PK Mohankumar, COO, Gateway believes the Taj Group knows the Indian Traveller best.
This cricket-playing, wild life enthusiast who works tirelessly for increasing the tiger and elephant count in the country, “they are the pride of India”, comes with a pedigree that very few in the industry can boast of – 35 years of rising through the ranks of India’s oldest and possibly most-admired brand, the Taj Hotels, Resorts & Palaces.
PK Mohankumar is no rookie and has played a pivotal role in the country’s fast-growing hospitality industry that has caught the fancy of global players in the last three to four years,
As far as training goes, he could not have asked for a better place to cut his teeth. The graduate from the Bombay Catering College started off his career with the legendary Taj of Apollo Bunder in Mumbai and has been instrumental in flying the Taj flag across the globe, with stints in Sri Lanka and the United States. In between, he steered the group’s plans in various segments of the market. In 1984, the young hotelier was handpicked for training in Switzerland as a precursor to the group’s foray into the upscale segment with the launch of the first Gateway in Bangalore as its debut General Manager.
It is serendipity, perhaps, that almost a quarter of a century later, Mohankumar is back in the Gateway fold, this time as its Chief Operating Officer (COO), a man with a formidable challenge ahead of him. Over the next few years, he has the responsibility of transforming the full-service, upscale Gateway brand into one that is more than a match for the line-up of global brands that are offering guests every imaginable comfort at tempting rates for the aspirational Indian-on the-move.
Mohankumar is not unduly concerned. “Admittedly there is tough competition and a segment of the Indian business traveller is switching loyalty to foreign brands who bring in a purported sense of novelty but we are confident of retaining them within the fold with our brand which will not just have what competition is offering but also the legacy of our tradition in the Indian hospitality business, and unique differentiators like active foods, and wellness-cuisine. We know the Indian traveller best and there is no question of that”, he asserts.
Already, he is making sure that the brand will attract the younger traveller with more propensity to spend, by planning new hotels under the brand, with smart, hi-tech rooms, futuristic, contemporary designs by a Singaporean architectural firm and all the conveniences that the business traveller wants, including leaner, healthier, “active” menu options and round-the-clock service like a 24/7.fitness centre.” The emphasis will be on facilitating the guest arriving from the airport into his room as seamlessly, quickly and efficiently as possible, skipping the usual time-consuming processes. The Gateway would be a brand which reflects speed, efficiency and seamlessness”, says Mohankumar who is involved with improving the quality and service aspects of business.
While the industry has been in a tumultuous ride over the last few years, Mohankumar says India’s burgeoning middle class and their aspirations will mean that the industry will be sustained by the domestic market. A new product is filling up the space between the luxury and the mass-market brands. “Earlier there were either luxury hotels or unbranded family-run hotels. The modern Indian traveller has a choice of hotels at every price point, catering to his every need,” he explains and adds, “At IHCL, our motto is to follow the customer wherever he goes, with a product for every consumer segment”.
“India’s hospitality industry is today at a stage where there is a huge inventory build-up and supply is being gobbled up simultaneously by demand prompting fresh investments. India emerges as the most attractive investment destination for hospitality products now and in the near future”, he avers, admitting, however, that tariffs come under pressure frequently due to competition. The Taj veteran is also a keen naturalist, which is why he is keenly awaiting the completion of the group’s property at Sasan Gir, adjoining the Gir forest.
Mohankumar believes in and maintains a holistic and balanced lifestyle with spirituality, a healthy cuisine and wellness regime. He is also a keen sportsperson who has played cricket, hockey and other outdoor games. He is a trained practitioner of Kalaripayattu as well.
“I have been fortunate enough to have got opportunities that not many people get, thanks to this industry. In many ways, my interaction with the people I meet at work (he counts Indian cricket team captain Mahinder Singh Dhoni amongst his personal friends) have enriched my life and made me a better person and I am happy I have many more years to go in this space”, he signs off.