HOSPITALITY-MATTERS-Aruna-Dhir

Part 2 – Mind Over Matter

While Part 1 of the Formula took you through the ‘Heart of the Matter,’ Part 2 lists out those mindful things that are at the center of thinking out, planning and presenting your Brand strategy and reinforcing your Brand philosophy.

  1. What’s Your Story?

A place must have what I call a ‘story’ about it. You can call it history or legacy. The 1887 born Raffles Singapore has been the grand old lady of the East. From witnessing the Japanese occupation of Singapore to becoming the transit camp for the prisoners of war, from being the birthplace of the Singapore Sling or the preferred hideout for some of the world’s finest authors to being the subject or setting of some films and novels, The Raffles is full of awe-inspiring lore. Similarly, The Imperial in New Delhi was a participant-observer to the saga of India’s independence. In fact, annals of history show that the Declaration of Independence may have been signed at this grand hotel which became part of Edwin Lutyens’ vision for New Delhi as the new capital of India.

A rich past lends an outstanding personality to a hotel. The history helps weave a web of stories in which the guests can be fascinatingly ensnared and with the fabric of which many a PR yarn is spun. One of the hotels I worked for was one of India’s grand old men having witnessed the Freedom Struggle and having been part of the Raj era. We reaped an interesting harvest of this rich legacy from seeds sown in that time. Not only did the loaded past fluff us up with a sense of pride, making us feel as if we had been a part of it, our guests loved it to – holding meetings in the room where the Partition treaty was signed, banqueting in the Royal Ballroom where the Earls, Knights and the Indian Rajas and Ranis had waltzed, eating with perhaps the same heirloom silverware that the blue-bloodied had partied in.

Elsewhere, hotels have named suites after eminent writers who stayed in them; so there is a Maugham, Kipling, Christie suite. Coco Chanel and Rockefeller made virtually their homes in luxury hotels. There are cakes named after celebrities who loved the presentation or perhaps gardens on the premises christened after the famous feet that tread upon its grounds.

Rokeby Manor, a mountain town landmark, was built in mid 19th century by a British officer serving in the Raj era with its name taken from one of the lovely writings of Sir Walter Scott. It was bought and managed by Frederick ‘Pahari’ Wilson, a controversial adventurer and entrepreneur, who became the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s classic story, “The Man Who Would Be King.” Towards the end of the Century Rokeby Manor was bought by Rev. J.S. Woodside, one of the founders of the legendary Woodstock School. And by 1930, it enjoyed yet another twist in its tale by being bought by the Women’s Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church who ran it as a boarding house for young missionary ladies who were studying Urdu and Hindi at the Landour Language School. Rokeby Manor remained a missionary guest house for the better part of the 20th Century. Today the heritage building with hugely interesting strings of stories in its history and origin is run as a contemporary mountain resort with all the mod-cons yet steeped in the deliciousness of its decadent past. The intelligently restored resort (which has not been structurally changed as it is against the law in the hill town it is located in) retains its old-world charm, showcases its pock-marked origin of prestige with pride and offers delightful anecdotal features for guests to soak themselves in.

Rokeby’s intriguing legacy lends an air of mystery to it, taking back guests to a time when colonial officers, renegade soldiers of fortune and pious miss sahibs lived under one roof. The guests can still enjoy a piece of history in this heritage building with elaborate brick arches and niches, intricate stone walls, real wood floors and beams and cozy fireplaces carefully restored.

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Lesson – Every place has its unique, what I call, ‘story.’ How it came about? What slices of history has it shared in a common past! There may be an heirloom spin about the owners or the notable guests. So, be very proud if there is a ‘story’ from the annals of time that you can tell and then go ahead and tell it with a sense of flair and relish. Your guests are going to love it.
Not all hotels have the privilege to have been landmarks and milestones in the history of the world. Still, there are unusual facets and delectable twists and turns that make the tapestry of its birth and life worthy enough to be talked about and rejoiced in.
So find your mojo and use it to the best optimum way possible; both for yourself and the guest. [/message][su_spacer]
  1. Activity or many-a-times even non-activity

Perched at the highest altitude in the region, Rokeby Manor offers jaw-dropping views of the great Himalayas above and the enchanting Doon Valley below. Besides, at that height, you are so close to nature that your sounds mingle well with that of the flora and fauna nestling in the area; the air is refreshingly unadulterated and soothing to your senses; and the spirit naturally cheerful, relaxed and in a recuperative state of self-healing.

While there are games and activities – mind to board games, ride on the thrilling ATV, excursions to some fascinating places around – it is the so-called non-activities that turn up the excitement quotient. Rokeby takes these to a heightened level as you rejoice in simply relaxing in the lap of scenic luxury casting a faraway look at the majestic mountains, sighting a range of interesting birds, getting on a botanical exploration of the lovely flowers, herbs, trees and shrubs, trekking around labyrinthine walks that take you through historic churches, somber cemeteries, quaint curio and antique shops, strangely named bazaars of four shops and roadside cafes that have seen the birth of many a writer or musician.

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Lesson – While working with one of India’s oldest hotels, I along with the Art & Antiquity Manager delighted in giving an art tour of the in-house galleries to the discerning guests. That the hotel houses a large collection of lithographs and period artefacts made for such an inspired walk-through and a splendid activity.
Jules Undersea Lodge in Florida, world’s only underwater hotel that guests have to ‘dive’ 21FT. to enter offers an experience which breaks away from every other tried and tested mould. Yes, there is the mandatory scuba diving, but living amidst sea life, dining with the sharks and reading your favourite piece of literature while being watched by a floating whale here or a sea horse there is a matchless experience that will stay with you forever. By delivering a fresh pizza to you through a diving delivery man, the Lodge turns something banal into bombastic.
At the other end of the continuum, Ananda in the Himalayas – arguably the best Destination Spa Resort in the world – urges you to rediscover yourself in its tranquil surroundings. At the mountain resort, just meditating, watching the skyline, strolling around the hillscape make for such alleviated levels of pleasure and contentment.
Therefore, whatever kind of place that you may run and wherever it may be located, ensure that there are things to ensnare your guests and entrap them in the homegrown or locational string of activities or non-activities.[/message][su_spacer]
  1. Sweat the small Stuff

One of the legendary hoteliers is known to send his staff – from the General Manager to the Doorman – into a maniacal tizzy every time he plans to visit one of his hotels. Even after having successfully created, managed and run award-winning hotels in India and overseas, the Gentleman is known to have a keen eye of observation and will not let pass a crookedly placed rose stem in a vase, a spot of dust in the inner fold of a guest compendium, an otherwise sparkly-shiny glass with just two tell-tale blotches of dried drops of water that escaped the steward’s attention, the serif missed out by the designer in the Ad. copy, the words dropped unwittingly by the Guest Relations girl from the standard greeting – you get the picture! This expectation of perfection percolates down from the Top Dog through the managers to the rest of the employees, making the Brand one of the most highly regarded globally.


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ARUNA is a Feature Writer for ehotelier.com and Columnist with Hospitality.Net – the world’s two highest ranked Hospitality publications. A Freelance Writer since 1987, Aruna is also an avid blogger and a published poet; with two anthologies to her credit. Her writings have appeared in several national and international publications. With over 16 years of experience with some of India and Asia's top hotel brands, Aruna is a seasoned Corporate Communications Specialist, PR Strategist and Writer who has taken a sabbatical, after holding the position of the Director - Public Relations at The Imperial New Delhi, in order to work on book projects - on Public Relations & Communications, Hotels, Food and India respectively. In 2002, in a national Newspaper poll, Aruna was voted as the best Hospitality PR Professional by a cross-section of peers from competition hotels, guests, industry experts and stalwarts from the PR world.
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Ken Vincent
Ken Vincent

Ah, Aruna, how right you are. I am not very fond of the newer chrome and glass hotels with their shine and sparkle. Perhaps some of these will be the “Grand old Ladies” in the future, though I’m not sure of that.

I can’t speak to the grand old hotels with their rich history in most of the world, but I do know something about the ones in the US. In fact I was blessed in my career by being able to manage some of them. Hotels like the Drake, the Waldorf, the Plaza, the Ambassador, the Muehleback, the Chase Park Plaza, the Copley, the Sealbach, the Blennerhassett, the Brown, the Lord Baltimore, the Lincoln, the Roosevelt, the Biltmore and dozens of others.

Those hotels were largely built between 1890 and 1935. They had class and a stately being that can’t really be duplicated today. Of course many of them have slipped into history and are no more, but there are survivors of the group and one should never miss an opportunity to stay in one of them.

You can sit in their reading room, or a quiet corner of the lobby, close your eyes, and see all the famous, and sometime infamous, people that paraded through their doors. The events that they witnessed and the staff members that made it all work.

It is sad that no one has taken the time and trouble to immortalize these hotels by writing their histories. What a fine book that would make.