"Our Next Fo­cus Is On Goa"

India Business Journal - - STRAIGHT TALK -

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

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