Satish Kumar: Put People First

Photo Credits: JW Marriott Hotel

Returns to the Asia Pacific from the Middle East, Satish Kumar joined as General Manager with JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta in an almost homecoming like the move. An industry stalwart, with an overall experience of 19 years within hotel operations in the Asia Pacific and the Middle East, he is not new to this region.

Over the last 10 years with Marriott International, Satish had the opportunity to work with various brands of Marriott International, namely Courtyard by Marriott, Marriott Executive Apartments, Renaissance, The Ritz-Carlton, Le Meridien and Westin hotels. During this tenure, Satish was also recognized as a global winner for EDGE Front of the House Leader award as a part of the 2017 Global Discipline Awards. 

Possessing an even handed experience in all aspects of Hotel Operations, Satish reveals that his forte lies in providing exemplary guest service by ensuring every personal detail is reckoned and a truly memorable experience is presented to each guest that walks in through the JW Marriott Hotel doors.

Satish is also a strong advocate of Marriott Core Values and he says, “when it comes to developing workplace synergy, defining the right core values for your business is one of the best ways to bring your team together and keep them on track.” His favorite one amongst all five Marriott Core Values is “Put People First.”

Without further ado, here is an excerpt from Annisa Bella’s interview with Satish Kumar. 

Can you give us a peek into the current business landscape of hotel industry in Indonesia?

Indonesia’s tourism sector experienced positive growth of all G20 economies. As the hospitality sector continues to remain robust and the addition of new properties, we as hoteliers need to ensure that we are keeping up with breakthroughs, such as customized facilities enhancing hotel operations, the use of technology, and environmental-friendly accommodation for our travelers.

Hospitality companies must capitalize on these opportunities by adjusting with the latest trends to stay ahead and in step with our guest’s ever-changing expectations. Moreover, Jakarta and other cities across Indonesia have a promising perspective on the industry of the hotel, as occupancy rates continue to rise due to the stable economy.

Many hotels of all levels have experienced positive growth in terms of average daily rates and revenue per available room. Positive signs are apparent even to the budget hotels. If we focus on Jakarta alone, MICE is increasing with more and more visitors involved in various trade shows, seminars, and conventions in the city. Jakarta has built a reputation for a future business destination.

Who is the biggest target market in this industry?

Primarily the following are the target market for our industry- Tourism, Trading, Retail, E-commerce, Infrastructure, Manufacturing, Construction.

The exotic landscapes of the Indonesian archipelago and the beauty of its assorted cultures have hypnotized millions of travelers and adventurers all across the globe every year. Indonesia is listed among the emerging markets for retail and trading sectors

Also, the raising of the middle-class population in Indonesia, as well as the fast and wide-spread internet penetration among the world’s fourth-largest population, become additional attractions for foreign investors.

The next growing trend for foreign investment in Indonesia is the e-commerce business. For sure, the main reason is that as a populous nation, the majority of its citizens have already had internet access at hand. This will enable companies, traders, and retailers to personally reach their target markets.

Talking about customer behavior, what is the new behavior of hotel guests now? Are there changes in behavior from hotel industry customers?

Modern consumers are well informed. Today’s consumers are always carrying an endless source of real-time information in their pockets: their smartphones. This means that potential buyers will always find the best deal in real-time.

To be successful in this market, you have to continually monitor the prices, value propositions, customer engagement, and behavior of your competition. So, to be a successful hotel, you have to earn your reputation. Aim for perfection.

In the past, hotels were expected to exceed customers’ expectations, but tech has changed that: customers now expect hotels to go one step further and predict and anticipate their needs in advance. Customers today expect customized, personalized products and services without asking for them first. This has been driven by the growth of big data, which gives companies unrivaled access to information to better understand their customers.

The emergence of social media has had an incredible knock-on effect on our lives. Today, people are increasingly looking for opportunities to broadcast and share their experiences via videos and photos. They don’t want just to tell their friends about their lives; they want to show them every aspect.

This trend for visually documenting your journey and experiences is a perfect opportunity for hotels. Hotels can look for ways to create photo opportunities, Instagrammable’ environments, and experiences. Hotels can make sure that the experiences they’re giving customers are not only top quality but look good enough to share with family and friends.

Just 10 years ago, customers expected to be able to engage with hotels to make a booking over the phone, fax, or on the computer. Customers now expect to access these same services everywhere and anywhere on whatever device they happen to have, be that a tablet, phone, or even a smartwatch. That means hotels should take this opportunity to make sure that their services are accessible on as many different devices as possible.

Technology has made a massive difference to our lives and opened a vast number of new doors for the consumer. But it has also changed the way people think, and what they expect from the companies that they buy from.

What are the trends in the hospitality industry that players must anticipate?

We see that there will be some trends in the hospitality industry this year. Starting from local experience, a trend that those in the hospitality industry are getting to grips with is the desire for tourists or travelers to enjoy local experiences.

Many people do not merely want to experience a life similar to their own but in a different location. Instead, they want to experience an authentic way of life in the location they visit. Businesses in the hospitality industry are responding to this in order to cater to these demands. 

Also, healthy and organic food and drinks will be increasingly popular. In the past, a substantial section of the hospitality industry was made up of fast-food restaurants and bars selling sugary alcoholic beverages. However, there has been something of a cultural shift, with people becoming more aware of the things they are putting in their bodies, leading to healthy food and drinks trend.  

Besides that, increasingly, customers are concerned with environmental issues and want to know that the businesses they deal with are behaving ethically. For this reason, sustainability has been one of the most noticeable hospitality trends of recent times, with a growing number of hospitality businesses promoting their eco-friendliness.

The need for personalization is a significant trend, and the hospitality industry is no different. The rise of big data primarily drives this. Meanwhile, a growing number of hotel guests want to be treated as individuals, rather than just another anonymous customer.

Personalization can be deployed in a variety of ways. Within hotels, for instance, returning customers can be automatically provided with similar services to the last time they stayed.

At the same time, they can also be personally greeted by a member of staff upon arrival, using GPS technology and booking data. Furthermore, with the rise of smart devices, hotel guests can also be enabled to utilize their own tools and accounts on entertainment platforms.

How do you see the trend of millennial travelers and technology adoption for the hospitality industry?

Bleisure Travel by Millennials become a trend. ‘Bleisure’ is the name given to trips that combine business travel with leisure activities, and it is increasingly popular, especially among the millennial generation.

As an example, a traveler may initially visit a location to attend a business meeting or conference, but then extend their stay to turn it into a holiday. This is one of the most exciting hospitality trends for those in the industry to respond to, as ‘Bleisure’ travelers are likely to want spontaneous services, excellent access to information, and fast communication. Mobile apps are one way to achieve this, while hotels need to try to remove as many barriers to booking as possible.

Also, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. Over the past few years, virtual reality headsets have become mainstream consumer products, bringing virtual reality technology into the mainstream. This is one of the most potentially game-changing hospitality trends because VR technology can digitally alter a person’s entire surroundings.

This can be applied in several exciting ways by those in the hospitality industry. Hotels might use VR technology as part of their booking processes, allowing users to experience a highly realistic digital version of their hotel rooms before booking. Meanwhile, travel agents can use virtual tours/ 360 videos of tourist attractions to sell holidays.

Finally, augmented reality technology is similar to virtual reality technology in many ways, but rather than creating a new digital environment for users, it is concerned with enhancing real-world environments through graphical or informational overlays. Unlike VR technology, it also usually requires nothing other than a smartphone and an app.

Augmented reality apps can be designed so that users can point their phone at a restaurant and see reviews, or opening times. Hotels and other accommodation types can also use augmented reality to provide interactive tourist information maps within their properties or to create fun opportunities to create user-generated content.

Do you think current hotel trends are growing well for budget hotels, or maybe star hotels are growing better? How about supply and demand?

With ever more Indonesians traveling for leisure, business or family visits, the country is already seeing a rise in budget, mid-scale, and luxury hotel services. Budget hotels do benefit the most from the expansion of Indonesia’s middle-income class. In any case, we need to be very careful and gauge supply and demand to ensure there is no oversupply in the vicinity.

Existing hotels need to focus on creating unique experiences to attract guests from Indonesia or abroad and communicating this to Indonesia’s tech-savvy consumers through social media. In doing so, hotel operators can carve out niches that will sustain sufficient occupancy even when the overall market is going through a seasonal trough or economic lull.

How do you see the future of the hotel industry and technology? How far has the technology used Marriott?

Standardization can no longer be the norm. It is becoming critical to personalize and tailor the services to the needs and preferences of the travelers. More customization and specialization may enable increased value creation for hospitality companies.

Technology will be at the core of the hotel experience both in the room, before and after the departure. This will lead to the development of new concepts and more innovation in the industry and contribute to the emergence of an ever more individualized offer. Social responsibility is a moral and economic obligation. The impact of global warming can today be considered a significant risk. It is thus critical for the hotel industry to become more sustainable: “not just green, but real, sustainable business models.”

Marriott International has been a pioneer in hotel technology transformation, particularly concerning guest-facing technologies. We, as a company, continue to lead the way in innovating the digital aspects of the guest experience with a slew of initiatives designed to surprise and delight guests and enhance the quality of the overall guest experience.

Digital transformation is not only speeding up, but it is broadening, It’s in every aspect of our business. We see it with our customers who want not only to stay in our hotels but want to be able to communicate with us regularly through technological tools. 

We, as a company, want to have the breadth of devices across the entire digital landscape available to them through us. We strongly believe that success in using technology to improve the guest experience means putting both the right tools and the right data infrastructure in place. 

Marriott International focuses on both the physical and digital aspects of its business. The physical elements, including the comfort and cleanliness of the rooms as well as the pools, spas, exercise rooms, etc., and all the in-room and other amenities that serve to enhance the guest experience, continue to demand attention.

Meanwhile, the digital aspects of the guest experience have taken on heightened importance in recent years. These aspects include everything from the process of booking a room to engaging with customer service to personalized mobile experiences. Many other examples, including the introduction of customized app experiences with Mobile Check-inMobile Requests, and Mobile Key, demonstrate how we, as a company, seek to leverage technology in new ways to connect with guests.

As a company, one of our core values is also “Put People First.” Hence, we understand entirely and firmly believe that technological advancements will never replace face-to-face human interaction. Instead, technology can help free up hotel staff to serve its guests through more relevant and personalized experiences better.

How do you see the outlook for the hotel industry going forward? What factors cause the rise and fall of hotel occupancy rates? What opportunities and challenges can players take and will face?

There will be a massive influx of room supply in the next two to three years in the five-star luxury hotel segment, but at the same time, there are a lot of selected service concepts that are coming up. There is heightening competition like never before in the hospitality industry, which is one of the biggest challenges. As a result, it will be quite a challenge in the Human Resources field to find the right person for the correct position and to manage employee attrition or turnover rate.

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