By Anirban Simlai
The Park was the first hotel in Hyderabad to reopen after the initial lockdown. We kick started room business and achieved a huge success in online food delivery but what an experience this has been!
A hotelier can work from home, hell and heaven – this is what I told someone who asked “How can a hotelier work from home.” This is what Covid 19 has taught me. As a father of two kids, with a working wife and ageing parents, I have learnt to constantly struggle and win the balance between work and family & uncertainty and hope.
I am Back to school, learning all over again!!! On one hand as a hotelier, I have to stand strong and act as the leader for my whole team, motivating team and making sure they have safe and healthy environment to work in. On the other hand as a husband, son and father, I had to be cognizant of the fact that my wife had to go to work every day because essential services like banks were never closed and how extremely stressful parenting was for both of us. Managing two kids at home with online classes was another new chapter and learning for me and my wife. My parents are aged people, staying in Hyderabad and I was extremely worried about their health.
During my tenure at The Park Kolkata, I had the privilege and opportunity to meet the legendary Late Mr. Jit Paul so many times. Once in a course of conversation he gave me two lines in writing :-
“Prosperity and abundance bring VICE Adversity brings VIRTUE”
I preserve this as the most valuable advice of my life. I’ve adapted myself to the new normal and I think I have been able to come out of the worst period as a better person. I had to learn about medical terminologies, reinvent the engineering process, train team members on use of PPE kits and different hospital grade equipments and cleaning agents! The daringly different attitude helped me overcome fear and anxiety and achieve unprecedented milestones which were unthinkable in hospitality business – zero based budgeting and activity based daily profit and loss statement. It was our very well structured and targeted programme, launched nationally at a very early state of hotel lockdown – REIMAGINE. RESET. RESTART – under the leadership of Chairperson Ms. Paul and Managing Director Mr. Dewan as well as solid team work that has seen The Park Hyderabad through so far.
My hope is that my wonderful journey in Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels will find me one day looking back at the Covid 19 time as a rigorous nightmare we learned and lived through to tell the tale. My journey has been absolutely ANYTHING BUT ORDINARY! It fills me with great pride whenever I look back especially the kind of incredible things that we have achieved over the years. In many ways. I was lucky to have joined the organization at time of rapid expansion and growth. And it is also my extreme good fortune to have got the opportunity to be personally part of some of the success stories amongst many. Perhaps, my greatest pride lies in the impression that we have created in minds and souls of our customers with our anything but ordinary services. Business hotels with high focus on entertainment and wellness along with social spaces like bars, lounges and cafes are extremely popular and trend setting. It is something that is unmatched and unrivalled by any of our competitors.
I still remember the day when we all were interviewed by our Managing Director Mr. Dewan during our Management Trainee campus interview. Here I got my first job as management trainee at Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels and is the most memorable day of my life. After one year of training Mr. Dewan asked me to take over Someplace Else, as my first assignment.
I am so proud of its unprecedented success which is a case study in various IIM’s. After my nightclub stint, I was made Banquet manager. I was passionately involved and did some of the biggest and most talked about events and outdoor caterings. To name a few the ITC Annual Day theme dinner by Mr Y.C Deveshwar and SBI National Audit conference followed by outdoor banqueting.
Then I took over as Director of F&B of one of the most dynamic and highest revenue producing F&B department of the country. Eventually I became unit head as General Manager and shifted to Hyderabad to take over Park Hyderabad operations in 2012. In the initial part of my career I attended food and beverage leadership and strategic courses from The Hotel School, The Hague, Netherlands by obtaining a scholarship from International hotel and restaurant association in 1997. I have done strategic hospitality management, strategic leadership management and strategic financial management from Cornell University in 2003 and 2009.
Mantras such as Daringly Different, Creatively inspiring, Spontaneously Joyous and Making things fun the management has ensured that I think and act in manner that is not routine and mundane. Being able to keep up to these standards has enabled The Park offer our customers a sense of continuous excitement like no other brand. My greatest contribution to the business is that I lived the brand mantras and I have not let my hunger to succeed fizzle out.
Covid 19 is a dark shadow on our business and my greatest motivation is the self-belief that wonderful things lie ahead at the end of tunnel. Every day was so challenging and every step was a new kind of crisis management on the shop floor. All through Mr Dewan kept on inspiring all of us to aim big and believe that every crisis will give us a new opportunity. However the “I will not give up at any cost” attitude of many front line staff in The Park, Hyderabad, to do a great service all the time, has often been my greatest source of inspiration during the last few months. During this time of lock down, we have practiced all the safety and norms which is the utmost necessity of the hour. Continuous connection with guests and patrons through online platforms had made us reach out to them, we made sure they felt the warmth of Indian hospitality in an Anything but ordinary way. Maintaining all the hygiene and sanitation standards we have made sure the hospitality and services reached our guest. We had started with touchless check-in, contactless services and online QR menu to make an effortless experience for the guests. We have also introduced new concepts for our guests like The movie date , where friends and family can enjoy some movie time and make sure that is done with utmost safety. New daycation and staycation concepts have become very popular with the guests who want to unwind and relax from the chaos. Weddings have been a big hit – we have hosted almost 20 weddings maintaining all the hygiene and government norms and regulation. Our concept of Workation – Work from The park, has the guest stay with us work from here and have a relaxing experience. We are also cross selling and trying to push Apeejay Business Centre personalized work stations, exclusive offices and packages of boardrooms. The efforts have paid off.
Our customers have been a source of pure joy! Once we started with our online deliveries and Bengali food festivals were on the delivery platforms, we received so much love! We had guests like Swati Sucherita, a very well know media person writing about the authenticity and delicacy of the food she received. Patrons who have ordered food during lockdown 1.0 have praised the delivery timings and the utmost care we have taken for hygiene and precautions. Guests have made sure to share love through all social media platforms, such compliments have kept our team motivated.
The entire family of UK consulate use to order regularly from THE Park. Mrs. Andrew is a big fan of our food and also praised the level of hygiene, sanitization and touchless food delivery on her social media.
Guest experience has to be Anything But Ordinary from the time and the moment they enter our gates. Since lockdown 1.0, we have been working not only on the hygiene and sanitization part but also on the experience. Every single step of the way from entering the hotel, temperature check, sanitization processes of luggage’s and bags, touchless check-in all are made keeping in mind the social distancing, hygiene and no contact norms of THE NEW NORMAL world we are living in. Here is a video of the hygiene practices we are following at The Park, Hyderabad.
We had guests staying with us after unlock 1.0 and have been praising the hygiene standards we have been maintaining. The touchless process of all check-ins, menu, IRD and more has made the stay safer and comfortable. The simple strategy is to win back the trust of our customers. If you think of it this strategy is already in motion since the day the pandemic started. All actions that we have taken or are taking during the pandemic are actually a way of communicating with our guests that we will be ready to welcome them back whenever they are ready wine, dine or party. Though this is just the larger picture and much work will have to be done at micro level. One of the most decisive factors in post Covid hospitality industry will be the ability to develop customized products and services to meet customer demand. Data base management and particularly harnessing personal relationships that different team members have built with guests over the past many years will be another key strategy. Communication will also play a very critical role. Digital platforms will be over crowded with content so to develop the right content and target the right audience will be very important. Capitalizing on the recall factor of strong sub brands such as Aqua and Kismet can be a game changer. Open spaces such as Aqua will have an edge because of the convenience of observing social distancing.
We have received feedback on guests saying how the staff and team has been always happy to help and assist them at all times. Getting praises about my team always makes me feel so much better and a little proud I must say. So many have done all the Community Services so sincerely and I would like to thank them for making it possible. Especially Joy from security for making sure all the deliveries of medicine and essentials are done, Chef Majhi, Chef John for making the mass food drive possible, Bhupender & Merwin from F&B service team for the dedication they have shown to distribute the food during food drives.
We had started with community services during the lockdown 1.0 for our neighbourhood, distributing packed food packets twice a week in the neighbourhood area for GHMC workers, traffic police team, cleaners, people travelling by road to homes and more. There has been a peak rise in distribution of essential items and groceries during mid of lockdown 1.0 to lockdown 2.0 when we distributed grocery and essential in the camp areas of daily labourers. We have been distributing food and essentials in government schools where refugee camps was created for people who needed it. We have also been working on medicine and emergency essential delivery for the elderly people living within a radius of 5 km as we have been receiving a lot of calls for buying medicine, gloves, mask, and sanitizers for such elderly people living alone.
I know youth who have their heart set on joining the industry but their career plans are in limbo right now. To them I want to say – There is definitely a set back! I wish I could tell when all this is going to get over. From what I read and hear recovery will only begin in early 2021. However, invention of a vaccine can change the scenario drastically. In the long run, travel and hospitality industry will do wonders. I am certain that the day the fear of this disease is gone, the rise of the hospitality industry will be much more astronomical than the decline that we have seen in the last 4 months. Till such a time, the youth need to have patience.
Anirban Simlai is General Manager, The Park Hyderabad