Keshav tell RITZ about his busniess called Spree Hospitality, Check it out.
From an investment banker in New York to a hotelier based out of Bengaluru, Keshav Baljee’s journey has been a trans-continental roller coaster ride. The younger son of Royal Orchid Hotels Founder, Chander Baljee, Keshav branched out from his father’s business to start Spree Hospitality and is now aiming to not just provide the best services in hospitality but generate employment for thousands. In a tete-a-tete with RITZ, he talks about the hospitality business and his famous legacy.
Keshav is obsessed with technology. He seems forever glued to his laptop or smartphones. You could find him tweeting ferociously when he gets a few moments away from projects and meetings. Technology he feels, is the need of the hour. Especially in hospitality, which is people-driven and customer-centric.
“Tech has already become commonplace in the discovery and distribution of hotel rooms. But the other aspects of the hotel are yet quite untapped. We are exploring technology for making our staff more productive and attentive to guests’ needs and to enable us to reliably understand our guests, and predict their needs. The ultimate goal is for technology to enable us to serve our guests better, and provide them a “Wow” experience every time they stay at our Spree hotels,” says Keshav.
Spree is a hotel management company that he started in 2010, a few years after working at the Royal Orchid. By managing hotels built by third parties, Spree operates two brands, the 3-star Spree Hotels and a budget brand called Zip By Spree. He hit the headlines last year when he forayed into the budget hotel aggregator business, a heavily crowded segment flooded by the likes of Oyo Rooms, Zo Rooms and Treebo Hotels, by starting ZipRooms.in.
“This was a good experiment for us, and was a profitable venture. We are focussing more on our management business (Spree Hotels) this year, as this is our core competency.”
“Tech has already become commonplace in the discovery and distribution of hotel rooms. But the other aspects of the hotel are yet quite untapped”
Despite competition, the potential in the budget hotel segment in India is enormous, feels Keshav. “It is true that the online travel agents and aggregators have helped improve the discovery of budget hotels across India. But who is going to ensure these hotels are being built well, and more importantly, well-managed? This is where we see ourselves fitting in. We are located in the upper budget and mid-market categories. Our hotels are full-service and fully managed.”
Spree is currently present in Bengaluru, New Delhi, Pune, Goa, amongst other cities. Keshav also operates ‘Spree Clubs’ in Bengaluru, Chennai, Indore and Gurgaon.
“We are a full-stack hospitality management company, and look forward to providing our services across all cities in India in the next few years. We intend to manage over 1000 rooms in the next 12-18 months.”
Although his experience in hospitality spans over a decade, this former investment banker thought of joining his father’s business when Royal Orchid was coming out with an IPO.
“I thought that if I don’t learn from this once-in-a-lifetime experience, I would really be missing something. I realised I could contribute in growing the brand, professionalizing the company, and building out hotels. It was something I never realised I was so passionate about, and it came naturally. It was innate, and felt like home. So I stayed, and never moved out of hospitality,” he says with a tinge of pride and satisfaction.
At Royal Orchid, Keshav designed the free wi-fi concept, making the brand the first 5-star hotel in India to offer free unrestricted wi-fi access to customers. He also helped in setting up the revenue management and e-marketing division at the brand.
“I signed the first management contract (where we manage the hotels, and do not invest), and am proud that this division now has over 35 hotels across India and Africa,” he says, reflecting on his significant achievements at Royal Orchid.
“We are a full-stack hospitality management company, and look forward to providing our services across all cities in India – we intend to manage over 1000 rooms in the next 12-18 months”
Keshav draws immense inspiration from Chander Baljee. “My father is obsessed about hospitality even after spending over 45 years working in the industry. That’s the biggest lesson – you have to be passionate to survive and thrive in this industry! You also have to work hard. He works 12 hours a day every day. Even on Sundays, he is glued to his phone monitoring the hotels. This is true passion and commitment and this is what is needed to grow.”
Though Spree keeps him engaged full time, Keshav chooses to remain forever available to his father for any help that may be required. “As a shareholder, I am always interested in Royal Orchid’s growth and it is an integral part of my life.”
A thorough family man who cherishes the time he spends with his wife and young sons, Keshav feels that Indian hoteliers have a unique DNA, with the Atithi Devo Bhava philosophy being ingrained within them.
“I firmly believe Indian hospitality brands will become more global and win market share in the next few decades due to our service-oriented philosophy.”