BTN Europe presents an overview of business travel and MICE predictions for this year
Virtual Event - 1 October 2020
ExCeL London - 22-23 June 2021
Vella Ramasawmy is general manager of the newly opened Leela Kempinski Gurgaon, Delhi (NCR). Located a short drive from Indira Ghandi International Airport, the hotel has 320 rooms and suites and 90 one-, two- and three-bedroom residences, a 20,000 sq ft spa and 27,000 sq ft of function space as well as several restaurants and large outdoor heated pool
You've managed hotels all over the world. How does it compare to your experience in India?
Managing in India is easier. People here are very intelligent. The language is easy to communicate and people here are very receptive If I want to turn a room blue tomorrow, they ask me ‘When would I like to start?' They don't ask why. Working here is easier than Bangkok or Vietnam or Australia. Here I will get things done efficiently and more quickly.
But it has a reputation for bureaucracy
Outside yes, but not inside the hotel. When we were starting up the hotel, obtaining all the necessary licences was very tough. I have a whole department looking at that but sometimes it works in your favour and sometimes not. It depends on who you are and who you know.
The economy has changed a lot since this hotel was planned. Do you think you can be successful?
Yes, we opened 250 rooms (out of 330) and in June we did 165 or 170 rooms a day, so we have not been affected a lot. Because we are the latest hotel opening I started at the right price and haven't had to drop it.
Where were these guests staying before, in Gurgaon or in Delhi?
They were staying at the Trident in Gurgaon, but also the Taj Palace, Shangri-la and some at the Sheraton [all in Delhi]. We have displaced a lot of business from Trident, which was the number one hotel in Gurgaon.
Does anyone live in Gurgaon?
Most of the big corporate accounts stay here in Gurgaon, and some of them stay for long periods. If you want to build a big headquarters in Delhi, you have to go outside the city, so all the offices are moving here. It's affordable and it's more spacious. Some live in Gurgaon now because they don't like to commute, but some live in Delhi because of their children's education. You can get a bigger house here than in Delhi and it's a good place to live. Opposite the hotel is a national park, a reserve, and if you stand here in the evening you see deer and wild animals.
The hotel is part of a larger development here in Gurgaon...
Yes, Ambience Island is a multi-complex and we are attached to the Mall. There are Ambience Residences for sale and luxury apartments and condominiums coming soon. Ambience Island in total is 130 acres of land with only 30 acres is used so far.
As well as your new hotel, Leela is opening another property in Delhi next year in time for the Commonwealth Games [taking place 3-14 October 2010]. Won't the new hotel cannibalise your business?
No, not if we plan it properly. The hotel in Delhi will be a super luxury hotel. It will do a lot of leisure, and very very high end business for the corporate world. This hotel in Gurgaon will do a lot of corporate but also convention and MICE business because we have the biggest convention area in Gurgaon. The one in Delhi will not have that, so they are not in the same market. We have been very careful in planning it this way and we just have to manage it properly.
How do you market yourself ?
At the moment there's a lot of corporate business coming in which we do locally, but on the international market since 2008 we have been a member of Preferred Hotels and Resorts, which is coming along pretty well and is good for the American market particularly. We have Kempinski as well, which is strong in Europe and the Middle East and linked with that is the Global Hotel Alliance. For us, the busy time will run from November until April, when we will do 90% to 95% occupancy. And then next year we have the Commonwealth Games in Delhi and we already have 200 rooms booked. The Commonwealth Games is in the off season so it will help us.
What proportion of your business is MICE?
It could be as high as 30% depending on the time of the year. The hotel is a very well equipped place, it has the latest technology with everything built-in, and it is very spacious with indoor and outdoor areas. And most of our rooms have natural light so we have become quite popular now with conferences and also weddings. In Delhi, the Taj Palace has also a large amount of room and they have a lot of outdoorspace as well, but they are not as modern as we are.
How important is security here?
It is very important. We have two gates, the first one has a surveillance camera for under the car, and we are installing a baggage scanner as well as the personal scanner in front of the hotel. And the hotel has a lot of digital security cameras with a control room in the basement. Since we are in the Ambience Mall which has 600 to 700 security guards, we also have a commando unit of 25 and one dog squad, who come once a day for the whole property, so I am lucky to be in this compound because I have more resources than I normally would.
Still, I don't think much of the security is necessary. In general, this country doesn't have the same problems as elsewhere. But the way the world is going, people feel comfortable when they see all of this. We didn't intend to have the guards on every floor. Normally when you finish a hotel you put guards on every floor because housemaids are cleaning and you don't want the rooms to get dirty with people wandering in and out. Also with people coming and going, you don't want anything to get taken from the rooms. So you put the guard on there to search people. But then slowly as we started to take guests, people thought it was fabulous to have a guard next to the room, so when we heard the comments we thought we'd let the guards stay because it's become a USP for us but not every five star hotel has it. It helps the women feel safe as well.