Vineet Mishra, General Manager - The Ritz-Carlton, Pune & Cluster General Manager, Pune speaks to Today's Traveller in a one-on-one on his approach to adopting new protocols to restore guest confidence as well as carve a sustainable future, regardless of the challenges.
TT Bureau: As a luxury hotel in Pune, what are the challenges you face during these unprecedented circumstances?
Vineet Mishra: Within this new environment, our singular goal is to provide guests and associates with the confidence and assurance that their health and safety is our first priority. At every point, we have to take account of the new guest reality. Developing a tight interlock between listening to our guests and pivoting strategy will be a core business habit in the new normal. We are facing a situation where we need to reinvent our self with these dynamic times.
The trial faced by the entire industry is a drop in demand from all segments due to lockdown. In this ‘best case scenario’ of the virus’s impact, our estimates are that the weighted impact of this situation is likely to erode occupancy (in calendar year 2020) The blended ADR may also see a drop for this year. Reduced room revenue, coupled with erosion in both restaurant demand and MICE business, are very likely to have a cascading effect on non-room revenue for hotels (such as spa revenue). The most important thing is for our industry to come together, government support to help the community we operate in and re-build life to normalcy. Thus focus needs to be diverted from a panicked to a positive approach.
The challenges we face are unprecedented, but we believe the best way for us to demonstrate our commitment is to give our guests and associates the assurance of exacting standards of safety and hygiene. We have augmented our already stringent protocols as we look forward to welcoming our guests to relive the Marriott experience.
TT Bureau: What new revenue streams are you looking at to recover faster?
Vineet Mishra: A cohesive, multi-channel and multi-device approach to reach travellers at different touchpoints is vital. Exploring new customer engagement avenues and expanding our services, we adapted to a new model regarding our home delivery service with ‘Marriott on Wheels’. This initiative sees us deliver curated culinary offerings to customers at their doorstep rather than an in-person exchange.
Looking at the behaviour of the market, it is imperative to look at revenue streams beyond the regular without disturbing the positioning of the hotels. We are exploring new avenues like food delivery and renting office spaces. All generations are making wide use of digital services, even people who aren't considered digital natives. Right now, our guests need fast, reliable and simple digital offerings that are available 24/7 and accessible on any device.
One critical strategy for meeting customer demands and retaining loyalty is to meet customers where they are. This is exactly where Marriott on Wheels, video-conferencing, social listening and digital menus fit the guest requirement to enjoy luxury hospitality services, in a safe and mobile environment. Travellers can stay with peace of mind under our Contact-Free Safe-cations package featuring a set of enhanced health and hygiene measures that will apply from guest areas to back-of-house operations such as supply chain deliveries, culinary preparation areas and housekeeping procedures.
In addition to frequent disinfection of public spaces and high-touch areas, our hotels have engaged the expertise of international hygiene specialists Diversey in providing hospital-grade chemicals designed to kill pathogens. All products delivered to our properties, room keys and luggage will be sanitized, and thermal scanners may well be fixtures at our hotels.
TT Bureau: What measures can be taken to enhance customer experience when adopting social distancing norms?
Vineet Mishra: Virtualizing experiences and means of delivery wherever possible doesn’t mean we will write off “real”. Experiences in the new normal that are not bound by the limitations of “real” in the physical sense, can coexist and complement virtual ones. In the hospitality industry, it is vital to distinguish between functional and deeper human needs and strike a balance in our operative strategy.
Keeping 'social distancing' in mind we have reduced the seating capacity at the restaurants and meeting areas whilst maintaining a 6 ft distance. This will further personalize service to our guests as the number of guests will reduce. Guests will be encouraged to use the Mobile Key functionality and our associates will manage services contact-free such as request for luggage pickup, airport transfers and seamless check-in and check-out procedures.
Hourly disinfection of high-touch areas, the installation of air purifiers in public spaces and the replacement of dining buffets with individually plated or boxed meals is another set of processes we are working upon. Restaurant menus can be downloaded into mobile phones via a secure code, while occupancy is restricted to one person for every six feet. The hotel is also maintaining strict hygiene and safety standards that will help develop guest confidence in our brands and team.
We are on the constant lookout to create new experiences that add immense value to our guests. Alfresco Dining is another concept that will truly be enjoyed in the new normal. With restaurants and bars currently functioning on a reduced occupancy, our data reports demonstrate that food and beverage will continue to be a revenue stream for us. The ongoing situation has also presented us with the chance to reposition weddings and curate them as an intimate affair, making it a memorable day to cherish for our esteemed guests. We have ensured that the outdoor and indoor public areas, that host such events, are ready for MICE and weddings as we adhere to government regulations along with reinforcing the need to practice and abide by social distancing norms set in place.
TT Bureau: Maharashtra has been worst affected by COVID 19. Being a luxury hotel in Pune what kind of recovery period are you looking at?
Vineet Mishra: The pandemic has impacted all business worldwide and there have been some notable bounce backs in the hotel industry in countries like China and South Korea. We too hope that the hotel industry will see a ramp-up to 30% by the year-end and further growth by the end of Q1 2021.
There has been a sharp decline in travel across Maharashtra due to extended lockdown. Many companies in Pune have imposed travel restrictions on their employees. This has also led to additional declines in weekend staycation travel coming from the neighboring city of Mumbai. With the scenario not showing improvement, this could be a challenging year for us. We hope that we will be able to push through various setbacks and show improvement in the last quarter of the year and further incline business in 2021.
TT Bureau: What kind of projections are you expecting in the demand-supply equation? When will it balance out?
Vineet Mishra: The erosion of confidence will make trust way more important than ever before. This will necessitate a “trust multiplier”—action that, to be effective, rebuilds trust quickly and credibly. Focus will be on confidence-building through every channel. Domestic tourism will play an important role in the revival of the economy. In order to secure this and gain traction from this segment, we have also rolled out 3 packages and help us bounce back. The supply, however, is expected to be put on hold for a while and have a delayed opening.
India has a strong domestic base, which we feel would continue to be the key driver of growth this year. We foresee a return of MICE demand, intimate weddings albeit in much smaller groups. The Staycation concept will garner dominance as a concept. People will simply want a change of scene and will check into hotels in their own cities rather than risking journeys.
Further, with the monsoon and lockdown conditions eased, propensity for long-distance road journeys for leisure will be seen and close destinations will be considered in convenient proximity to cities. The recovery plan for hotels will take around the next 12 months. By delivering simple, efficient and seamless digital experiences — even if it means adapting or creating brand new service and operational models, we are confident that we will be well-positioned to retain guest loyalty long after the pandemic is over. Accessible and exceptional experiences will thrive in the post-COVID-19 world.
TT Bureau: How do you keep up the employee morale during these tough times?
Vineet Mishra: COVID-19 has turned into a global crisis, evolving at unprecedented speed and scale. It is creating a universal imperative for the industry to take immediate action to protect its people. Marriott as a company has always celebrated its people. Even in these testing times, the leadership team of the hotel is actively engaging with their teams through digital platforms.
Knowledge is the new tool that keeps one aware and motivated in such testing times. We are advising every single team member of the utmost need to understand hygiene protocols and provide them with a virtual training platform where they can brush up on their technical and soft skills. This increased sense of self-awareness is exemplified in their body language as they apprise our guests of the stringent regulations in place. Weekly calls and Townhall meetings with the staff not only see our dedicated team share ideas but also features a host of engaging sessions and virtual competitions that help lighten the mood.
In addition to the above, we have created a community on Facebook that sees each department engage in insightful knowledge sharing. Adding to that, our associates have been sharing their skill sets on online and social sharing platforms by posting a host of fitness videos, healthy recipes, spa tricks and much more.