Jaswinder Narang, Complex General Manager, Sheraton Grand Pune Bund Garden Hotel and Le Méridien Mahabaleshwar Resort & Spa, gives his take on the hospitality industry in Pune and how the group is making its mark with new hotels popping up every now and then.
HARSHAL ASHAR FROM PUNE
Tell us about the ‘Go Beyond’ initiative.
The core of ‘Go Beyond’ is celebrating global hospitality offered across all continents spanning 450 hotels in 70 countries. Sheraton is a very old brand and therefore, when we rebranded, we chose Sheraton. Marriott is a 90-year-old chain and Sheraton is 80, making it a key brand. At the core, we put people together and ‘Go Beyond’ signifies the pursuit of excellence, integrity among associates and the will to embrace change. A very important aspect is also the facet of serving the world and society by taking initiatives for CSR, associating with charities at the property and corporate level, and engaging with NGOs.
Pune has recently seen massive evolution in hospitality. What, according to you, could have prompted this?
Initially, there were hardly 600 rooms in Pune; this was way back in 2000. Today, Pune has about 4500 rooms. As demand grew, everyone felt supply was not enough. The surge in manufacturing and IT industries prompted this growth. As IT grew in a massive way, IT parks mushroomed everywhere, creating a significant demand. Around three to four years ago, there was a sudden spurt in hotels that resulted in supply exceeding demand. We have gone through a cycle where at first, the scenario was that demand was more than supply, then supply exceeded demand, and now we are at a curve where demand and supply are almost equal and hotels are filling up frequently. Supply will still continue to grow with a couple of hotels yet to enter the city.
Pune is blessed with big hospitality chains. How, then do you plan to carve a niche for yourself?
Our advantage lies in our presence for 19 years now; the loyalty factor has been humungous. In spite of new hotels being launched recently, we continue to do well as our loyal patrons keep coming back to us. The beauty of our hotel, advantage of our location, exemplary services and quality of food have always weaved wonders. In the Starwood days in Asia Pacific, we were number one for three consecutive years in the Guest Satisfaction Survey (GSS). With Marriott again, in the ‘Intend to Recommend’ or ITR index, we are at the fifth position out of 129 Sheraton hotels in Asia Pacific and are number one in South Asia.
How has 2017 fared for you? What challenges did you face?
Last year started with a bang for us. The first quarter was fantastic and we were on target. Come April, we were hit by the liquor ban and five months on, we incurred some serious losses affecting our room business as well as conference and banqueting business. We lost wedding groups as well. We were allowed to start selling liquor only after September 5, 2017, and business has picked up again.
What are your expectations in terms of business?
I am an optimist and I think we are moving in the right direction with efforts to improve the infrastructure in the city and the advent of new companies in Pune. The year 2018 should be a very good year for all of us.
Who are your clients?
Our client mix is made up of almost 96 per cent corporates and three to four per cent of leisure travellers.