The opening general manager of The Westin’s newest property in India on adapting to the current, dynamic travel and hospitality climate; creating memorable guest experiences; and the vision that’s propelling the wellness-focussed hotel forward.
Over his 20-year career, Sunil Kumar has driven openings of key properties from leading luxury hospitality brands such as Oberoi Hotels, St Regis, and Hyatt. His most recent challenge has been steering the opening of The Westin Goa at a time when the hospitality industry has been forced to innovate as it grapples with the pandemic. Despite the odds, he’s confident that the hotel is poised to make the most of Goa’s thriving leisure travel market and draw in guests with its connection with nature and focussed approach to holistic wellness.
Read on for excerpts from a chat with Traveldine.
My career spans over two decades where I have got the opportunity to work in world-class luxury hotels. Prior to my current role as the General Manager of The Westin Goa, I have worked with brands such as the Oberoi Hotels, The St Regis, and Hyatt, and cultivated my knowledge of organizational development and growth, process orientation and personnel management. As the General Manager of The Westin Goa, with a focus on health and wellness, I aim to bring forth my beliefs in personal well-being to offer an enriching experience for everyone who walks in through the doors of this wellness abode.
What were your toughest challenges opening a hotel during the pandemic?
Facing a crisis impacts customers’ behaviour and lifestyle wherein most of them tend to curb travel and restaurant visits in exchange for spending more on groceries and digital services. Travel restrictions and advisories have revealed the vulnerability of the hospitality sector and are some of the major factors which definitely affect the running of a newly opened hotel. However, we have in place stringent hygiene and sanitization protocols across the hotel that align with our global program “Commitment to Clean” that operates from every point of the guest experience—encompassing our rooms, lobbies spa and dining. While we adapt and further refine our services to work through this dynamically changing environment, we stand in solidarity with our fellow countrymen as we face the impact of the second wave of Covid-19 that’s sweeping the nation right now.
What opportunities do you see for The Westin brand in a saturated market like Goa?
Goa might not have a lot of transient travellers now owing to the travel restrictions, but it continues to be the favourite destination for leisure travellers. Goa is also a top choice as a wellness destination, with several yoga retreats, Ayurveda and naturopathy resorts and meditation centres, making it the perfect home for the wellbeing-focused Westin brand. Before travel opens, we see a lot of scope in the realm of food deliveries and we are currently setting up our food delivery service Marriott on Wheels, following all safety and hygiene practices. Customers will be able to order in the delicacies from The Westin Goa and enjoy them in the safety of their homes.
How do you plan to navigate the hotel through the second wave?
What the guests seek right now is the unequivocal assurance of safety as they venture out again to indulge in the luxury of travelling, a haven that promises clean and safe spaces for them to be with their family. We have in place protocols that assure hygiene right from contactless check-in, preparation of delicious food in sanitized areas to overall delivery of an authentic and individual experience that stays with guests long after.
What is your vision for The Westin Goa, both short term and long term?
Our vision for The Westin Goa is to ensure that we are the hotel for inimitable wellness experiences and the destination of choice for our discerning guests in a harmonious and safe environment. We want to deliver holistic hospitality that turn guests into patrons after experiencing uncompromised luxury
What is your favourite thing about the hotel?
The property has been designed in such a way that we have an instant connection to nature from the moment you step into the gates. We have hills on one side, the organically designed atrium lobby and then the expanse of the aquatic and dry landscape beyond that. It would be hard to pinpoint anything with so much unique, rawness and beauty captured around the property.
The Westin Goa is centered around physical and mental wellbeing. What is your personal approach to wellness?
My personal approach mirrors The Westin brand’s key pillars of wellness—Sleep Well, Move Well, Work Well, Feel Well, Play Well and Eat Well that ensure we have a holistic wellbeing and take care of ourselves in every way possible. It is important to balance our thoughts and cultivate the right discipline through living life by our perspective in a sound manner.