Brunch Focus: ‘Never waste a good crisis’ – brunch feature

If there’s one person any travel writer can call on for a solid view on the hospitality business, it’s Neeraj Govil, Senior Vice President – South Asia, Marriott International. His replies may often be lengthy and all-encompassing, but contain a comprehensiveness and world view you rarely get. So when we called to enquire about how the Marriott is faring, we got information that could fill pages. Here are excerpts of a chat that highlights the opportunity amidst challenges, a continued engagement with customers and an optimism that things will indeed turn around.

Tell us a bit about how the Marriott Group is dealing with the challenges posed by the pandemic?

The challenges posed by Covid-19 were obviously unexpected, but we had an idea of what might come our way because we operate hotels in China, and we had started to see the impact of this there sometime around December or January. So we did have a sense of what could potentially happen, but what did, was on a scale nobody could expect. I’ve now got a saying on my wall in office that says, “Never waste a good crisis”. So despite having a large number of hotels close down, the entire piece for us has been about turning that adversity into an opportunity. I am happy to share with you that all but three of our hotels have now reopened, and there have been extensive protocols put in place to do this. Even better news is that momentum is building up.

What was the biggest opportunity Marriott identified… and cracked?

Our industry had to get extremely creative with the kind of stress that was put on our business. It forced the industry to rethink how we did our business, and it made us pause. The hotel sector had to come up with some very innovative and ingenious ways to generate cash flow. We have had to take a long hard look at our revenue centre, and pull up new revenue streams.

“We will be launching the Marriott Bonvoy Moments Experience platform very soon, where members can play games online, interact with players and coaches, and more” —Neeraj Govil

One of the things our team did very quickly and with a great deal of agility was to launch Marriott on Wheels, which is our home / office delivery service. If you couldn’t come to the hotel any more, we could get to you. And today, it’s generating a tremendous amount of revenue for us. We now have 74 of our hotels across India that do Marriott on Wheels – it has caught on amongst our clients, and I can tell you that it’s here to stay!

What are the steps the Marriott Group is taking to make guests, diners and patrons feel safe in your hotels again?

This is something that was talked about and debated extensively prior to reopening. At Marriott, we said the new normal is going to reflect two things: one is governmental guidance, and two, the expectations of our customers. One of the things Marriott did was launch a Global Cleanliness Council. This included experts from medicine, public health, and also our own operations crew from around the world. This team then sat down and developed approximately 200 new cleaning protocols. These are now being implemented as we open. Their goal is two-pronged: to create transmission barriers, and enhance sanitation.

Does luxury lose some of its sheen because one must make pullbacks on account of practicality?

I am a strong believer that you cannot compromise when it comes to luxury brands. Yes, potentially, you are going to have to make some changes and pull back on certain things. But I think luxury customers are very aware that they are picking your brand because of the trust and value that exists. I tend to think that luxury brands will continue to see tremendous demand.

Tell us about the biggest hotel loyalty programme in the world: the Marriott Bonvoy?

The Bonvoy programme is central to what we do. We have a huge member base globally and in India, and through this entire period of slowdown, we’ve stayed engaged with our members virtually. We’ve had classes for cooking, workout, bartending, special offers, and frozen expiration of points and allowed members to retain their tier, making it one of the most formidable reward programmes in the world.

The latest thing that we are doing here in India is our association with the Mumbai Indians for the IPL. We’re associate sponsors, and also feature prominently on their jerseys. We will be launching the Marriott Bonvoy Moments Experience platform very soon, where members can get online with a lot of fun games: there is virtual cricket, interactions with players and coaches, and more.

Another thing that may be of interest to you: every time you watch a Mumbai Indians game, we have a package that could help you order from Marriott on Wheels. Or, just come over with your friends and family to watch the game at one of our hotels…

Follow @JamalShaikh on Twitter

From HT Brunch, October 11, 2020

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