Nikhil Raheja on today’s hospitality landscape

People, Hospitality Trends

Hotelier India brings you the Raheja perspective on lucrative cities, segments and brands.

Which cities look attractive to you from a hospitality standpoint?
Nikhil Raheja: Despite being largely saturated, Mumbai remains an attractive investment opportunity for us.

Which segments in Mumbai’s accommodation sector do you identify as saturated and which ones present opportunity?
Nikhil Raheja: In today’s scenario, I think five star hotels also face competition from the three stars. In my opinion, three, four and five star hotels are all in a tussle for the same market and the guest is going to pick the option that gives him the best value for money.

That said, we reduced the number of keys in our serviced apartment property, The Residence Hotel and Convention Center from 100 to 25. I see a huge demand for serviced apartments but only under the international branding because usually the market for this kind of accommodation is the international guest, who will only check in with a brand he recognises and trusts. Currently our 25 apartment inventory in serviced apartments is doing well but it depends on the domestic guest.

Which hotel management companies are on your wish list; which brands present partnering potential for you?
Nikhil Raheja: I would love to be involved in developing a W property. Hyatt Place, Hilton Garden Inn, Four Points by Sheraton who we already have a partnership with are all brands that I would like to collaborate with on a project. I would also be interested in bringing in a Four Seasons hotel that stands for the brand’s true attributes.

What is your take on the tussle between domestic and international brands – do you have a preference in terms of where the brand originates?
Nikhil Raheja: I would usually collaborate exclusively with international brands simply because they come with a brand promise and brand recall, which draws guests.

However the Taj and Oberoi groups are home grown brands, which boast credibility on both these parameters so I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of collaborating with them.

How would you describe the business in Powai? How come the Rahejas zeroed in on Powai considering that Marriott already had its Rennaissance Mumbai Convention Centre Hotel there?
Nikhil Raheja: In a way, another player in the area works as a benefit because excess demand for rooms and banquets for the Renaissance Hotel and Convention Centre comes to the Ramada Powai and our attached convention centre. Business is doing fairly well.

Besides, there is plenty of demand in this area. I think that today, 70% of Mumbai’s Central Business District (CBD) is located around Andheri East, Powai and Goreagaon. Conferencing is a huge generator of revenue for us with P&G, HUL, L&T offices being located here.

How did you come upon the idea to initiate zero trans fat food?
Nikhil Raheja: The idea struck me when I was in New York and discovered that the city’s officials were concerned that New Yorkers in their 50s were burdened with medical bills instead of being big spenders, tax payers and contributors to donations and such.

Studies had revealed that most of New York’s population was suffering from blockages in their arteries related to the consumption of trans fats due to the city’s widespread eating out culture. The government came down hard on the kind of oils used in the preparation of fast food.

Hydrogenated oils – which are the root cause of trans fat in food – were banned. Any restaurant community would be upset with such a move because oils, when hydrogenated do not become rancid as fast as non-hydrogenated oils.

So food stays fresh longer and even dishes that are a day old won’t be apparently stale. Hydrogenated oils also reduce production cost as they are more effective and can be used to cook more. However we have gone the extra mile and provide our guests with this zero trans fat food.

The food at Ramada Powai is also MSG (monosodium glutamate) free. Some people undertake CSR – this is our way of giving back to the community. The prices of food on our menus remain the same. We have absorbed this cost.

Ramada Powai becomes the first in India but one of many in the food business worldwide who have gone trans fat free. NYC has gone completely trans fat free and Sydney is soon to follow.

Where is the business plan in this move; will you be using it in your communication?
Nikhil Raheja: It is a part of our communication on our website and otherwise as well. We are using the ZTF (Zero Trans Fats) logo in all of our communication with guests, the trade and with the media.

Recently people have been requesting food from Ramada Powai even if their event is restricted to the attached Convention Center (meaning they could avail of menus at lower rates) only because they wanted to avail of the zero trans fats menus. It also works as a good USP.

Nikhil Raheja is the son of Kishore L Raheja, founder & Chairman, of the K Raheja group, which is involved in real estate and hotel developmen.

Raheja’s Hospitality Fact File:

  • The Resort, Madh Island, Mumbai, India
  • Renaissance Mumbai Hotel & Convention Centre, Powai, Mumbai, India
  • Lakeside Chalet – Marriott Executive Apartments, Powai, Mumbai, India
  • JW Marriott, Juhu, Mumbai, India
  • The Westin Hyderabad, Mindspace
  • Four Points by Sheraton Navi Mumbai, Vash