GM Interview: Singh of Grand Hyatt Mumbai and Puri of JW Marriott Mumbai Juhu spill beans

Having taken on the reins of two of the most prestigious hotel properties in the country, Puneet Singh, GM, Grand Hyatt Mumbai, and Sharad Puri, GM, JW Marriott Mumbai Juhu, share their learnings and experiences from the onset of their journey

General Manager, Interview, Grand Hyatt, JW Marriott Mumbai Juhu, Mumbai, Hospitality industry, Hotel management

It has been approximately a year since each of you have been at the helm of your new roles. How has the journey been so far?
Puneet Singh (PS): The journey, thus far, at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai has been one of discovery, learning, exploring, connecting, and getting to know our regulars, who have been patronising our hotel for over a decade now. It has been a fulfilling experience.
Grand Hyatt Mumbai is an iconic hotel in the Mumbai market and will be celebrating its 15th anniversary in March 2019 with amazing and luxurious product offerings. The most significant and delightful experience has been to work with an enthusiastic and creative team, who have also been very supportive and meticulous. It has been a rewarding journey, working towards building on existing practices and implementing new ideas and services for our guests.

Sharad Puri (SP): It has been one of the most fruitful and exciting journeys that I’ve ever embarked on — there is never a dull day. I’ve made a lot of new friends on the way. The hotel lives up to its image — it is a very lively and energetic hotel. What stands-out most about this hotel are my colleagues, who have made the last one year very special for me. It’s such a pleasure working with associates who are ambitious, passionate, and proud to represent the values of the brand.

What about the Mumbai market and the property has left you surprised?
PS: Being the financial hub of India, it’s a given fact that business travellers and the MICE segment are the bread and butter for the hospitality sector in the city. Traffic woes have transformed each area — south, central, north and the suburbs — into micro-business environments.
Though I was a bit surprised that the overall average room rates in hotels are not as high as one would imagine them to be in a city like Mumbai, where the demand is outgrowing the supply.
Grand Hyatt Mumbai’s location, easy accessibility from Central Mumbai and proximity from the airport and Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC), makes it a preferred destination for meetings. Our multiple dining options, extensive leisure facilities, extensive banqueting space for social and corporate events, meeting rooms for business travellers, and a host of rejuvenating and recreational facilities, make this a multidimensional lifestyle destination.

SP: Each city and market is different — I have cherished this aspect the most. I am happy to be back in Mumbai after a decade — the city lives up to its title of being a City of Dreams.
I’ve been fortunate to work in several cities across the country. Each city has its own unique business ideals and culture. Every hotel I have been in so far has its own character. JW Marriott Mumbai Juhu has its distinctive character. The one thing that is so unique about the hotel is the loyalty and love [we receive] from our guests.

What are some of the key changes and innovations that you’ve implemented in the past year?
PS: As a hotelier, I strongly believe it is imperative for our guests to have unique and experiential memories during their stay with us. Our creativity and innovations are driven by customer feedback, and the team works hard to come up some great stuff that enhances guest experience and engagement with the hotel.
This very thought led us to introduce Guest Experience Managers (GEMs), who have become the face of the hotel. These beautiful and charming ladies interact with guests prior to their arrival and during their entire stay, to build a strong comfort level, to enhance guest experience and engagement, and to ensure that their stay at the hotel is a memorable one.
Though we have introduced several changes and enhancements, our latest is the Grand Brunch, probably the best Sunday Brunch this side of town. We have redefined and reintroduced the whole essence of how best to indulge yourself on a Sunday afternoon.

SP: In the current environment, it’s not good enough to just deliver luxury experiences. We need to move on from luxury experiences to offering luxury transformation.
This is a great luxury hotel. Our associates have rich experience and are very talented. To acquire the best talent, we have come up with new ideas to better our service, product and culture.

What have been your key takeaways?
PS: Understanding your guests and their preferences is of utmost importance. This is one aspect that we, as a brand, swear by. At Grand Hyatt Mumbai, we ensure an end-to-end #LivingGrand experience, where the best of our services is presented to all our guests. These personalised gestures and the quality of service go a long way in creating memories that last.

SP: I am impressed with the electronic distribution systems and marketing initiatives of JW Marriott Mumbai Juhu.  Eventually, it’s the culture that makes all the difference in an organisation. What gives us an edge is our culture, which is created by several people, not one. The best part about our culture, in my opinion, is that it cannot be copied, which gives us the competitive edge.

In your experience with running luxury hotels, what has been the one significant change that has transformed the way luxury hotels are run?
PS: It is all about [offering the right] experience and creating a wow factor. Customer interaction/engagement is key. I have witnessed a huge transition. Brands have evolved enough to make the customers a priority now. Being in constant touch with your guest leaves them enthralled about how well we know their preferences. 
Guests look for value and luxury chains have sensed this need very well, which helps us create brand loyalty. In this day and age, competition is stiff but if your offerings stand out, you have an advantage over competition.

SP: I feel luxury has moved from just creating experiences to transformation. Transformation will come from exclusivity, personalisation, timelessness and distinctiveness.
At JW Marriott Mumbai Juhu, we believe that a hotel is more than a place to sleep — it is a crafted immersion, created by associates who love what they do. That’s why each touchpoint for a guest stay is choreographed to inspire their journey.

What are the changes you have seen in the client profile?
PS: Staying at luxury hotels used to be primarily for overseas business or leisure travellers. Dining in hotel restaurants used to be on a corporate expense or reserved for special occasions. Today, a couple of decades later, it’s a completely different scenario. Our clients are well-travelled, exposed to various cuisines and styles, well-informed, and are very vocal [on social media] about their experiences, good or bad. The average age of our clients has also come down.

SP: We exist in an ever-changing ecosystem — the travel and hotel business in the past was selective of age groups and generations. JW Marriott Mumbai Juhu has been a pioneer in creating luxury transformations for guests across generations. Any good business cannot be selective about age demographic — the hotel recognised this 16 years ago, when it opened.

Do you think your F&B anchors are your profit centres? Which are the ones that have done well and why?
PS: F&B plays a very important role in generating profitability and loyalty, adding substantial portion to our total revenues.
We are in a constant endeavour to introduce innovative experiences and creative concepts to our dining experiences. The intent is to conceptualise our food and beverage offerings and promotions keeping guests expectations in mind, [a strategy that] has worked wonderfully with our guests.
We have recently elevated the Grand Brunch experience and received incredible response from our guests. Our Sunday Grand Brunch is an example of how we have brought together signature elements from across our restaurants, and it is one extravagant experience you cannot afford to miss. We host conceptual themes, set-ups and cuisines every Sunday, which add to the grandness of the brunch.
Everybody loves a great dining experience and the idea behind introducing the Grand Brunch was to showcase our varied culinary offerings from all signature restaurants, along with fun and entertainment for the entire family. We identify the trends which are celebrated nationally and globally and ensure we deliver those experiences to our global clientele.
Our specialty chefs, culinary and pastry team are unmatched when it comes to their creativity, dedication and passion. They play a big role in constantly innovating new menu offerings and introducing exotic and traditional dishes. We host chefs from across Hyatt hotels who bring in their local touch and skills that serve as a unique offering for our guests in Mumbai.

SP: The hotel boasts of six restaurants, bars and lounges, each thoughtfully designed with distinctive offerings. A large part of the hotel profit comes from food and beverage.
Dashanzi, our modern Asian restaurant has seen a phenomenal growth since it opened, and is a “place to be in” and a “place to be seen at.” Saffron, our Indian specialty restaurant has proved that good food is key. Our new Indian masterchef, Chef Quddus, comes with a rich culinary experience.

How well does the hotel do in the MICE/events space?
PS: MICE is a very important segment for Grand Hyatt Mumbai. With over 30,000sq.ft. of sophisticated, indoor banquet space on offer. The large ballrooms, seven additional smaller venues, a spacious pre-function area, open lawns and a dedicated events team serve as unique selling propositions. Considering the hotel’s location and room inventory, it works in our favor and makes Grand Hyatt Mumbai a preferred choice for small-to-medium size meetings, large conferences and social events.

SP: The hotel is reputed for luxury MICE and our new initiative, ‘Meetings Imagined’, takes this to a whole new level. The hotel has won several awards and accolades for luxury meeting spaces.
One of the unique spaces in the hotel is our salt water pool that overlooks the Arabian Sea. Our focus will continue to be on luxury events, not necessarily large events.

How do you analyse the Mumbai market as far as luxury hotels go? Does it have the potential to grow?
PS: With a robust demand and gradually paced supply additions in the near term, the demand is expected to outgrow supply in the short-to-medium term. With multiple new investments and robust corporate activity, driven by the rapid pace of infrastructure development and a proactive government, the demand outlook for the luxury market in Mumbai is extremely positive.
International market trends are a huge opportunity for brands to grow in Mumbai. Luxury hotels in India are trying to pamper their guests a little more by offering them personalised experiences aimed at creating lasting memories and a never-before-feel. Experiences are designed in a way that guests develop an everlasting connect, not just with the hotels but the destination they are in.

SP: JW Marriott Mumbai Juhu was one of the few real luxury hotels [in Mumbai] when we opened. The landscape has expanded over the last few years. The city has grown and lives up to its title of ‘Maximum City’. It has an exceptional quality of absorbing what comes it ways.
In the ’90s there were a handful of luxury hotels, most towards South Mumbai. As the economy of the city has grown, Mumbai has divided herself into smaller markets. Each one is unique and I feel some are overloaded and some can do with more.

How big is the market for luxury hotels in the suburban parts of Mumbai?
PS: Location plays a key role. Our central location adds to the advantage we have, especially while catering to guests looking for convenience of travel. Proximity to the airport and corporate parks adds to the vast potential offered by suburban hotels.

SP: There is enough spending power in most parts of Mumbai. Businesses are growing in new pockets and business districts like BKC are coming up. Mumbai has a legacy of calling anything that is not south Mumbai, as suburban. I don’t feel it fair to term most parts [of the city as] ‘suburban’. BKC is a clear example — most new businesses would rather be in BKC or in northern Mumbai.

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