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Home is where the money is

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The second edition of Food Hospitality World exhibition in Goa saw a Hospitality Think Tank where 10 GMs from Goa’s leading hotel brands participated. At the roundtable discussion, the hoteliers opined that India’s domestic market will be the driver of future growth in revenues. By Steena Joy

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Shiwam Verma

The Hospitality Think Tank on the second day of FHW Goa saw a panel discussion on ‘Goa’s Hospitality Scene’ with general managers of 10 leading hotel brands as panelists. The panelists included Sudhir Jena, GM, The Lalit Golf & Spa Resort Goa; Shiwam Verma, GM, Royal Orchid Beach Resort & Spa, Goa; Anand Chatterjee, GM, Planet Hollywood Beach Resort, Goa; Siddharth Savkur, GM, Alila Diwa Goa; Rohan Sable, GM, Novotel Resorts & Spa; Romol D’silva, GM, Azzure by Spree Hotels, Goa; Vikas Sharma, GM, Hard Rock Hotel, Goa; Pranay Verdia, GM, Goa Marriott Resort and Spa; Sanjay Patti, GM, Hyatt Place Goa/ Candolim and Nikhil Sasidharan, GM, Lemon Tree Amarante Beach Resort.

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Sudhir Jena

Opening the discussion on Goa as a wedding destination, Sudhir Jena said, “Goa is fashionable. It will never go out of fashion as a wedding destination. We have two seasons – on season and off season. These days, not only domestic MICE but FIT is also doing good business.” Shiwam Verma agreed, “In India, very few states can offer a variety of cultures. Goa is one of them. India has a huge population so the domestic market has taken off very well and is on the move. 25 to 40 year olds is the demographic that travels to Goa.”

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Pranay Verdia

Pranay Verdia added to the point, “Goa is a very popular destination, not just commercially but leisure too. This is one market, apart from Mumbai, which has constantly touched high occupancies. There has been a marked shift in segmentation. 81 per cent of today’s guests are domestic. This is mainly due to affordable fares by LCCs and the growing purchasing power of people. Most importantly, depreciation of the rupee means international travel has become expensive, so domestic travel has increased. That said, we still lack quality infrastructure like say, Bali. It will take time, but sooner we get it right, the better.” Nikhil Sasidharan informed, “Lemon Tree is also getting into leisure. We are looking for more domestic clients. It is the way forward.”

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Sanjay Patti

Sanjay Patti, reiterated, “The first Hyatt Place in India is in Goa. I believe that the domestic market is the main key driver of growth. Incremental revenue can only come from the non-resident guests. We have to attract the local people.”

 

Shifting segments

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Siddharth Savkur

Commenting on whether Goa has evolved as a family getaway, Siddharth Savkur opined, “Goa is ready as a family destination. There is a shift to child friendly policies due to the shift to domestic tourism. So we are seeing an increased focus on child friendly activities. Most hotels are geared up, but I am not sure they are fully ready. Goa is an aspirational destination for most travellers. It is a natural tourism hotspot not due to any particular promotional initiatives. We have the beaches, cheap alcohol, yes but what else do we have for kids?”

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Romol D’silva

Romol D’silva agreed, “We are not that child friendly but we are trying to change that. I do believe that kids are major decision influencers. All hotels are also doing well to promote monsoons. Occupancies have risen from 52 per cent  to 75 per cent. We get lots of students coming in this season.”

 

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Vikas Sharma

Elucidating on Goa as an experiential destination, Vikas Sharma informed, “Hard Rock is a lifestyle brand. We try to change our style to the type of entertainment the guest wants. We have an inhouse rock band called Turndown Service where the duty manager plays the lead guitar! So everything is experiential. Guests want to leave with memories. Thirty per cent of our revenues come from our souvenir outlet called the Rock Shop.”

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Rohan Sable

Rohan Sable pointed out, “Novotel is known as a MICE driven brand. For the future, MICE is important but we are consciously changing the hotel to give it a resort feel. We will soon be the largest casino in Candolim. We are changing the dimensions of both our properties and adding three more banqueting options.”

Jena added, “Yes, MICE is important, but the focus is now changing to business with pleasure. And Goa offers business guests lots of leisure options, from water sports to sightseeing. 70 per cent of business is from MICE and groups. Our location is good for travellers who want to do so many things in three days. We will soon have 20 sq ft of open lawn near the beach, but inside the CRZ line.”

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Woman guests and manpower challenges

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Nikhil Sasidharan

Speaking on Goa as a safe haven for single women guests, Savkur affirmed, “Today’s woman does not want to be mollycoddled. Goa as a destination works in our favour too…where else can a woman wear a swimsuit or go to a bar for a drink alone and not be conscious of it? We give our single lady visitors a mobile phone with important contact numbers on speed dial. By far, Goa is one of the safest places for a single woman guest to be on her own.”

The panelists also discussed manpower and attrition challenges. Sharma informed, “We took almost nine months to train new recruits and instill in them the Hard Rock culture. Music is our culture and getting the right kind of staff can be a struggle sometimes.”

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Anand Chatterjee

In contrast, Chatterjee said, “Staffing has been one of the easiest things for us. We blended into the local community quite nicely. The first time for our recruitment we even advertised in the local churches. I get you and you get me others was the funda. We do a lot of recruitment through referrals. By virtue of their ancestry, Goans know good English and have a general inclination to music and hospitality. 75 per cent of our staff is from Goa and not facility management. So we can give higher salaries instead of paying facility management companies.”

Verdia said that 60 per cent of Goa’s Marriott staff has worked with the hotel for 17 months. The hotel has also partnered with local hospitality schools. Patti stated, “ We have no blanket rule for recruitment. Forty per cent of our staff is local. We make sure to be present at campus recruitments of hospitality schools. We also encourage our staff to multi-task. We have seen many instances where students have shifted departments and done well.”

D’silva added, “We allow our staff to take on responsibilities. We give them opportunities to grow within the company. Many colleges in Goa do help us in recruiting the right people.”

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Sable noted, “We are three years old and I am proud to say that 80 per cent of our pre-opening team is still with us. Nearly 50 per cent of our staff is local. Surprisingly, we have noticed that students who have no hospitality background are more curious to learn. We are also beginning to look in the North East region. The government is organising the first Skill Fest in the region and many hotels, including us, have been invited.”

Asked about their future goals, Patti said that his main target was to benchmark his hotel as a Hyatt. While Savkur wanted to persuade local youth to stay back and explore the industry in their native land instead of moving outside and working at lower positions just for the money, Verdia wanted to position some of Goa Marriott’s restaurants as groundbreaking F&B options. Jena wanted to work on increasing his FIT business to 40 per cent and to hit the Rs 100 crore mark while Chatterjee said he wanted to establish Planet Hollywood as a family resort in line with the six new hotels coming up in the country. Verma stated his wish to increase ARR and to bring in the F&B business. Sharma was happy with the ‘musical’ story of Hard Rock and was looking forward to the next hotel opening in Bengaluru. D’silva observed that when new hotels advertise to create awareness about their properties, Goa as a destination also benefits.

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