He talks about how the secret to the success of Mayfair is gut instinct and knowledge of the customer base rather than merely spreadsheets and market surveys.
The Mayfair Hotels & Resorts has a strong presence in the eastern and northeastern part of India, with 12 five-star luxury hotels in their inventory and a thirteenth soon coming up in Kolkata. We talked to Ravi Mohapatra, Senior Vice President – Business Development, to understand the brand’s growth curve, their coping strategy during the pandemic, and plans for future expansion. Excerpt from the interview…
Please share the journey of the Mayfair group, going from a single standalone property to more than a dozen.
It was in the year 1982 that Dilip Ray, the present Founder Chairman of the Mayfair group, decided to launch the first garden restaurant called Tandoor in the steel city of Rourkela in the fallow land that belonged to his family. Driven by passion, his restaurant became a runaway success and soon, a small boutique Mayfair Hotel was built around it.
Following its success, he soon opened up resorts in Puri, Darjeeling, Bhubaneswar, Gangtok, Gopalpur, Goa, Kalimpong, Raipur and Siliguri… each with its unique architectural imprint and character, size and features. An additional resort in Puri and another convention centre in Bhubaneswar were further added.
It was another thing that the projects were all developed with just the chairman’s gut instinct. His main reason to choose such locales was not driven by an elaborate market survey but by the belief that hotels would achieve their full potential only if you give them an exotic locale, great aesthetic value and features that would keep all segments of tourists interested in coming in an environment which was safe, in sync with nature and with service that would make the customer get the feeling of a home away from home.
What, according to you, is the USP of Mayfair? What are the attributes that make it a successful brand?
A very strong aesthetic appeal in every property dotted with hand-picked art and artifacts, a distinctive style of architecture that fuses local architectural imprints with ultra-luxe accommodation features, a place that is an ode to nature with dense plantations and trees that create a captive biosphere, lovely locales and quality service which is warm and caring, these are the attributes that have made Mayfair a successful brand, synonymous with the best in the industry.
What are the challenges faced while operating in this region? What are the benefits?
Land-slide prone bad roads, an unstable regional political environment, high transportation cost of building materials and food and beverage costs, and water scarcity all leading to a high cost of operation are the main challenges that most face.
Benefits are the fantastic, unpolluted environment, the to-die-for scenic and picturesque surroundings, the lovely local people who make up for a great workforce and the intrinsic romance of the cold weather that takes you to a different world.
What do you think is required to develop tourism and hospitality in eastern and northeastern India? Are there any wish-list policies that would help boost the sector?
Improved infrastructure in terms of roads, subsidies to make projects viable which can reduce the period against the ROI, preferential and low interest loans to encourage entrepreneurs to build more hotels, a bigger airport at Siliguri – the gateway to the North East, duty and tax exemptions against revenue should be addressed, considering the fact that it is tourism alone that drives the economy here through homestays, car rentals , restaurants, etc, and is also the biggest employer of the local populace, given the fact that there is a total absence of big manufacturing industries in these areas that can generate employment.
How did the group fair during the pandemic? What measures did you take in terms of keeping afloat, retaining staff, employee welfare, continued engagement with loyal customers, etc.
The pandemic did deflate the industry. But there is a saying that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. It was at this time that our chairman was an inspiration to all of us, leading from the front and convincing us that ‘together we can’.
When tourists stopped coming and resorts closed, he advised us to carry on with intensive maintenance work. Thanks to that, today we are able to cope well with full occupancy. In fact, one of our biggest projects – the Mayfair Tea Resort at Siliguri – was completed during this time. It was a classic case of viewing the glass as half full instead of half empty.
To cope, we sent 50 per cent of the staff back home and kept the other 50 per cent within the resorts. Salaries were paid and we ensured all staff were motivated and vaccinated. Leading from the front was our chairman, whose priority was to understand that profits would be next to nothing, but the employees should be retained, and their wellbeing was foremost. This, with the help of WHO-guided mandatory Covid protocol ensured that we had a safe and secure environment for all our loyal customers once they returned.
How has business been with the gradual reopening of travel? Has your clientele changed in terms of profile or requirements?
Business has been encouraging. There is an unprecedented surge in the volume of domestic tourists although inbound is yet to happen. For the moment, while our clientele profile is mainly families, we are back with the MICE segment with corporate bookings and marriages opening up too.
Please share some future plans, be it consolidation or renovation of existing hotels or new ones that are in the pipeline.
The future holds a lot of promise. A 244-key hotel by end-2022 in Kolkata, a huge convention centre in Bhubaneswar, another boutique hotel at Jharsuguda and two others in Guwahati are in the Mayfair pipeline.