Rajesh Namby, the former General Manager of the Leela Palace, Udaipur, has taken the reins at The Lodhi, New Delhi, during a testing time for the hospitality industries mettle. With over two decades of experience under his belt, Namby gets candid with OT on the property’s way forward.
How does it feel to be back in Delhi?
Delhi is a unique destination; steeped in history, yet full of modern life. This dynamic city has always been special for me and it is very exciting to be back here.
You’ve stepped in as GM during trying times for the hospitality industry. What is your strategy going forward to reopen the hotel for visitors?
The Lodhi has always been committed towards the wellbeing of its patrons, colleagues and stakeholders by maintaining uncompromising and meticulous standards of safety, and this will continue to be our foremost priority. Keeping in mind the current situation, we have designed an all-encompassing strategy to elevate cleanliness and hygiene protocols at the hotel to ensure a safe environment for guests while they continue to enjoy our services.
How is The Lodhi planning to deal with the post-COVID scenario?
We have revisited every guest touch point, right from the arrival at the airport, car transfers, arrival and check-in to rooms, restaurants, wellness, fitness, event/meeting facilities and check-out, and redefined our cleaning protocols across each of these areas. Our team's wellbeing is equally paramount, so standards have been made more stringent in the heart of the house areas too.
What precautions are being put in place to ensure safety and sanitisation of the property?
In keeping with the guidelines outlined by the Ministry of Tourism and World Health Organization, we have implemented a number of additional measures to enhance our health and hygiene protocols. We will be doing continuous sanitation and disinfection of all surfaces and high-touch points in public areas, and all rooms and restaurants will be rigorously deep cleaned on a regular basis. We have arranged PPE kits for all our associates and are taking temperature checks of everyone entering the hotel premises. Seating in the restaurants has been reconfigured as per social distancing norms. All cars, supplies and materials are being sanitised before being admitted into the hotel.
What are the challenges the hospitality industry is facing today? Any statistics?
Travel restrictions have already posed challenges for the hospitality industry and occupancies across hotels in key cities have witnessed a sharp decline. One of the other challenges for hotels has been to be able to respond to the rapidly changing business environment and the new dynamic forces of consumer behaviour, consumption patterns, perceptions, expectations and trends. Reinstating customer trust will be the first step in overcoming this situation. Hotels need to create a robust consumer-connect ecosystem so as to position safety of guests and employees over anything.
Do you think consumers will prefer big hotels or smaller home-stay style accommodation?
From hotels to homestays, every place offering accommodation is currently focusing on restoring the confidence of travellers by redefining their safety protocols. Right now, these will be the foremost aspects that guests will consider when looking for a place to stay. Both chain and independent hotels may have a compelling advantage in this, as they have more capacity to deploy resources and advanced technology.
How do you think the travel sentiment will shift in the next six months?
There will be a dynamic shift in traveller perceptions, requirements and behaviour in the coming months. The domestic tourism market is likely to be the first to pick up. There could be a boom in staycations and short-distance getaways, with people driving down to close-by destinations. Also, Indians who would have otherwise planned to go for vacation overseas might largely opt for domestic travel.
Recent research on traveller sentiments shows that when people identify the activities they miss most during this pandemic, they rank leisure travel amongst the top, across countries, age groups and income levels. Business travel also ranks in the top five most missed activities for older and higher-income consumers around the world. These indicate that there is pent-up intent to travel, but when we look at how long people will take to move from intention to action, majority still assert that they will plan their travel depending on how the conditions evolve in the coming months. So hotels need to constantly track these shifting travel sentiments to look for indicators.
Are you looking to launch any special offerings to win back customer trust?
We will continue to offer our guests unique experiences, delivered with utmost care and emphasis on safety protocols, whilst ensuring that comfort and service quality are not compromised. This approach will be the key to win back customer trust. Clear and consistent communication for guests on the new measures being introduced at the hotel will also be important.
What is the single best and single worst thing to come out of this whole situation?
This unprecedented situation has severely impacted industries around the globe as well as our everyday lives, but we must remember that challenging times are also a catalyst for innovation. These circumstances have presented us opportunities to see where we can improve further; we can emerge stronger from this, with much more knowledge and more lessons to apply to the future.
Do you have any plans to revamp the F&B offerings at the Lodhi?
We have launched a takeaway menu for guests and are introducing digital QR-code based menus in all our restaurants and bars. The Lodhi also has an exclusive health food menu available and will be introducing more natural immunity-boosting beverages. We are following the FSSAI guidelines for food handling and regular hygiene trainings are being conducted for all our F&B teams. Seating in all outlets has been realigned.