An enviable legacy, strengthened by early days of working in Europe combined with global exposure across the resort markets spanning Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, Amruda Nair forged her way towards excellence in the world of hospitality.
An enviable legacy, strengthened by early days of working in Europe combined with global exposure across the resort markets spanning Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, Amruda Nair forged her way towards excellence in the world of hospitality. A third generation hotelier, Amruda Nair shares the maverick streak and eye for trailblazing business opportunities from her iconic grandfather, the late Captain C.P. Krishnan Nair, founder of The Leela Group.
In conversation with The Financial Express Online’s Swapna Raghu Sanand, she shares her insights, “No matter where you are in the world the golden rule as an expat is to respect the local culture. There is so much to be learnt from local practices and traditions. A global perspective to me simply means the acceptance of differences and openness to new ideas.”
As Founder of Araiya Hotels and Resorts, tell us about your journey in the segment of hospitality and how your family has played a pivotal role in supporting your initiatives.
I was fortunate to have decided to return to India and launch Araiya Hotels just when the hospitality industry in India was beginning to see an upswing. The domestic market over the past decade has now replaced the dependence on foreign business and that will continue to hold us in good stead while the global market recovers.
My grandfather Captain Nair was a strong proponent of representing modern Indian hospitality that was not subservient or rules driven but rather proud of our cultural roots and intuitive nature. These are values and qualities that I wish to imbibe in the Araiya culture. Our journey with Araiya began with boutique, lifestyle projects in leisure destinations. Similarly, my family’s journey in hospitality too started with The Leela in Mumbai which was the first in its location and created a destination.
From my grandfather I inherited the ability to take risks, from my father the passion for new developments and from my mother the importance of constant learning and surrounding yourself with people you can learn from.
You have about 15 years’ experience in the hospitality segment in Europe, the US, Asia and Middle East, can you share some key takeaways from your professional stint abroad and share some high points too?
My early days in the industry started with stages in Europe which I believe gave me an appreciation of the traditions and respect for process. Working as an analyst in investment sales and asset management in Asia exposed me to the resort markets in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia and taught me to garner data from multiple sources and always benchmark.
Working in Sales in a premium project such as the prestigious Mandarin Oriental New York taught me the importance of understanding your USP’s and owning a niche.
The Middle East was where I learnt about scale and my biggest lesson was the opening of a 611 rooms hotel in Makkah which I could not physically visit.
What digital amenities and interventions are you already rolling out at your properties?
Most of our current digital experience has been in place since the inception of the brand: –
Pre Arrival communication (PPM) to record guest preferences
– QR code door stickers
– QR code bedside standee which allows guests to access information about our sanitization processes whenever they want
– Our standards insist that the Hotel Manager meets every guest at least twice during their stay to address their concerns should they have any.
Apart from this, their feedback is then also collected on the CRM which is then reviewed at the corporate office and becomes a part of their guest history.
What are the areas of transformation you foresee for India’s hospitality segment in early 2021 in terms of various factors – tech-enabled services, digital menus, staff training, pricing, digital interventions such as robots?
Fundamentally, the hospitality business relies on people and human interaction. Surely tech can replace the mechanisms of data collection, recording and analytics along with targeting new audiences and managing glitch reporting systems.
At Araiya, we are walking the tight rope to ensure that technology doesn’t cut into human interaction & interface while also easing our artisans of the burdens which can be shouldered by sophisticated and efficient technologies while remaining cost effective.
How this translates:
– Leveraging tech systems to improve employee performance and efficiency by providing leaders and managers access to data and information while on the floor meeting guests and thus improve guest satisfaction and productivity, eventually translating into better revenues.
Technology also affects the way training is imparted. At Araiya, we have also selected our platforms with a focus on the UI/UX keeping in mind the generations coming into the workforce.
What would you consider as the key milestones at Araiya Hotels and Resorts in India and what is your vision for taking it forward?
The key milestone for us at Araiya was to have a presence in three states namely Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Kerala in the early stages of our launch.
All three projects are unique in their offering, built to our brand specifications and will create a destination in the locations they are in.
We have two properties signed under the upscale Araiya brand as well as one luxury resort currently under construction.
We are in negotiations to expand to other locations in Himachal Pradesh and also in Goa. Our medium-term plans include expansion within South Asia.
In your opinion, what should premium hotels and resorts do beyond health and hygiene to bring their customers back?
Highlight other offerings which can also be enjoyed without compromising on the ‘must haves’ of the new world. Offbeat destinations such as Palampur allow guests the opportunity to remain physically distant and socially engaged in everything the town has to offer.
Travellers are now looking to soak in the outdoors and adventure focused activities without compromising on the hygiene and sanitation practices. Hotels must create offerings which allow guests to immerse themselves into the destination.
Can you share some insights about your current occupancy rates and how you expect it to evolve?
Current occupancy at 40% – 45%. With an increased confidence in travel service providers and medical facilities, there is a gradual rise in the number of events and functions being planned again despite the reduced permissible attendance.
Can you tell us about the diversity in your hotels and how many women are in positions of top management leadership roles?
Over 90% of our corporate office is made up of women and on site at Araiya Palampur we are proud to employ the majority from the state of Himachal Pradesh and also local Pahadi women who have been trained to work in the kitchen as well as landscaping departments.
As for the diversity in our portfolio and given the demand for boutique resort properties in leisure destinations, most of the brownfield inquiries to us as a management company have been from existing hotel owners who want experienced operators and a trusted brand.
We also have two new developments under construction, a spa resort in Kerala and a luxury golf resort in Ahmedabad, that are scheduled to open in 2021. We are currently negotiating projects across a few other destinations.
From your perspective, which are the hotel brands in India or abroad that are doing a fine job post-COVID?
I believe that every hotel brand and employee has been tested during the pandemic with hospitality being the hardest hit in terms of industry.
The hotel and tourism industry in India employs 9% of the working population and is the backbone of the economy. It has been a trying time for everyone, and we have all worked together to do our best to support our people.
I hope that Indian families will choose to vacation in India and help the local businesses revive even when they have the option to go abroad.
Do you expect travel to pick up in India and by when do you expect hotel occupancy rates to return to normal?
We are heading towards a slow recovery. We can expect to pick up where we left off before the pandemic, after the expected implementation of a successful vaccine, only in early 2022.