A Chat with Vikas Kumar, GM at Four Points by Sheraton Kochi Infopark
With the pandemic refusing to recede for two years in a row, things were not easy for most of us and among the industries that were affected, the hospitality industry was perhaps the worst hit. With tourism coming to a complete standstill, restaurants shutting down and people staying home, hotels and resorts took a long while to recover. Amidst the pandemic, Vikas Kumar, who took on his new role as General Manager at Four Points by Sheraton Kochi Infopark, tells us about the woes of the hospitality sector, it’s resilience and how his team sailed through the chaos.
Interview: Riya Sonny Datson
What excites you about you the hospitality industry?
The most wonderful part of my job is that each day is unique and unpredictable and that keeps me on my toes. The hospitality industry has given me the opportunity to meet diverse sets of personalities like artistes, actors, bureaucrats, politicians, entrepreneurs etc. and it is very insightful to interact with each of them. My work also allows me to travel places and experience different cultures, which is something I absolutely enjoy.
You have been in the industry for close to two decades now, would you recall some of the most challenging roles you have undertaken till date?
Of all the roles I have undertaken, three of them have been most challenging and yet satisfying. The first was one of my mid management roles at Hyderabad International Convention Centre as an Event Services Manager. I was required to single handedly coordinate world class events that were spread over 4000 sq m area with over 40 meeting units that had events happening simultaneously. I had to plan and coordinate with all the departments of the hotel, the client and other stakeholders. That was indeed a role that gave me an adrenaline rush. The second role was associated with the pre-opening of Westin, Hyderabad. I saw the 428 key hotel come up from barren land, brick by brick, to a business hotel with world class infrastructure and Food and Beverage concepts. It was extremely challenging to select the right set of people at every juncture and we traveled across India to handpick our associates and train them to take on their roles. The third of course has been my current role amidst a pandemic, at a business hotel that is driven solely by corporate business. The pandemic has literally shut down the Infopark and all businesses around the area. While generating clients became a challenging task, keeping my team motivated was even more difficult. We had to stay positive and focus on things we could do amidst all the restrictions and limitations.
How did the hospitality industry cope with the pandemic situation?
The pandemic was the biggest jolt ever to the industry. During the two years, I had the opportunity to work with two completely different segments of the industry, the first being a resort in Rajasthan ‘Westin Pushkar Resort & Spa’ and the second, being a business hotel, Four Points by Sheraton at Kochi Infopark. Every single day was a learning for us, we had to constantly relook and evaluate what we did on a day to day basis. We had little support from the government and the industry survived because of its resilience and innovative strategies. People were willing to go to hotels that were at a drivable distance as they felt safe in their own vehicles. So domestic tourism picked up and most hotels capitalised on this opportunity. ‘Staycation’ became popular like never before. Though the restaurants were hit, there was an emerging opportunity for food delivery and ‘Marriott Bonvoy on Wheels’ used the chance to bring our fabulous cuisine to the guests’ doorstep.
Another new concept that emerged during the pandemic was that of ‘Cloud Kitchen’. These were small, stand alone ventures, set up as a take away outlet or offered to deliver food to customers.
I must also mention that the pandemic has made the hospitality sector more sensitive to nature, to optimise the use of our resources and to reduce our carbon footprint. Today ‘going green’ is not a fancy word but is a reality. Many hotels have installed charging stations for electric vehicles, they have installed glass water bottling plants to avoid use of plastic and encourage e-bills to avoid paper usage. With restrictions being rolled back, business is picking up at hotels and the hospitality industry is swinging back into action.
How has Four Points by Sheraton adapted to the situation under your leadership?
At Marriott, safety, hygiene and high service standards have always been given top priority and considering the current situation, these points have taken a front seat. It is my prime focus area and we don’t not compromise on safety and hygiene at any cost, like for example, all major touch points at the hotels have been identified and are being sanitised regularly, apart from following all other Covid protocols. There is a process in place and training is given constantly to ensure standards are maintained. At Marriott, one of the most important core value is to ‘Put People First’, be it our guest or associates and their safety is of utmost importance.
Even during the pandemic when we were focussing on food delivery, we were clear that we will not compromise on quality as we represent a brand that stands for high standards. We even curated a special menu that would ensure quality and freshness of our dishes. Though our business is corporate driven, the design and infrastructure at our property have fascinated family and couples. With an open lawn, an infinity pool, array of activities and entertainment for kids like games, movie shows, cooking sessions with Chef, it is the perfect destination for a family vacation. We have four Food and Beverage outlets to pamper your taste buds and a dedicated spa to rejuvenate your mind and body. All these elements add perfect value to our staycation package.
What is the one thing you like most about your current profile?
As a General Manager, I get to do a bit of everything in my hotel. The casual chats and the lighter moments I share with my line associates really excites me. I find it very interesting and everyday is a great learning for me and the team.
Considering Kochi has multiple five star hotels, what do you think is the biggest strength of this property?
Marriott has five brands in the city but each property is unique in their own way. Four Points by Sheraton Kochi Infopark is designed for independent travellers, couples and family, offering them a chance to kick back and relax. We have 218 rooms that are sleek and modern. The property is only three years old which makes it more appealing. The rooms on the higher floors are fabulous with a great view of the city, we have 23 suites and all them have a separate kitchenette which has been an added attraction during the pandemic. Our food and beverage outlets are ready to pamper all kinds of taste buds. We are the only 5 star hotel located within Infopark campus. Though we are not in the city centre, we are at a prime location with easy access to all landmarks in the city. The Marriott loyalty program, the Marriott Bonvoy has so much to offer to our customers.
When you are not working how do you rejuvenate yourself?
When am off work, I work on myself to be in a frame of mind that will keep me motivated and productive. Am passionate about fitness, I follow an active regime to keep my mind and body energised. I love melodies and have recorded over 250 songs on Smule. That s a perfect stress buster for me. I am a nature lover and I often drive solo to serene locations. As a leader, it is important to stay in a good frame of mind, no matter what the challenges are, I have to put myself forward as a highly motivated and positive person.
Having worked abroad, how are the hotels abroad different from Indian brands?
I believe the fundamentals of the industry remain same whether in India or abroad. We have similar business modules and the infrastructure of five star hotels in India are world class. When it comes to our soft skills, they are unparalleled, as it is in our culture to be humble and tolerant. I take a lot of pride to say that we have world class 5 star hotels in India and our hospitality is unmatchable. The only area that needs improvement would be for the government to take measures to boost tourism.
As a guest, what are the key points you would look for at a hotel?
I am different at my trips and I wish to be treated differently. I choose a hotel based on my trip persona – it could be a business trip, a family trip, nature trip or a solo trip. Depending on the purpose of the trip, my choice of hotels vary. Cleanliness, hygiene, good food and hospitable staff remains top priority while choosing any of these hotels.