The Formula For Running A Successful Hotel – A Case Study


Part 1 – The Heart Of The Matter

Running hotels is an exciting business. Very stressful and challenging too. But as any experienced hotelier will tell you, it is one of the most satisfying lines of work – to first see the seeds of your thought germinate and take shape physically, then to see your baby blossom into a thriving place of activity. It brings a special sense of joy and exhilaration to note that customers appreciate the hard work you and your team has put in and support your business, both by returning to you time and again and by recommending you to others in their network.

For this Case Study, I picked up a lovely, picturesque hill hotel – Rokeby Manor – that has shot up in terms of popularity and appeal to see if there is a formula for running a successful hotel. I am pleased to announce that there is one and that it can be easily replicated, if you have the passion, sincerity and zeal to embrace the challenges and turn the boulders along the way into meaningful building blocks.

Little over two years back Rokeby Manor was wrapped under the cloud of anonymity. Even about a year back, not many knew about this gem set preciously in the lushness of the Himalayan foothills. So what changed for it in about 365 days?

The Formula for success has three parts – with heart, mind and soul inhabiting each part. Let us look at the ‘Heart of the Matter’ in Part 1 –

  1. Knowing your business –

Sanjay Narang, the proud owner of Rokeby Manor, is a quintessential hotelier. He has been born into the hotel business but more importantly he has carved out a special niche for himself in the cut throat world of hospitality where business fortune can change with the seasons.

Narang has built a unique reputation for himself as a noteworthy ‘Brand maker.’ He, along with his dynamic sister, has created successful brands in the Indian subcontinent. A Cornell graduate and a member of the family that owns the Ambassador Group of Hotels, Sanjay Narang has excelled in breaking away from the old guard to create new brands that have each become successful milestones on the hospitality map. “Innovation is our Passion,” says Narang, who as the force behind Mars Hospitality has been presenting awe-inspiring dining out and stay options to the discerning customers of the hotel and restaurants business.

Options that have become market leaders and set the benchmark high, options that have presented novel ideas and have been much ahead of their time, options such as the very successful Birdy’s (1993) – a chain of gourmet bakery & pastry shops, The Pizzeria and Pasta Bar (1994) – a casual dining restaurant that was amongst the first in India to serve ‘fresh-dough’ pizzas and home-style Italian cuisine prepared in an open kitchen where people could watch the pizzas being baked and create their own pasta dish at the pasta bar, Jazz By The Bay (1996) that stamped in the relevance of quality live entertainment, Three Flights Up (1997) that Introduced India to the mega nightclub concept, Just Around The Corner (1998) – the first ‘self service’ diner / restaurant with an American style menu, SkyGourmet (2002) – India’s most successful Airline Catering Company set up with the specific objective to build/operate highly efficient catering units, Waterstones (2007) – the most exclusive ‘by invitation only’ Club, The Waterstones Hotels – a young, hip, modern, boutique hotel known for its friendly ambience and efficient service. With Rokeby Manor, Narang is putting to use all that he has learned, grown up with, seen, developed and experienced.

You will see in a bit how Sanjay Narang leveraged all the experience he enriched himself with by creating brands and establishing them successfully for transforming an old, derelict Missionary Guest house into a pulsating, vibrant place.

It is only comme il faut that one must build upon one’s knowledge and experience to such levels that egg you on to do inspiring work. So, if you wish to create brands and run them as successful and profitable places then you must know your business like the back of your hand. There is need to know your market, understand your customers, run parallels with competition, comb the globe for inspiration, not be scared of treading on new pastures, stoke your drive for innovation and entrepreneurship and evolve your uniquely, outstanding product.

When you consciously rely on word of mouth recognition as against paid publicity, like in the case of Rokeby Manor, it becomes extremely essential to be clued on to your guest profile, their characteristic and differentiating facets, likes and dislikes. So, whether it is serving whole fruits instead of sliced because guests like it so, putting a hot plate under that personal pot of coffee, increasing healthy choices across all meal options, adhering to a no-alcohol policy even at the expense of foregoing profits because guests wish to ‘live’ in a quiet, serene and peaceful ambience; Rokeby Manor employs a pronounced ‘outside-in thinking.’

Sanjay Narang’s three-pronged strategy for attracting the right profile of guests is

a. Word of mouth. “We never advertise,” he asserts. That makes sense. Reference or TripAdvisor ratings from happy and satisfied customers are worth so much more than advertising outlays.

b. Location

c.. Pricing

Narang is extremely particular about the importance his hotels and restaurants accord to his guests. There is no short-changing that. “We sacrifice some of the income to preserve the experience. We might close the restaurant over the weekends and keep it only for hotel guests to retain our profile,” shares Narang. The structure of the resort is such that it is a very intimate property hence the hotel is not inherently propped up for loud people. Going by the Resort’s success, there are a large number of guests from around the world who come looking for this quiet, redolent home in the hills.

“We encourage that guests give feedback on our website too. We respond to every guest feedback, either on comment card or website or TripAdvisor. And we especially respond to a negative comment, employing corrective action where necessary,” he adds.

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Lesson – In the course of my working with hotels, I have seen legendary owners get down to the Housekeeping basics as and when the need arose. I have noted entrepreneurial General Managers know as much about ducting and laundry machines as about the food and wine. And the guest has definitely been God whether it is the individualistically iconic Aman Group or the template-benchmarked Four Seasons or the service-trendsetting Ritz Carlton. From Cesar Ritz, Conrad Hilton, Bill Marriott to Jay Pritzker, Biki Oberoi and Adrian Zecha – these legends have known their business so well that they have envisioned way forwards and outcomes, set trends and spelled out how hoteliering should be conducted. Therefore, in order to be a consummate hotelier you must endeavour to know all. No piece of information is too small and no responsibility big enough for you to learn and handle. [/message][su_spacer]
  1. Location

Rokeby Manor sits atop a hill and it’s Highlands – the party, barbecue, Jacuzzi zone with the finest Sunset view – is the highest point of the peak at 7550 feet above the sea level.

It has been seen that location is many a times the key deciding factor in brand selection, a little more than the other facets. On a business visit, a city center hotel is of main consideration. When transiting frequently, the airport hotel regardless of its standards is what we tend to pick out. On a holiday, the location with the best views or close to main attractions or with special features of its own is what we are keen to choose.

On this score, Rokeby Manor comes out on top. It is nestled in the bosom of pine trees, set in a pristine setting away from noise, pollution and clamour so characteristic of a soiled city life. It offers some of the best views and whether it is early morning, noon, tranquil evenings or a starlit night; Rokeby’s personality has something uniquely different to present at each time.

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Lesson – As a hotel owner, do a lot of due diligence on the location. I recall the location issues the top sub brand of a leading international hotel chain had to battle as the Chain opened their Five- star deluxe hotel in the Commercial Capital of India with much fanfare but with a view of a large cluster of slums. No amount of fine dining, finer aspects of luxury, a pulsating events calendar and the charms of a great Spa and Wine Cellar could help the hotel downplay the negatives of its disastrously unenviable location.
“The location has to be right and the size has to be right. You can’t build the hotel and then build the market,” asserts Biki Oberoi, the father of modern hoteliering in India in his interview with a leading Financial Daily.
As a proprietor, choose wisely before allowing the blueprint to take birth. And as an on-the-line hotelier make the most of your location. It is a strong force of attraction for your clientele and a strong selling point. [/message][su_spacer]



L. Aruna Dhir
L. Aruna Dhir
L. Aruna Dhir is a Hospitality & Feature Writer and Columnist for some of the world’s highest-ranked Hospitality publications. Her industry writings are syndicated to the finest global hospitality bodies and used as references in case studies and hotel schools. Aruna runs an exclusive channel on the award-winning media digest, BizCatalyst 360° called “Hospitality Matters” based on her hospitality industry insight and commentary. Aruna is a recognized and national-poll winning Corporate Communications Specialist, PR Strategist, and Writer. A seasoned hotelier, Aruna loves to present hospitality industry watch, insights, case studies, and analysis to her ever-increasing base of global readership. Aruna has over two decades of experience in Hospitality Communications and Brand Management and has worked with some of the best global hotel companies. In her last corporate role, Aruna was the Director – Public Relations at The Imperial New Delhi, where she was part of the core group and was responsible for re-launching The Imperial as one of the finest hotels in India and Asia. Aruna’s hotel experience includes leading the Marketing Communications and Public Relations portfolio for flagship properties at The Oberoi Group and Hyatt International. She also helped launch the Vilases as the uber-luxury experiences from the Oberoi stable. As an industry expert, Aruna has launched brands, developed training modules, created standardization dockets on business communication, written manuals, conducted Image Study & Positioning Analysis, and led media campaigns of Australian Ministers in India. Aruna Dhir’s successful work tenure with Australia’s Diplomatic Mission in India in the capacity of Media Relations Officer, saw her working on a host of never-done-before exciting projects including the hugely rewarding organisation of Australia-India New Horizons – Australia’s largest ever Country Promotion. Aruna Dhir is the first-ever Creative Writer for the Indian greeting cards giant – ARCHIES Greetings and Gifts Ltd. The milestone puts her in the league of Helen Steiner Rice and Amanda Bradley. While with the company she came out with several series of cards sold under her byline – an unprecedented feat that has not been repeated since. L. Aruna Dhir also dabbles in poetry and has to her credit two titles of Anthologies published and marketed by Archies G&G Ltd. Aruna serves on the Board of Association of Emerging Leaders Dialogues (AELD), a front-running Commonwealth Body that works towards developing leaders and influencers of tomorrow, with Princess Anne as its international President. Aruna has been engaged in freelance work for Doordarshan – the Indian National Television, All India Radio, and Times FM. Academically, L. Aruna Dhir topped at the All-India level in her PG Diploma in Public Relations and Advertising. Aruna has been a Ph.D. scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University, akin to an Ivy League in India. She has earned a Senior Management Course Certification from the Oberoi Centre for Learning & Development in partnership with the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow; V Dimension Management Company, London & Asian Institute of Management, Manila, Philippines. Aruna Dhir has represented India to a select group of opinion-makers in the United States, as a Cultural Ambassador under the GSE Program of Rotary International. She has also participated in the IXth Commonwealth Study Conference held in Australia and chaired by Princess Anne. Aruna is a Life Member of the Public Relations Society of India A Freelance Writer since 1987, with articles that have appeared in India’s topmost newspapers and magazines, Aruna is also a blogger, a memoirist with works published on platforms like Medium and a Book reviewer on Goodreads. In her official and personal capacity L. Aruna Dhir has and continues to work on several social awareness projects – People for Animals, Earthquake Relief, National Blind Association, PETA, WSPA,, Friendicoes to name a few. Born at Allahabad (now Prayagraj), one of the world’s oldest known cities, L. Aruna Dhir grew up and did her schooling in Dehradun, regarded as a prominent seat of academia and literature. After being brought up in the sylvan surroundings of the verdant Doon valley, Aruna chose to make the Capital City of Delhi her second home.

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  1. Ah, Aruna, you make it sound so easy. Hire good people that are each better at something than you, train them well and constantly. Learn from them. Know your guests and their deepest desires and motivate the team to fulfill those. Maintain a clean and well kept property where everything works all the time. Handle the dozens of crisis that crop up daily without the guests being aware of them. Offer only the finest food and drink expertly presented and served with a smile. Out think, out plan, out perform all competitors all the time.

    Simple. After 40 odd years I came to realize that a hotelier must be a jack of all trades while being a master on none. A calling that one never masters.