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HAI Conclave: Asks Industry to Embrace New-Age Technology

Hotel Association of India (HAI) Hoteliers’ Conclave 2013 held at The Oberoi Gurgaon on May 2 and 3, 2013 was positioned as e-Conclave with the theme ‘Technology – Leading the Change’. Based on the positioning, most of the deliberations at the two-day conference were around emerging and future technology trends and how the hotel industry could leverage it in different aspects of hoteliering to enhance guest experience as well drive profits. P Krishna Kumar reports

Tuesday, May 7, 2013, 16:00 Hrs  [IST]

The two-day HAI Hoteliers’ Conclave held after a  hiatus  of almost three years was unique in many ways. Being an association whose membership is mainly premium home-bred hotel brands of India, the conference saw CEOs of all the leading Indian hotel brands sitting patiently and coordinating the conference leaving their ‘busy schedules’ aside. Except for KB Kachru, Chairman-South Asia, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, there was not an iota of representation in the delegates or in the speakers from any foreign brand at the conclave.  The conclave, positioned as e-conclave, with the theme ‘Technology- Leading the Change’,  has had interesting line-up of speakers and panelists to make the working sessions engaging and meaningful.  Had it not for the last minute cancellation of Dr Chiranjeevi, Minister of State for Tourism (Independent Charge), Government of India who was supposed to be the chief guest at the concluding session as well as the dinner, the conclave was nearly a success. Although the organisers were expecting some participation from fraternal associations from the SAARC countries, the lone participation was from Hotel Association Nepal. 

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The conclave was started with a presentation on ‘Mega Trends in Tourism & Hospitality’ by Nakul Anand, Executive Director, ITC Ltd., and President, Hotel Association of India. He explained five mega trends in the tourism and hospitality – internet technology; green concepts; safety & security; luxury and health – and how these trends would change key operational aspects like F&B, service design, guest experience, etc. He said that mobile technology and internet are game changers and businesses cannot compromise on services as an unsatisfied customer in the virtual world can communicate with 6,000 people within no time against six friends in the physical world.

Delivering the key note address, Parvez Dewan, Secretary – Tourism, Government of India said that the Ministry will add more features and services into the Incredible India website as part of making electronic delivery of travel services more easy and experiential to travellers. He said that the Ministry is working with different agencies and many innovative features  will be added in the coming months. He said that there has been phenomenal increase in the number of visitors into the Incredible India website since the Ministry introduced electronic service delivery features into it.

Dewan said that the department is working with YouTube to introduce ‘Travel Planning’ as a novel feature to help foreign travellers  chart out travel plan in India within the available budget. India will be the second country in the world to introduce this service to travellers;  first being Brazil,  the Secretary said.  Incredible India website is already offering services including online Visa, airline and railway booking, etc. The Ministry is also working on introducing innovative electronic  three-dimensional ‘Walking tour’ experiences of tourist landmarks of major cities in the country in a couple of months time. By the end of this year, Incredible India website will be available in ten foreign languages, he said.

Speaking on the occasion, Raymond Bickson, Managing Director, Taj Group, and Vice President, HAI said that India has large repertoire of destinations and travel products and right policies are required to harness the potential.   

Business Session I
The first business session of the conclave 'View from the Top' was moderated by Amitabh Kant, CEO & Managing Director, Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation (DMICDC) and had in the panel the CEOs of all the domestic hotel brands.  Kant wondered why the hotel industry panic so quickly, with hardly 20,000 of the expected 1 lakh new hotel  inventory joining  the market. Anand said that the current market slow down is temporary and best is yet to come. To another question regarding delays in getting permissions and licences, Anand said large part of the approvals and licences are states specific and the industry associations have to focus their energy in engaging the states rather than the centre in future. Replying to a question on the reasons for slow expansion of domestic brands, Bickson said that execution of hotel projects is tough in India.  While a hotel project requires almost 100 permits here in India, it is hardly 16 in Singapore, he said. Vivek Nair, Chairman, Hotel Leelaventure Ltd., also  stressed on issues related with fund availability and permissions. In states like Kerala and Goa, it takes minimum of two years to get clearances for hotel projects, he said.  Because of these delays, Hotel projects become Non-Performing Assets (NPA), he informed.  Patu Keswani, CMD, The Lemon Tree Hotel Company said that land at right location, at right price and right execution are integral for hotels to become successful. Commenting on the issues related to Aerocity projects, Patu said that government is the biggest challenge in India.  Answering a question related to owner- management company relations in India, KB Kachru said that ‘there was  trust deficiency’ between owner and the management company and both parties have to work together to overcome that. Priya Paul, Chairperson, Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels; Dr Jyotsna Suri, CMD, Bharat Hotels; Kapil Chopra, President, The Oberoi Group; Shyam SL Kakshapati, President, Hotel Association of Nepal , also participated in the panel discussion.

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hai_3.jpgBusiness Session II
The panel discussion on 'Hotel Architecture & Design' was moderated by Paul with Wong Chiu Man, Managing Director, Warner Wong Design as the lead speaker and panelists Ranjan Rellin, Vice President-Projects, ITC Ltd., and Rahul Kumar, Principal, Rajinder Kumar Associates (RKA).  Wong Chiu said that better planning, methods and processes can help design great hotel properties which can also deliver ‘wow’ experience to customers. Green buildings, he said, is not an option but a must. However, there is lack of clarity as regards what constitute a Green building.  He said that in countries like India where real estate prices are quite high, design innovations have less scope. “Anything good is not cheap,” he said. He explained the design innovations incorporated into Vivanta by Taj at Bengaluru Whitefield property.  Participating in the panel discussion, Rellin said that Green building design is a new concept and there is always scope for innovations. Kumar said that with the advent of new building techniques, any kind of adventurous designs are possible today.  While layered façade is a designers delight, it may deliver nightmares to housekeepers, he added.  In countries like India where execution of projects is slow, Kumar said that most of the technology visualized become redundant by the time the project get over.

hai_4.jpgBusiness Session III
The business session on ‘Emerging Dimensions in Hotel Security & Safety’ was moderated by Bickson with the lead speaker, James McAlpine, MD-India & South Asia, Control Risks India Pvt. Ltd. The panelists included Jacques Eshel, CEO, BSI Security Factor; Sunil Kotnala, Head-Security, Leela Hotels; Rajesh Singh Bains, Manager – Loss Prevention, ITC Hotels; and Arvind Kochar, General Manager- Security (Corporate), Lalit Hotels.  McAlpine said that hotels are considered soft targets by terror groups, but at the same time delivers ‘intense media coverage’.  Citing the last couple of terror attacks on hotels like JW Marriott Jakarta, and The Taj, Mumbai, he said that new methodologies were used by terror groups in these places.  Apart from terror attacks, he said that the hotels are prone to various other security threats like kidnap/hostage problems, sabotage/extortion issues, trespass, cyber attacks, fire/arson, natural disasters, crimes by own staff, etc., which can impact the goodwill and credibility of the brand.  While hotels are prone to various threats, because of the unique nature of business, hotels cannot employ high visibility security measurements.   “Establish risks, assess and rank risks in priority and put in place effective risk management system.  Crisis Management Capability is most important for hotels,” he added.

The panelists unanimously opined that safety and security equipments alone cannot deter sabotage activities, and well-trained and motivated human support is indispensable for hotels.  

hai_5.jpgBusiness Session IV
The session on ‘Building Brands via New Media’ started with an interesting keynote address and presentation by Prof Chekitan S Dev from Cornell School of Hotel Administration, USA on ‘ New Technology V/s Traditional Marketing’. He spoke about the possibilities and problems related with the new media branding and marketing.  Later, participating in the panel discussion, Deep Kalra, CEO, MakeMyTrip.com, said that e-commerce is fast catching up in all verticals of travel.  However, when it comes to using the new media for branding and marketing activities, the panelists were not sure about the returns on investment. B Hariharan, Vice President-Marketing, ITC Hotels said that while new media is good in order to reach out to right customer at right time, there is no surety as regards returns on marketing spend on new media. Prasanjeet Baruah, Vice President-Marketing, EIH Ltd., observed that it was always good to ‘listen’ and ‘react carefully’ to new media buzz.  Kalra also batted for traditional media  when its comes to effective brand building exercises.  Nikhil Ganju, Country Manager, TripAdvisor also participated in the discussions.

Business Session V

Anand Kumar, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Tourism chaired the session on ‘Digitising the Culinary Experience’ with Karen Anand of Karen’s Gourmet Kitchen, moderating it. The session had illustrious chefs from leading brands of the country in the panel, like Chef Soumya Goswami, Executive Chef, The Oberoi New Delhi; Hemant Oberoi, Corporate Chef, Taj Hotels; Manjit Gill, Corporate Chef, ITC Hotels, and Sharad Dewan, Area Director-Food Production, The Park Hotels.  Chairing the session Anand Kumar said that Indian cuisines are recognised a new segment by the Ministry and wanted to involve the industry in digitisation of the recipes.  He said that food and wine festivals and competitions in the lines of Master Chefs are required to promote Indian food in the overseas markets.  He assured all kinds of support for such endeavours. Oberoi lamented about lack of encouragement for chefs by the authorities.  He said that the owners who run the so-called Indian restaurant in other countries haven’t seen India in their life.  Food has to be recognized as part of our culture, Chef Gill observed.  The panelists observed that the whole purpose of fine dining is losing its charm as customers are in a hurry.  Commenting on the technological innovations in hotel kitchens,  chefs informed that equipments which can do multiple things is preferred more because of space and real estate constraints. 

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Business Session VI

The session on ‘Educational Interventions within Hospitality industry focusing onTalent Management’ was chaired by Girish Shankar, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Tourism.  The session had K Vijayaraghavan, Chairman, Cornell Sathguru Management Consultant as lead speaker, and in the panel HR managers from leading hotel chains.  Vijayaraghavan said that the industry required structured immersion programme to overcome the demand–supply crisis in terms of trained human resource. He recommended the Chinese model  where the industry absorbed a million new workforce every year for the last three years.  He also advocated leadership recognition programmes for the industry personnel, so that industry can entice new people to join it. Anil Sharma, Vice President-HR, ITC Hotels said that although hospitality industry is peoples’ industry, it doesn’t display people boldly as many other industry does.  He also pointed fingers towards lack of industry-institute interactions, and lack of investment in research in the industry. Sujata Guin, Corporate Director-HR, The Park Hotels, said that the demographic dividend that we talk about as an opportunity  becomes a challenge because vast majority of our young population is unemployable. She said that career in any one industry cannot be compared with one in another industry. Vikas Baijal, Vice President-HR, Bharat Hotels said that the industry has to highlight itself as a talent industry to attract new talent.  

Other notable presentations at the conclave included  one by Devesh Chaturvedi, Commissioner, Allahabad on ‘Lessons from the Maha Kumbh’, and on ‘Future of Technology and its Impact on Hospitality industry’ by Michael Tchong, Founder, Social Revolution, Las Vegas, USA.  The delegates at the conclave largely comprised general managers  and department heads from major chain hotels like Taj Hotels, The Oberoi Group, ITC Hotels, Bharat Hotels, The Park Hotels, Sarovar Hotels, etc.

 
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