Friday, 28 February 2014

As The Trident Gurgaon Turns 10, It Eyes Bigger Share of MICE Pie and Prepares to Go Organic

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

I STILL remember the evening, ten years ago, when I walked into what was then The Trident Hilton Gurgaon, getting that wow feeling as I beheld the aquamarine water body (I am told it holds 800,000 litres of constantly recycled water) reflecting the frisky flames of the mashaals (fire-lit torches) lighting up the entrance courtyard of the hotel, which stood out as a showpiece in a sleepy town that was just becoming known as the back-end capital of the world.
Nitesh Gandhi, who was the F&B
manager of The Trident Gurgaon
ten years ago and is now general
manager, explains why the hotel is
No. 1 in Gurgaon on TripAdvisor
As I was ushered in through the ornamental doors that towered over me like Aladdin's genie, I was received by Kapil Chopra, whom I had known from his stint at The Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi, where he led the prestigious presidential suite project; David Mathews, who had moved in from the salubrious setting of the Wildflower Hall in Shimla to take over as Executive Assistant Manager (F&B); and Nitesh Gandhi, the F&B Manager. That was ten years ago, when the only competition The Trident had was the older and definitely dowdy The Bristol, which didn't look like a hotel of any consequence in the best of times. I wondered why P.R.S. Oberoi, a hospitality mogul in a class of his own, had chosen to open such a magnificent hotel with suitably appointed rooms -- a Vilas and not just another Trident -- in the middle of a wilderness.
Ten years on, I don't have to ask this question. The Trident Gurgaon, which celebrates its tenth birthday this evening, has been the biggest gainer of Gurgaon's stunning growth. I am sure the staff must have lost count of the number of Fortune 500 company board meetings they have hosted, or the international corporate top guns who have walked the hotel's gleaming corridors. Just in the recent past, the hotel has hosted the global boards of Microsoft, American Express, McKinsey and Harley Davidson. It was also the first hotel in Gurgaon to host an international conference -- that of the foreign ministers of 51 Indian Ocean rim nations -- organised by the Ministry of External Affairs. To provide security to the visiting dignitaries, Delhi Police, in an unprecedented move, had to get its jurisdiction extended to Gurgaon!
The Trident Gurgaon has set the gold standards for a market that has grown from 350 rooms (including 136 of its own) to more than 5,000, and is waiting for another 3,500 to open up at the New Delhi Aerocity through this year and the next. At a time when hotels are engaged in a pricing bloodbath, it has held on to an 80 per cent occupancy; the hotel's February 2014 revenue per available room (RevPAR) -- Rs 9,935 -- is 12.5 per cent higher than the previous year's figure and it is all set to close this financial year with 10 per cent higher gross operating profit. With The Oberoi Gurgaon coming up next door, and with the two hotels working on a "one complex, one sales team" strategy, they are now eyeing with confidence the competitive market cutting across segments. What I thought would be a real estate disaster has turned out to be an industry success story.
"Our Chairman has a sharp eye for locations. See how The Oberoi New Delhi is located right next to the city's oldest golf course. It has ensured, besides offering a great view to guests, the hotel has no competition in its neighbourhood," says Gandhi, as nattily turned out as ever, as we settle down for a chat in one corner of the pool, completely insulated from the noise and confusion on one of the NCR's busiest (and till recently, clogged) arterial roads, just a couple of hundred metres away. The Trident Gurgaon doesn't exaggerate when it claims to be a business hotel that "makes you forget you're on business".
The hotel's main corridor oozes the warmth and
grandeur responsible for making it the 'business
hotel where you forget you are on business'
Ten years seems like a lifetime. Gandhi is now the general manager of the hotel. And he's not the only one who has risen in the corporate food chain. Kapil Chopra, whose ease with words matches his mastery over numbers, is the President of The Oberoi Group. David Mathews, who handed over charge to Gandhi, is the general manager of The Oberoi Gurgaon next door. Rathijit Dasgupta, who started as a steward at Cilantro (Gandhi remembers training him how to balance service trays), The Trident Gurgaon's multiple-award-winning all-day restaurant, is the food and beverage manager of The Oberoi Gurgaon. Gaurav, the then duty manager, is the rooms division manager. Aafreen, the then front office assistant, is the production manager. And Jasbir, also a front office assistant, is now the front office manager. If The Trident is Gurgaon's No. 1 hotel on TripAdvisor with a 96 per cent approval rating, it is because of these people who have hitched their fortunes to it, a rare feature in an industry prone to a high attrition rate.
Gandhi attributes The Trident's success to three features of The Oberoi's work culture that flows down from the man presiding over the empire. "We have been taught to develop an astute sense of detailing, never to make comprises, and to hire the right people," says Gandhi. The right people, with the right empowerment, can create "magical stories for our guests". He mentions the instance of a top executive of a leading management consultancy who was a regular at a neighbouring hotel. Gandhi managed to influence him to transfer his account to The Trident Gurgaon. Today, the guest doesn't go anywhere else because he swears by Fazil, the gym instructor. "When service is at this level, then business comes automatically," says Gandhi. "The standards have to be high when you work for a legend," he adds.
As Gandhi gears up for what he perceives as a "tough fight" in the next three years, he has set three goals for the hotel:
* Go for the upper end of the MICE (Meetings Incentives Conventions Exhibitions) business more aggressively, pitching for heads of state visits, Fortune 500 company board meetings and product launches. At the moment, MICE provides 18 per cent of the hotel's business, compared with 75 per cent from corporate clients and 7 per cent from the leisure segment. "Now that the Gurgaon toll is out, we will go for the Delhi business," Gandhi says. "And we are already tapping the Mumbai market."
* Reduce waste for healthier bottomline. "Our Chairman keeps emphasising that economising is not about cutting costs, but about eliminating waste," Gandhi says. He points outs that the hotel's boilers and gas burners (in the mashaals and the kitchens) are moving on to piped natural gas (PNG).
It has become necessary, he says, because of the erratic electricity supply in the summer months and the cost of diesel (used to run generators) shooting up from Rs 44 to Rs 57 in one year. The average per day requirement of diesel, which is 1,022 litres, shoots up to 2,200 litres during the summer months, which see six to eight months of power failure per day.
* Turn organic. This is the mission Gandhi has set for the kitchens of the hotel. "Give us three months and you'll start seeing the difference," he says, adding: "In a competitive market, if you don't differentiate, you die." That seems like a faraway prospect for a hotel grounded in the finest values of the industry.