockdown phase II, I completed my one year journey with Zone by The Park. It has been the most significant first anniversary of my career in the hospitality industry. Being a foodie and someone who loves to travel, Zone by The Park’s development efforts took me to unexplored destinations in the past year as I got to see new places, meet interesting people and witness real experiences.

Zone Palace by The Park, Jaipur, which opened after I joined, has become a preferred wedding destination in a short period of opening in 2019.  Zone by The Park’s first hotel was opened in 2014 and today we are operational in 9 cities comprising 11 hotels and 729 rooms. We have a robust expansion plan wherein we have a pipeline of 1100 rooms coming up in the next 3 years as well as many more developments at advanced stages of discussions.  We are looking forward to opening a Zone by The Park in Dimapur which will be the first branded resort in the North East and our first hotel in Odisha, located in Gopalpur, which we hope will come up soon.

With the amazing team of Zone by The Park, Jodhpur

During the COVID 19 pandemic, which has been a difficult phase for all of us, Zone by The Park, Jodhpur was the home away from home for the Corona Warriors – the doctors – who were serving the entire community. It was also one of the hotels where the now infamous Italian group had stayed in the early part of the year much before the lockdown was announced and the same brought us a tremendous amount of media spotlight.  We are privileged to have received tremendous support and guidance from the local administration and the health authorities during that time.

With the Zoners of Coimbatore

During the lockdown, our hotels in Jaipur, Raipur, Coimbatore distributed food and masks to the needy in their neighbourhood. The entire corporate team of Zone by The Park worked from home and connected with each other using latest technological tools. There were strategy sessions chaired by Ms Priya Paul, Chairperson, Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels and Mr Vijay Dewan, Managing Director, Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels, Task Force meetings for Re-imagining and Re-aligning our business and online training sessions conducted by AIH and Zone Training team comprising lots of learning for the team members. These interactions have helped us plan our strategy and way forward. A special task force at ASPHL has worked on strengthening our SOPs with the introduction of S.H.I.E.L.D, which is an all-encompassing program bringing the best of luxury, design, hygiene, safety and service excellence, all under one roof. It is an abbreviated form for – Sanitization, Hygiene, ISO Standard Equipment, Excellence, Luxury Redefined and Distancing. We have ensured that all our stakeholders are being taken care of and looked after and the teams are motivating each other and putting in extra efforts during these difficult times which will help us bounce back much stronger.  

“The team that works together, stays together” – With my colleagues at our hotel in Jaipur

I have had Zoners across all our hotels working to maintain the properties so that we are ready to open and welcome our guests when allowed by the administration. Most of our hotels are partially operational and the teams have been trained on S.H.I.E.LD along with WHO and Government guidelines for hotel operations. We have introduced QR Code Enabled Menus, realigned seating arrangements at our restaurants as per the social distancing norms and frequent and are religiously following regular sanitization of high movement areas.

The impact on the hospitality industry in a health crisis like this has been immense. It does look as if the hospitality business would be one of the last businesses to recover. However, we are confident that new thinking will help us work through this tremendous challenge. People are social beings and love to eat, drink, socialise and travel.

I have always admired The Park and Zone by The Park for the unconventional approach and offerings. I am glad I took the opportunity when it arose and I am responsible for the growth of the brand. There couldn’t be a more positive place I would be in during this health crisis which has no precedent!  As I look back from the day I joined in April 2019, it’s been a year full of travel, challenges and learnings with guidance and support of our Chairperson Ms Priya Paul and Managing Director Mr Vijay Dewan, like-minded professionals in my team at the Zone Corporate office and the hotels. We improved efficiencies across our hotels by strengthening our internal processes, benchmarked our operating costs, shared best practices amongst our hotels and introduced Brand Audit and Internal Controls Audit. We have recently rolled out our online guest feedback system and reputation management to collate, review and address our guest feedback.

I do remember my first day at work on 28th April 2019 in New Delhi wherein I was a bit jittery not knowing what to expect and by the end of the day I had a schedule in hand – my first Zone travel was to Zone by The Park, Bani Park, Jaipur and Zone Palace by The Park! As the days passed by, my interactions with the hotel teams increased with each new addition to the Zone family, opening of a new hotel or signing of a new property, bringing about an excitement and happiness that cannot be explained.

The best part about Zone by The Park are the Zoners – Creative, Talented & Passionate

Our strength is our team of Zoners and they are the reasons why the guests and investors have faith in us. It’s interesting how creative some of my team members are without whom it would not have been possible to exceed the expectations of our guests. The Zoners are a mix of extremely talented and passionate professionals who are committed to delivering the very best. I have loved interacting with the teams and learning from them during my visit to the hotels and look forward to seeing all of them again.

Since childhood, uniforms had fascinated me and serving the country in one of the three armed services was a dream for me. However, due to a flat foot, I couldn’t make services into a career. I looked at sailing which fascinated me as well and dreamt of becoming a pilot too but it needed me to study hard, which as a young man looked less appealing! I chose hospitality so that I could sail, travel, serve and fly. I am glad that I did. My journey in hospitality has taken me to different parts of our country and abroad working with leading hotel companies across different locations, growing professionally, learning and imbibing best practices across a swathe of companies.

Relaxing at the beach in the Andamans

A few months back while shortlisting potential hotel sites I had to visit multiple islands in Andaman and I ended up using 5 different modes of transport in a span of 8 hours –  Car Helicopter, Speed Boat, Open Good Carrier and Fishing Boat!

In front of the Sea Link Speed Boat

I do love what I am doing. No two days are similar. There is always something happening at our hotels. Here’s an appreciation from our little guest which really touched my heart and I hope to see her again soon.

A note left by one of our guests at Zone Palace by The Park, Jaipur

Vikas Ahluwalia is General Manager and National Head, Zone by The Park, Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels.

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