Hotel Build 2016
The fourth edition of Hotel Build was a resounding success with information and knowledge exchange in the forefront
Held at Hotel Westin Gurgaon, the Hotel Build 2016 conference brought together members from various verticals within the hotel-build industry to discuss solutions that can be adapted for prevailing challenges.
The first panel discussion, The CEO Panel, brought together leaders from the hospitality industry and was moderated by Mandeep Lamba, MD, hotels and hospitality group, India, JLL, who asked the panellists to tell the audience about how the hotel industry has evolved over these years. Ajith Thomas, director, international operations, Chris Garrod Global said that not only has the process of implementation changed, but no more are hotels run the conventional way. Sanjay Sethi, CEO, Chalet Hotels, pointed out that little has changed and that the industry continues to face age-old problems such as labour, approval issues, technology and execution methodologies. Panellists were also of the view that the ever-changing demographic shift of guests is transforming the industry from a lifestyle business to a commodity one.
However, in this journey, “the world of hotel design has gone flat” pointed out Sethi. There’s little that distinguishes one hotel from another. Hoteliers and designers have failed to embellish hotels with Indian elements, and prefer to embrace international design, thus losing their ability to stand out.
Echoing this concern, Vineet Verma, executive director, Brigade Hospitality, said, “From an owner’s perspective, we have stopped investing in iconic properties as it makes little business sense. Guests are spending differently and will see no point in staying at a five-star property if he/she can avail a similar deal next door. Hotels are built with a cookie-cutter approach. it’s the same handbook that is handed down across all the properties.”
The panel concluded that affordability and cost effectiveness have become the defining factor for design in hospitality.
The special address by Shashank Warty, currently heading the real estate arm of Sotheby’s International Realty, reiterated the panellists views on the system of tedious approvals and instead addressed the issue of trained manpower. “Today, you would be lucky if you hire people who understand the hospitality industry. Spartan hygiene and services within a stipulated price bracket is the need of the hour today,” he added.
The second panel, ‘Building dreams by developers’ conferred on aspects such as criteria for land selection to partnering parameters. The panelist included Varun Chaudhary, executive director, CG Corp Global, Uttam Dave, managing partner, Atmanya Projects LLP, Vineet Verma, of Brigade Group, Ranjit Batra, president hospitality, Panchshil Realty, Shamsher Mann, chief development officer, Roots Corporation Limited and Ajith Thomas of CGG as the moderator. Addressing the question of land selection, Verma admitted that the Brigade Group prefers to look within the company to research into this aspect and would rather establish properties within a mixed enclave that includes residential, retail and commercial. He added that the Group is inclined to enter into a lease ranging from 35 to 60 years instead of buying land, as it accounts for a mammoth 50-70% of the total project cost. On the other hand, Varun Chowdhury, ED, CG Corp Global, said that as a company that stresses on bottom-line, they invest much time and energy in ensuring the right format. “We talk to several consultants, tourism department of states to understand the macro plan of the nation, before securing the site,” he added.
Moderator Thomas questioned Ranjeet Batra, president, hospitality, Panchshil Realty, on their benchmark of finalising partners. “We’ve partnered with Marriott across various properties, and being in the same city, having a single brand across segments has helped us bring in efficiencies. From backend processes like bakery, finance, sales and marketing, HR, laundry, etc, our cluster approach has helped us see huge benefits. We continue to be Marriott-centric as part of our strategy,” he revealed.
The panel also discussed fundamental questions of how business interests are balanced between planning, investment and ensuring returns. Verma pointed out that one can see an assurance only by providing a clear brief to every stakeholder involved in the project. “Once we receive a ball-park figure from the chief operating office on the investment cost, we try to stick to it from the time we sign the deal. We insist that operators regularly conduct forecasts, which helps us target a nominally accurate goal,” he explained.
The third segment of the day was a Conversation with Design Experts. Having witnessed the standardised design language adopted by most hotels, Khozema Chitalwala, principal, Designers Group, opined, “Every property needs must have an individual identity and make its own statement.” Reiterating this thought, Ram Vithal Rao, director, Vital Concept Design Ltd, asserted that the design and architecture of a hotel should reflect the site’s local context and vocabulary. India’s diverse culture guests should be able to experience it within the spatial fabric of the hotel. But, unfortunately, standardisation is taking a toll.”
Babita Krishnan, editor, Hotelier India, pointed out that consultants and facilities planner are an important part in the development phase of the property. Yet there’s a complete lack of synergy between the project managers, architects and the consultants on the planning front.
One of the main reasons for this disparity, stated Amitabh Tyagi, VP and head technical services, Taj Hotels, is due to the belief that facilities planners and consultants are considered as pocket of expenses – leading to additional costs. Hence, their involvement too is pushed back to the last phase as possible. However, Narendra Verma, principal facility consultant, Hospitality Consultants India, asserted that consultants should become a part of the team when the architects come in – every party involved needs to move together till execution. This in the long run helps bring in efficiency and optimisation, which is otherwise lost.
The last leg of the conference termed ‘Profit by Design’, elucidated on FSI to the design formats of the room. Opening the discussion, Ritu Bhatia-Kler, MD, Total Integrated Design India, mentioned the impact of FSI rules on the design and architecture of hotels. To optimise on the space available, designers are challenged to address it smartly and innovatively – hotels are doing away with reception tables, bars are now linked to reception and lounges included within lobby spaces, etc. These are the places where FSI plays a role and design and interiors have actually, by default, become smarter and innovative. But on the negative side, as Tyagi pointed out, the regulations have also forced people to cheat. This malpractice and law-bending can be easily avoided with the margin for increased FSI that can help account for all the requirements without any major compromise.
Taking the thought of smart design forward, Tyagi stated, “When it comes to upper scale brands like Marriott, Sheraton or Vivanta, one doesn’t expect just rich design but also smart design. Thus, while choosing the materials and solutions, designers these days are cautious of making the right choice. For example, not many guests use bath tubs in hotels in the metros – it’s a waste of space and resources. But as per classification committee rules, five-star deluxe rooms mandatorily must have 50% of the rooms fitted with a bathtub; for a four-star it’s 25%. To resolve this, we have also written to the Ministry of Tourism and after three months of following up we get a reply that ‘the file has been forwarded to higher authority.’ In another instance, only five-star hotels in Kerela are given liquor license. If the property doesn’t get a five star clearance after completion, the planning and design of various spaces go in vain. Thus, designers have to approach the complete process very smartly.”
The panel further went on to discuss the advantages of mixed use properties, wherein hotels built within the boundaries of either a office complex, residential or retail building, etc, help provide for more business that a sole structure. They also discussed on the engineering challenges to accommodating such mixed premises.