Nilay Saran, Founder Intend Hotels / Executive Member Global Advisory Committee at Canary Wharf – Partners & Consulting
Mr Nilay Saran started his journey in the hospitality industry around 22 years back. There was a time after his 12th Grade, when he was preparing for everything else apart from hotel management, for medical, banking, etc. because hotel management was not very popular at that time. People were not aware of it, according to him. In 1993 or 94 his friends’ brothers came across a course for hotel management and suggested that he should fill it up. And that is how his journey started with IHM Bangalore in the year 1995. He says, “I am very grateful for all that they have taught me. Back in those days, it used to be a 3-year diploma course. And 1998 onwards, I started working I was in F&B operations. I started on my own for a year and a half, and then I came back to the industry and took a transition to sales”. From the year 2005 to 2019 he was working in sales and marketing. His experience stands across 20+ years of being in a lot of different cities, working with a lot of good people, great brands. He has worked with Wyndham Group, with Starwood before the merger, IHG, Marriot and Hyatt were his last assignment. He has mainly been in South India, West India, Cochin, Bangalore and finally Ahmedabad. He is originally from Uttar Pradesh, Agra. In the last year, he started his entrepreneurship journey and the thought behind it was that he wanted to go beyond what the brand guidelines are.
There are always a few valuable factors that the hoteliers use to enhance the guest experience when asked about this, Mr Nilay said, “Hotel is all about hospitality. So, I believe that hospitality is the prime and most important thing because hospitality is something that can’t be taught in college. The skillset can be taught but not the attitude; that has to be learnt. For any guest experience, if you do not have the spirit of hospitality inside, i.e., if you are not compassionate, you won’t have that warmth.” In his experience, he has seen people that have the skill, set but are not able to give the guest experience that is expected out of them. It is a prime factor for any service industry. The right kind of attitude is very necessary and only then it reflects in your guest experiences.
Every job has its perks and challenges. But in the hospitality industry, these challenges sometimes bring the hoteliers to a situation where they fail. Mr Nilay speaks about these few challenges in the terms of Sales and Marketing, “In sales and marketing, the balance between strategy and execution is very important. Off late I have observed that there is a lot of focus only on strategy when we talk about being stuck in the board room. But the foot soldiers for me are the people who execute it in the form of a strategy. People need to have that feeling of empowerment.” In his experience, whenever a sales executive is not empowered to close the deal by himself and has to go back and check with his superiors. That is a disaster in the making as the client is not willing or will not wait at all. That is why empowerment within the team is very critical. This empowerment can only be brought about if the people in the management are open to learn and accept their mistakes if done for the first time. Instead of reprimanding them, they need to be counselled. The moment that you decide to empower your workmates or teammates, it is always accompanied by a responsibility that you are giving somebody a power. If the empowerment is missing, the client will always like to talk to your boss. If the sales executive is not able to close, the business is likely to go somewhere else. Empowerment is the key to a successful team and in result a successful hotel.
In the hospitality industry, the most important factor is the loyalty of the guest, which is difficult to attain and maintain at the same time. Mr Nilay shares some experiences of his in terms of dealing with the guests and maintaining the loyalty. “The most influential factor is gaining trust, that means instead of just selling a service, creating an experience. For a salesperson, what it means to gain trust is that if something is not required, he should not try to upsell on that. The client is very smart, he understands if something is not required. For example, if a client has partnered with you for an event, he should feel that the hotel has really created value to the whole experience and have not just tried to arm twist me or make an extra buck last minute. Hospitality as a culture should be demonstrated everywhere.”
Where loyalty is of concern, the guest is to be treated as a very important entity. And that entity has needs and expectations. The guest expects warmth as they are away and in an unfamiliar environment, even if you cannot give them their home, you have to create another home for them. The genuine smile from the room boy who is servicing the room or the front office manager or the people who help him check-in or even his account manager. A smile from any or all of them is highly important in making a guest feel welcomed. This is an experiential type of industry. If the guest is paying you X amount of money, then the guest wants to be acknowledged for it. “Thank you for giving us your business.” For example, you would typically want to go to a restaurant again if you know the manager, it creates a good impression and also makes you feel good. This is what hospitality is all about.
Humans are born with the brain to have a vision, Mr Nilay shared his vision with us, “My vision is to create something for hospitality. That is why I took up entrepreneurship so I could create hospitality experience according to my perception and give them (the guests) what they want. For example, as soon as the guests’ check-in, we avoid talking about the guest as a room number. Doing that develops a feeling of un-belongingness. Being in the industry that is what my vision is; to create experiences, to create properties even though small, but which are purely based on hospitality instead of just being real estate or asset. I want to customize the experience and create an environment where the guest is referred to by his name even in the internal meeting instead of a room number. That has a transition that I would like to have. The guests should know the team by name and vice versa. This vision is not for mammoth hotels which consist of 300-400 rooms. This experience can be curated where there is exclusivity. That is what my 5-year vision is.”
Mr Nilay also believes that a person should join the industry, not for the glamour but to grow; as this industry is a beautiful opportunity. People who make luxury cars do not drive them on their own. You should have a clear idea of what the industry is. It is a 24 x 7 industry. A correct attitude is very important for a skill set that can be acquired with it.