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Indian warmth, Western systems

business Updated: Feb 20, 2008 22:50 IST
Anita Sharan

Rajeev Menon, area vice president – Malaysia, India, Pakistan & Maldives, Marriott International, has spent his entire career in the hospitality industry, including a good number of years in Australia. He talks to Anita Sharan about his learnings across different markets that help him face the typical challenges of his responsibility. At 40, Menon is as excited about his job as he was when he started his career with the ITC Group of Hotels in Delhi.

What keeps you feeling fresh and excited about your job?
It’s my passion for the hotel business and the fact that given the different challenges I face in the markets I look after, I often have to think totally from zero up.

What is your most important learning from across your diverse market experiences?
India has taught me true hospitality – drawing from its cultural value of a genuine love for guests. Australia, where I worked for many years, has taught me effective cost and resource management. Both are important in the hospitality business. Malaysia combines them well.

In the island of Maldives, however, we have to manage our own electricity generation and shipping of products. However, Indian hospitality far outperforms that in many other countries.

How does your mix of experiences help you handle such diverse challenges?
My learnings of both hospitality and efficient systems help me manage both sides of the challenges more effectively. In Australia, a person is your customer only when he reaches your hotel. In India, customer management has to be done in a larger environment, maybe starting at the point he lands in a city – given India’s travel and infrastructure challenges.
Here, you spend almost 40 per cent of your time managing the outside.

Are there any other management differences that are challenging?
In the West, including Australia, most hotel owning groups are institutions and corporations. In India, most hotel entities are owned- or family-based businesses that are only now going through a metamorphosis and becoming corporations.

A financial institution’s management style is bottomline-driven. The product must be well presented in the market and meet all compliance issues. With ownership businesses, touch and feel and creating engagement through experiences are very important. For Marriott, which manages the hotels, the challenge is always how to meet owner expectations while maintaining the product best.

Are there any changes occurring in India along global lines?
Ownerships of hotels have become more a part of a diverse portfolio in India and the owners are now working well with the professional managers. Perspectives in service have also shifted to align better with global standards, though attaining greater efficiencies in the business model along international lines is still in process.

What about the Indian customer?
The domestic customer of today is extremely well-travelled, creating a shift in expectations. This is getting reflected in what we offer – technology, for example. Earlier, it was about internet access. Today, it is about internet and wi-fi. So, in our full-service Indian properties, we’re working on installing the Jackpack in every room – a console above your writing desk that splits your TV screen into two halves for entertainment and computer usage.

We go into refurbishment phases every five-six years. Adoption of such technology is sensible in India for us for the next refurbishment cycle starting early next year. Missing a cycle can mean missing a big opportunity.