Indian luxury hotels: preserving service excellence

Luxury hospitality is multi-dimensional but at its core is service excellence that is attentive, efficient, personalized and even anticipatory, always enriching the guest experience.

Through generations, Guest Is God has been the maxim of hospitality in India and the foundation of superior guest experience, for which Indian luxury hotels are globally recognized and applauded. Over the past few decades, India’s leading hotels have carved out an admirable niche in the global luxury hotel industry and received impressive accolades. Several Oberoi, Leela and Taj hotels have consistently been ranked among the best in the world in global surveys by Travel & Leisure, Conde Nast Traveller, Forbes, Trip Advisor and others.

Traditionally, luxury was more about exclusivity, aspiration, defined by price and material quality of the product, which over the past decades has evolved to become experiential and more about the strong feelings it evokes; the joy of discovering and creating indelible memories. Today’s discerning customers have different expectations than previous generations and are more empowered and confident, better informed, caring more about memorable and immersive experiences and less just about the product. They are savvy and demand variety and a myriad of choices, insisting on instant gratification. They value unique experiences and storytelling opportunities and seek not just “rich” but “rewarding” experiences. Additionally, we are all witnessing the rise of digital millennials, who want personalized communication across multiple platforms, transparent planning, flawless execution, authentic experiences, as well as savvy use of social media. .

As part of the categorization of Indian hotels, let’s not confuse “luxury” with an overall five-star luxury rating, which is entirely based on a checklist of physical facilities, but does not address the quality dimension of the service for customer experience. True luxury goes far beyond physical attributes and is ultimately experiential.

The current pandemic has been brutal and dealt a severe blow especially to the urban luxury hotels which mainly relied on the foreign and domestic business segment. Struggling with high fixed costs, many hotels have been faced with tough choices and have been forced to make drastic changes to operations, guest service delivery and the cost structure of their properties.

Overall, the commitment of the general managers and management teams of our hotels is commendable. It fills me with pride to see how they have remained full of optimism, energy and determination while battling this crisis. Over the past 18 months, we’ve all spent more time than ever in a virtual mode – but now we have to move to the physical realm. However, I want to remind them to start spending less time in meetings and on their laptops, and more time browsing their properties and talking to their guests and staff. Make sure your team members are physically safe, mentally comfortable, and financially secure.

More importantly, focus on customer delight and quality. Diligently maintain the standards, do not lose the shine. Refrain from operating on a “minimum quality” model, your customers deserve better. Remember that customer delight and excellence are the only currencies that matter in the long run. Resist the temptation to avoid short-term gains at the cost of long-term losses. Take the time to train and mentor your team and instill in them a passion for hospitality. Invest in what will remain beyond your tenure – this is your true contribution.

Luxury hospitality is multi-dimensional, but its heart is service excellence – attentive, efficient, personalized and even anticipatory service, always enriching the guest experience. In times of Covid19, due to the emphasis on social distancing and non-contact behavior, the emphasis on service has been diminished, which needs to be rebuilt and strengthened. We are a people industry and people are our most valuable assets. Build a big wall around your talent. Continually maintain their morale and confidence. Remember that we have no patents in our industry and our staff is the closest that comes!

In the luxury hotel industry, the human being is the real differentiator since ultimately the hotel is only as good as its staff!

Prepare for the “new normal” of tomorrow, based on changing business dimensions, consumer needs and expectations, emerging technologies, changing community behaviors and socio-eco models.

Covid19 posed a mega challenge but the pandemic is temporary and will soon pass. The hospitality industry may have to endure more pain for another six to 12 months, but it will rebound strongly and soar well above pre-Covid19 highs.

It’s a universal truth that human beings have an innate desire to connect with people, see new places, and build new memories. They will continue to fly, travel and celebrate life together. As India’s affluent market continues to grow, and globally with the rich getting richer, the footprint of luxury will only increase. There is always room at the top and luxury hospitality must thrive and that’s a guarantee!

AUTHOR BIO: Rajiv Kaul is Advisor, The Leela Palace, Hotels & Resorts

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