We Are Poised For Growth: Chander Baljee

An IIM-A graduate and Managing Director of Royal Orchid Hotels, Chander Baljee comes across as a down-to-earth person with a mission – to make his hotel group the best in business. Having started from a humble foundation, Chander Baljee has set up one of the fastest growing hotel empires and been in the industry for three decades. He talks to EXEC about his plans and why Royal Orchid is a Business Traveller friendly hotel.

You started with Hotel Harsha in 1973 and now The Royal Orchid Hotels has 17 projects in the offing. Have you exceeded your expectations?

We have achieved more than what we set out to do. We started with a few hotels and now we are already over 20. We are operating from 11 cities now. The canvas is much larger. We are thinking of a much larger company now than what we had envisaged before.

What have been the challenges?

The challenges have always been the same. There are manpower and HR-related issues and cost issues. When the market crashed we really worked hard to beat the competition.

As your organisation grows, you are geared up to meet more challenges, as you have more professionals and agencies involved. Going forward, it becomes easier and easier. As a smaller organisation you do everything yourself. But it’s a learning experience and I am glad I did everything myself. So now we know how each person has to work.

What are the major hurdles, you think, the Indian hospitality industry faces?

Major hassle in India is the regulatory issue. There is no single window clearance for hotels. According to HVS report there are as many as 104 clearances required to set up a hotel. In India, it takes about four years from the time you buy the land till the hotel is operational. In china, the same procedure takes 15 months. Luckily, we are used to it now but it serves as entry barrier for others. While international hotels have come up they do not have it easy. For eg Hilton wanted to set up 100 hotels in three years, but they never got through because of the practical problems faced in our country. Each state and city has its own rules.

What is the expansion strategy of Royal Orchid Hotels?

We are poised for growth. This year we will be doubling our capacity all over the country. We will be adding a lot of rooms. We are trying to streamline opening of hotels as a process. Today the philosophy is Grow or Go, and we are growing.

Are you focussing on Tier-1 or Tier-2 cities?

We don’t have significant presence in Tier-1 cities. Our immediate focus in on Delhi and Mumbai. In Mumbai the construction will start soon and in Delhi, we will commission the project this year. These two cities are going to be the focus of this year. We didn’t enter Mumbai and Delhi earlier because of the cost barrier at the entry level. We can manage that now.

Also our 5-star hotels in Hyderabad and Jaipur should commence soon. We are not investing in Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities, rather tying up with some local partners. We are managing the hotels. We are going the management contract route in a big way because now we have the wherewithal to provide those resources. We have a very experienced team and the bandwidth to provide them.

How do you inculcate sense of hospitality amongst your staff across the hotel group?

We benchmark with the best. If you give good service, costs are minimal. We have a regular feedback system. We also get feedback through mystery audits. We’ve hired an international audit agency. They come in and check in incognito and later send us a 100-page report on what went wrong or what went right. We share the reports with managers and the staff. It’s a matter of constantly motivating the good performers. We highlight the achievements in a newsletter as well. Giving good service is the only way we can beat competition. Because a new product will launch everyday and some hotel that has launched recently will be probably better than us. We have introduced systems to deliver a good service.

What’s the best hotel you’ve stayed at, besides Royal Orchid?

I’ve stayed in a lot of good hotels. Four seasons hotel in Singapore has excellent service and so do Ritz Carlton hotels. So we thought why not replicate the service of Ritz. I got a book written on Ritz Carlton. They are the best, so we try to replicate the service. While we have a long way to go before we achieve those standards but we believe in aiming high. Even if we achieve a part of that, I think we’ve done our job.

What do you think is the cardinal sin in hotel service?

Our philosophy is simple. We ask everyone one question – what does it cost you to say yes and what does it cost you to say no? If you say no to the guest, you’ve lost the guest, if you say yes to the guest, what does it cost? If the guest says that the chicken dish is not good, why argue? You can replace the chicken dish, but you can’t replace the guest. If you say yes, the guest will remember you and come back. But at the same time we’ve trained our employees not to say yes to every single request. If you say no, you say it in a very nice manner. Suppose a guest wants to stay at the hotel a few hours after checkout time, as his flight is late, we’ve empowered those at the reception desk to take a decision on that. If you let the guest stay for a couples hours extra, he’ll also go happy. You’ve to empower the people down the line to give the best service.

What do you look for in a hotel?

Check in should happen very fast as today speed matters. Also everything in your room should be functioning. If someone asks for an extra blanket, you should be able to provide that immediately. I specifically expect sugar free food and health food to be available. I do expect a good gym and prompt service at the restaurants. High-speed internet access is important and it should be easy to access. You should be able to log in straightway.

What, according to you, are a business traveller’s needs and how does Royal Orchid meet them?

Business travellers need high-speed service and to be picked up at the airport. Seemless check-in is important and if they have special needs, they should be met. If a traveller wants to have a private meeting and is not staying in a suite, we have our executive lounge that is perfect for entertaining guests. Since he travels frequently, a business traveller wants a good bed and pillow. We have a pillow menu having options for any kind of pillow you want. We try to get people used to our beds. It’s not rocket science, to have a bed of international standards, as all you have to do is make sure they have all the features.

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