Exclusive Interview with Vishal Singh, general manager, Hyatt Regency Gurgaon
Vishal Singh, general manager, Hyatt Regency Gurgaon offers details about the phenomenal turnaround of two Hyatt properties from loss-making ventures to profit-driven hotels and speaks about his strategic plan for Hyatt Regency Gurgaon.
Tell us about how Hyatt Pune and Hyatt Regency Pune were turned around ? How did you achieve the numbers?
After spending four years with the Hilton group, I moved back to Hyatt, where I was responsible for conversion of Ista Hotels to Hyatt Pune. Back then, Hyatt Pune was a loss-making property and my core objective was to focus on increasing business revenues, as well as guest and associate satisfaction. My three-year-long stint (from 2013 to 2016) with the hotel was a very challenging one. But with great team effort, we turned around that property and pulled back all our numbers. We focussed on F&B, room revenues, on growing ADR as well as on occupancy and aggressive sales to turn around the property in the very first year of operation, thereby achieving GOP. The testimony of this was that we got awarded with the most prestigious ‘Donald Pritzker Team of the Year.
Later, I was transferred to Hyatt Regency Pune and again this property too came to me as a challenge as it was under-performing. Back then, Hyatt Regency Pune was brought over by SAMHI Hotels group and the positioning was such that it was competing with hotels like Novotel and other ten hotels in the vicinity which were within 5kms of radius. With this property, our strategy was to reposition the hotel and compete with our comp set. We then started to compete with Westin, JW Marriott, later Conrad opened up followed by Grand Sheraton. We focussed on increasing our ADR’s which grew (YTD 2018 rooms ADR YOY growth of 6.3% and apartment ADR growth of 15%) double than what the comp set grew. Besides, we also opened our new events space known as EQ IQ. This contemporary space possesses a lot of character, natural light and open spaces. It combines work and play and is equipped with a foosball table, a pool table and dynamic meeting spaces. The Italian restaurant was also relaunched in its new avatar and was converted into an all-day dining bistro, restaurant called Zeta. So this is how the transformation happened. And, as a result of which, I was awarded as ‘General Manager of the Year’ in the Luxury and Upper upscale segment at Hotel Operations Summit of India (HOSI).
The significant turnaround of these two properties also impacted their ranking. Tell us in detail about it?
I think it’s all team effort. Our prime focus was on guest satisfaction and engagement. When I joined Hyatt Pune, the hotel was ranking 77 on Trip Advisor and through consistent efforts we reached on rank No 3. Even when I joined Hyatt Regency it ranked 17 on Trip Advisor and over a period of time, we moved it to 4. Likewise, Hyatt Regency Gurgaon beginning of this year was ranking 26 and now it ranks in Top 10 hotels in Gurgaon. For any successful hotel, customer satisfaction has to be the key. And if your customers are happy, they will more and more share their experiences with their family and friends through word of mouth resulting in repeat customers. So, I think service and product delivery are really crucial out here.
Tell us about your plans for Hyatt Regency Gurgaon?
Hyatt Regency Gurgaon has been a quite tough property but it possesses great potential. The biggest strength of the hotel is that it includes 451 rooms and has one of the largest banquet halls. It is pillar less and spans across 21,000 sq.ft space ideal for hosting massive events. We are focusing on driving MICE and conventions and it has been fairly successful in last couple of months. However, we are trying our best to drive occupancy and generate more footfalls. Also, we are reviving our food and beverage space which was earlier dead with very few covers. We have opened the bar space and it will be functional for 24 hours with snacks and can also be utilized for meetings.
We have also started Sunday brunch with day cation/ staycation package. Also now we have a dedicated space for kids activity which includes TT table and pool slides etc. So, the whole idea is to promote the property as a weekend staycation and during the weekdays we dedicate it to our corporate clients, conferences and events. Wedding is another segment that we have started to focus on. Weddings are emerging as a big market and given the space we have is an added advantage for us. We have one of the largest room sizes of 44 sq.ft . We have also revamped our Spa and redone one of the retails spaces into a smaller meeting room / breakout room. Further, step-by-step we are improving the processes and getting the right people at the right place, there is a new team with renewed energy.
Talent attrition is emerging as a big problem in the industry? How do you look at it? What steps are you adopting to cater to the problem?
So, even we are facing the challenge of talent attrition. We had one of the highest attritions in our hotel. Employee engagement is something which I personally take very much pride in. Over the last few months we have undertaken various engagement activities. One such activity is that on every Wednesday we all huddle up and have some informal games in the evening with the team in the cafeteria. We have also initiated service charge owing to which the monetary benefit has started. Recently, we conducted an activity called ‘celebrating our people’ wherein we organise annual bash with some cultural activities. Further, we realised that connectivity was quite a problem for the team, so we have started offering pick up and drop facility to our employees to the nearest Metro station. These small things make a lot of difference. I along with my HODs eat in the staff cafeteria at least four times in a week and this is to ensure that there is more visibility and an assurance to the team that we care for them.
Also, we have initiated something called Hyatt talks wherein I speak with the line staff of different departments, once a month, in order to get their feedbacks. Lot of times, this helps us to get innovative ideas and even the staff feels engaged that they are not here to do a job, but are a part of whole business process. We have also initiated a quarterly town hall session where I along with the HODs personally give them details on how we did in terms of revenues and cost. So, in a way, the team feels that they are part of the business and are not engaged in doing particular work, but are a part of the big picture. Most of our employees here are youngsters and they willingly want to be involved in the process and most importantly are inquisitive about it. And once your team is engaged, they will start taking responsibility and initiative in bettering the systems. Also I have started a Facebook group it is known as Team Hyatt Regency Gurgaon. So anything that we do we keep posting picture on the same.
I think these small things make a lot of difference and helps us to understand what each and every individual wants and we customize them accordingly. Also, care is very important and our purpose in Hyatt is also aligned to the cause that 'We care for people so that they can be their best’. And that’s something that we strive for.
Given your experience across a bunch of markets, how different is Gurgaon market as compared to the others? Which is your big revenue earner – MICE or weddings?
Coming back to Gurgaon is like coming back to home. See, each market is very unique. Pune market was totally corporate driven. Well this (Gurgaon) market is an interesting mix, especially this hotel because MICE and conventions constitute of 50-60% of stakes and major chunk of the revenue comes from MICE. We do have transient and corporate sectors, so there are lot of auto, ancillary, IT sectors on this side of the town and also the connectivity is quite good. Besides, we are seeing a lot of development, in terms of Vatika, DLF Primus coming to this part of the city. So that’s the reason why we want to attract a lot of non-resident guests which was probably not the case in the past and that’s why we started Sunday brunch and staycation in order to have more footfalls of non-resident and walk-in guests.
Tell us about the role of technology?
We as a company invest heavily on technology. We constantly keep updating ourselves and are using technology in enabling our guest experiences. Our softwares are patented and used globally. So we are in sync with whatever is happening around the world. One of the upcoming technologies would be keyless entry in the room. High speed wifi with data & privacy security are something which we look forward to.
What are your plans in terms of driving occupancy and RevPAR at the Hyatt Regency Gurgaon property?
We predominantly have a large banqueting space and large room inventory. Our food and beverage including banquets contribute around 50% of the total revenue. In terms of ADRs, we have been doing in line to our comp set but occupancy is something that we want to drive. So we are witnessing at least 10 to15% growth in terms of occupancy which is quite healthy and 3 to 4% growth with reference to ADRs.
Tell us about your upcoming plans with reference to this property?
A lot of things are in progress, be it F&B or meeting space. We have started DJ nights, recently at our Long bar and happy hours. We have re-ignited our spa, so that was something that was missing. The spa is open from morning 7 till late night. We have initiated swimming classes for kids. Whatever opportunities we have we are trying to revive that. Also, the whole focus is to drive footfalls. We have the entire DNA and all our basics are ready and also, we are seeing some good numbers on guest satisfaction survey index. By aggressive digital and online marketing, we are targeting corporate groups, conference, conventions, weddings and MICE.