From being a business traveller, to opening hotels for the business traveller, Zia Shiekh, CEO & CMD, Svenska Design Hotels, has been successful in every field – be it investment banking, BPO or Hospitality. And with a plan of opening 20 hotels across India by 2020, Sheikh aims to bring a new dimension to the Indian hospitality landscape through Svenska.
Is Svenska a business or a leisure hotel group?
The primary target market of Svenska is the business segment, with our product and services oriented towards the requirements of senior executives (VPs, Directors, MDs, CEOs) of Indian and multinational corporations. Svenska operates in the segment of small-format luxury, with room inventory in each hotel less than 100 rooms, enabling us to offer highly personalized experiences to discerning business travellers. Please find attached a document providing a detailed overview of our concept, product, services and growth plans in India.
What’s your vision for Svenska’s Hotels?
To establish Svenska as the pre-eminent collection of luxury boutique design hotels, known for giving its guests unique, personalized experiences at each of the hotels. We have significant growth and expansion plans in India, with a vision to establish 20 hotels in the next 10 years, covering Tier 1, 2 and 3 cities, and bringing a new dimension to the Indian hospitality landscape through our small-format luxury hotels concept.
What are your expansions plans and which marketa are you primarily focussing on?
We see a great opportunity in the Tier II and III cities, which are actually ideal for a brand like Svenska because we focus on small format luxury and are able to enter and operate in these markets (that are incidentally still not proven), with limited investments and room inventories, thereby de-risking the model for Svenska as well as the owners. Furthermore, as the Indian growth story moves beyond the metros to touch a huge number of emerging towns and cities across the country, there is a strong and growing demand from these emerging cities for high quality accommodation and food & beverage options, catering both to the visitors to these towns/ cities, as well as the local population, which has so far had limited options in their respective locations for fine-dining gourmet food or even chic and trendy lounge bars. These towns/ cities have the purchasing power, but perhaps due to their emerging status, most of the luxury brands have so far stayed away and concentrated on the metros. This is surely changing now and Svenska is at the forefront of using Tier II and III cities as a growth engine.
What high technology amenities does Svenska provide to the traveller?
We use a wide range of technologies (hardware and software tools) to enhance our guest experience, whether it is in the form of providing them with a range of gadgets (including IPads, IPod Docking Stations, Nintendo WII and Sony Playstation3 gaming consoles, amongst others). All our guest rooms are also fitted with mood lighting panels, with central consoles to control the environment and ambience, from the a/c temperature to the music to lighting to DND/ MMR. We also use the latest in green technology to protect the environment, whether it is by investing in high-end VRV technology for air-conditioning that is both energy efficient as well as flexible to support the variable needs of hotels, or in terms of rain water harvesting system, sewage treatment plants with the by-product water being used for horticulture and flushing systems, etc.
What are some of the top-of-the-line services and facilities provided by the hotel group for the business traveller?
As part of our basic suite of services, we provide a wide array of services that are fully complimentary for our guests, including 24×7 private butler service, welcome drink on arrival, in-room spa treatments, high-speed secured Internet, wide collection of games and movies on demand and various other items that are not charged extra. Every staff member of Svenska knows every resident guest by name, with the frequent travellers/ extended stay guests getting even a higher level of personalization, whether it is delivering their preferred choice of newspaper to their rooms or knowing their favourite drink/ cuisine and any special dietary requirements/ preferences. A large format hotel can never deliver this kind of personalization, which is a key USP for Svenska.
What according to you is a cardinal sin in hotel business?
To violate the customer trust, whether it is in terms of the brand promise not getting delivered or inconsistency in service or lack of maintenance of the product to anything else that signals to the customer that the hotel doesn’t care sufficiently about its guests.
What’s one philosophy you follow religiously when it comes to hospitality services?
Consistency, consistency, consistency. This is one element that seems to be missing from the Indian hospitality scene, especially in hotels that are not the typical large-scale 5-star deluxe hotels. The lack of consistency in the product and services that small-format hotels in the country generally offer is the biggest bane of the sector and has prevented the hotel industry in the country from growing faster and providing unique and differentiated offerings to its customers.
Which hotels you have loved staying at apart from Svenska?
Four Seasons, Shangri La, Peninsula, Six Senses and Oberoi are some of my personal favourite brands, all of them being high-end luxury brands, who not just take their product very seriously, but also the service element, with a level of sophistication that is very difficult to achieve, but keeps making the customers come back again and again to them.
You have a background in investment banking and BPO. How does it help you in the hospitality business?
I have primarily been a consumer/ user of hotels in my career earlier, whether in investment banking or BPO/ ITES, and I believe that a number of the initiatives, service offerings and USPs of Svenska are drawn from those experiences of mine as a business traveller, who always looked for a home away from home in a hotel, but was more often than not, disappointed by the lack of warmth and intimacy that most large-format hotels deliver. This is what attracted me to focus on the small-format hotels that are highly personalized, providing a refreshing change to road warriors, whether it is from the perspective of simple, minimalist design elements that are elegant and sophisticated, or with respect to providing a host of value-added services that a business traveller would love to get without having to pay an arm and a leg for them.