Hotelier of the week: Sunjae Sharma

Sunjae Sharma is the general manager of the new Hyatt Regency, Chennai, which opened on August 10.

Located in Chennai’s central business district, 20 minutes from Anna International Airport and Chennai’s IT corridor on Anna Salai (Mount Road), the hotel has 327 rooms built around a soaring atrium lobby.

The property features a notable and extensive series of art works by some of India’s best-known contemporary artists.

How long has the planning gone on for this hotel?

Planning has been underway since the owners took over the property and contacted Hyatt, so about four years. We have many properties with these particular owners in India. This property has ten guest floors and it is one of the tallest structures in Chennai. If you are taking off and landing from the airport you can see this triangular structure right in the centre of the city, and in the evenings you can see the Hyatt logo on the top. The hotel is 71 metres high and there are ten guest floors, though in total many more than that. We are the first Hyatt in the south of India. There are two in Mumbai, Grand Hyatt Goa, Hyatt Regency Pune, one in Delhi, one in Kolkata, and there will be a second Hyatt – a Park Hyatt in Chennai which we hope to see in 2012.

Is the location a good one?

Yes. It’s right in the middle of the business district near all the consulates, it’s on the periphery of the high end residential markets, and close to the IT district which has developed and is developing. We’re only a 25-minute drive from the airport as well.

How long have you been working for Hyatt in India?

A while now. I started off with the Grand Hyatt Delhi, so many years.

What’s the trick with opening a hotel on time and successfully?

The key thing is to plan, plan, plan. Keep the motivation going, keep everyone interested and be busy all the time. You have to have a grasp of the market, what’s going on around you, how the market trends are changing, how the hotel is going to open. Hyatt as a company has a philosophy that people are our principal assets, so that’s something we look at – how we can infuse the local culture with our international thinking and international brand and merge them together to make a product that will be embraced by the local community. International travellers know what our hotels are and how we are, but the local community also has to be taken care of.

There’s a lot of supply [of hotel rooms] coming into Chennai; the Hilton has just opened and Leela is coming next year, and ITC is planning a large property…

I’m not worried that there will be too much because historically supply is followed by demand. Once you put the bricks and mortar into the land it’s there for 30 or 40 years, and so long term it will be win win for everybody and we can all co-exist together. I think the demand will be there.

How important is food and beverage to hotels in Chennai?

I think generally it’s very important, but in Chennai particularly so. It creates the energy in a hotel and so becomes the life of the hotel. It’s important also in what we give to the community and if we do it well then they love to come again and again. In this property we have Spice Market, which is our all-day dining buffet restaurant with five live interactive kitchens specialising in different types of cuisine: a Tandoor kitchen for tandoors, kebabs, rotis, naans; a Stove kitchen for curries, dals, crisp dosas, pongal et al; a Chaat Kitchen and so on.  And all of these mean the food is being prepared in front of the guest. We also have Stix for Chinese Sichuan cuisine, a lobby lounge overlooking the pool and the atrium, a gourmet deli and later we are thinking of a high-energy bar.

How important is the loyalty programme in promoting the property?

Hyatt Gold Passport is very widely utilised here not only by international guests but also by companies in India. We will soon have the Regency Club for them with all the normal benefits of evening cocktails, meeting rooms and that idea of a hotel within a hotel on the ninth floor.

How will you stand out from the crowd in Chennai?

We will differentiate this hotel with the kind of people we will have – the staff. Product is something which is available, technology changes every day, but the heart and soul is with the people. We employ more than 400 people for the 327 rooms.  That’s why we say when we are doing our hiring and interviews we don’t really look at the skill. We would rather look at the personality and attitude of the person, because that’s what makes the difference.

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