"Our Next Focus Is On Goa"
Kuldip Singh Bhinder has seen the best of both the worlds. The CEO of The Golden Palms Hotel and Spa relishes those memorable years of working with renowned filmmaker Sanjay Khan, the former owner of the sprawling, 150-room Bengaluru property. Mr Bhinder is equally happy with the new promoter of the luxury hotel, Industrial Investment Trust (IITL) - a leading Mumbaibased investment company with interests in financial services, insurance, real estate and hospitality - which took over the property in 2010-11.
A veteran in the hospitality industry with over 24 years of experience, Mr Bhinder was also associated with the Sahara Group and Club Mahindra. Golden Palms, with two more properties - a 45-room hotel in Mussoorie and a 50-room property in Delhi built from scratch - is a leading player in the leisure, resort and business segments. In a wide-ranging interview with Amit Brahmabhatt, the Golden Palm CEO shares his views on the hospitality industry and reveals his company's expansion plans.
How has the growing competition changed the dynamics of the Indian hospitality sector?
There is a sudden influx of many new hotels, especially international brands which think that the future is in India. Bengaluru alone has 25-plus five-star hotels, and so, the competition is immense. But I think that competition is good as it has helped improve standards. Besides, tariffs have been rationalised as a result.
How does Golden Palms stand out in the overcrowded and highly competitive hospitality sector?
Golden Palms has its own charm. For instance, our Bengaluru property is away from the city and spread across a vast expanse of 15 acres. The swimming pool there is a major draw as it is bigger than an Olympic pool at 130 metres. Filmmaker Sanjay Khan, the original owner of the property, had designed the spa on the lines of spas - called hamam - in the Gulf countries, which are very spacious. Being away from the city may be a disadvantage at times. However, this distance has helped us not to get into rate-cutting fights that city hotels are into. Our property in Mussoorie has a rich heritage. Mahatma Gandhi used to stay in the house - which once stood on this plot - whenever he visited Mussoorie.
What are the focus areas of your business?
We have modelled our business around the conferencing segment, and that has really helped us grow. Conferences, particularly the MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and events) segment, are our major focus area. Besides, weddings and the day-out segment - a large gathering of corporate entities for their teambuilding exercises for a day - make up the remaining part of our business.
Has the GST impacted your business in any way?
Like every other industry, we too felt the impact of GST for about two months when our business was slightly low. But there is already a rebound. Many corporate entities that had panicked about the new tax are coming back in a big way. In fact, we began August on a very good note. The hotel industry which was accepting a lot of cash earlier will stop dealing in cash, thanks to GST. Once that stops, that segment of the industry comes into the tax net, and the wheels of the economy will start turning. Once that happens, as the finance minister has already indicated, the tax rates will be revisited and revised.
High attrition seems to be a major challenge for the industry...
Attrition as a result of high competition is certainly a challenge. But we have ourselves to blame for this level of attrition. It often happens that most new hotels poach employees from existing hotels. Most often, the only motivation to attract employees is money. So, employees are offered very high salaries that they may not be worthy of. Finally, these people will end up in positions where they have to take major decisions, and hence, many of the hotels find their middle-
"When you enter Golden Palms in Bengaluru, you can feel the grandeur, and you realise that only a filmmaker can think of such a large canvas."
level management to be weak.
But this is not the case with the Taj or the Oberoi. These hotels may not be the best paymasters in the industry. Yet they look after their employees so well. Naturally, attrition rates at these hotels are as low as 2 to 3 per cent.
How has the experience with attrition been at Golden Palms?
We have been quite lucky in this matter. The top management of Golden Palms has been around for a long time. Our chef in Bengaluru has been there since the hotel started. I have been with Golden Palms for 11 of the 14 years since the hotel started in Bengaluru. My sales team has been around for about 10 years. Mr Khan used to look after his staff as his family, and even after IITL took over the management, the benefit for the staff have remained the same. In fact, a lot of members of the staff - about 250 of the 400 employees in Bengaluru - have been picked up from nearby villages and trained. So, they seem to have an obligation to the hotel for providing them an opportunity to grow in life and have been with us for a long time.
Would you share with us some of your expansion plans?
We are planning to expand our Bengaluru property from 150 to 200 rooms to cater to the growing demand. There are also plans to take properties on management contract. Accordingly, we have put in a team to look for hotels that can be taken on man- agement contracts. Our next focus is on Goa as it is a major international destination. We are already in talks with promoters of two hotels there to take them on management contract. We have been slow, but steady, in adding new properties as we want each of them to be self-sustainable. Most of the brands today boast of a large number of properties, but their debt ratios are too high. On the contrary, we don't have any borrowing, and we are a debt-free company.
Finally, would you recount some interesting experiences of working with Mr Khan?
Only Mr Khan could have built a hotel like this because he was not a hotelier. There was no commercial angle involved, being a filmmaker, he wanted the property to be larger than life. When you enter Golden Palms in Bengaluru, you can feel the grandeur, and you realise that only a filmmaker can think of such a large canvas - the expanse of the property, the size of rooms, the way the lawns have been made and the trees planted. The vintage furniture has been handpicked by Zarine Khan (Mr Khan's wife) and so are the beautiful interiors, conceptualised by her. Two of the residential suites, named as Dewan Purnaiah and Tipu Sultan - the famous TV serial that Mr Khan made - reflect the glory of the bygone era. Mr Khan is a gentleman, who would personally greet his guests at the hotel, and it was very nice to work with him.
"We have been slow, but steady, in adding new properties as we want each of them to be self-sustainable. Most of the brands today boast of a large number of properties, but their debt ratios are too high. On the contrary, we don't have any borrowing." KULDIP SINGH BHINDER CEO, The Golden Palms Hotel