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Vikram Kamat is synonymous with hospitality. His professional journey spread across over a decade. He is All India National Council’s Gold Medalist and Topper in Hospitality & Hotel Administration from IHM, Mumbai, which validated the hospitality ambitions he pursued. Vikram launched the successful, full-service business hotel brand ‘VITS’ at an early age of 22. From then, to taking VITS international now with countries like Thailand, he has played a pivotal role in achieving several milestones at VITS Kamats Group over the last decade. The brands have gained a cult status for themselves in the hospitality industry since their inception based on the foundation he built. Over the years, Vikram has established himself as an entrepreneur, hotelier and even an author with 8 books to his credit.
In an exclusive interaction with SCIKEY, Mr Vikram Kamat speaks about their ways to build, engage and retain employees, expansion plans for the VITS Kamat chain of hotels and view on the top trends in the hotel industry.
Can you throw some light on the latest initiatives that you have taken to enhance employee experience, employee well-being and customer experience? How do you measure the impact?
One of the things that we and most companies today do are conducting employee engagement activities for their employees. I believe the one unique thing that we do in the restaurant business is our program for Sadak Chalak Malak. This is basically where we encourage our existing employees, Sadak (common man), Chalak (Manager), Malak (Owner), to join us. It could be as students or at any other level in the organization. Once they learn the Kamats way of working through our program of ‘Kamat Sutra’ we set them up to become an owner. The fundament of the base of success we believe lie in the 7B’s,
1.Positive Mental Attitude
3.Believe in system and procedures
5.Take extra initiative and responsibilities
6.Execute work & as committed
7.Give and take feedback
Most of us envision having our restaurant one day and with Kamats –“It’s possible”. It is an ongoing program that ranges from 3 to 5 years. A couple of things that we teach them during this module is how to build via savings. An owner has to always know how to be able to save because he will look at how to stop wastage. Many of our employees aspire to, and we have a lot of live examples in our company that have been Sadak Chalak Malak. Some of our other modules are about handing people, handling costs etc. Our 12 modules are just like a teaser course for them as they have also received enough exposure to working in the real world. The experience cannot compensate for education.
Our impact is seen when the individual becomes an owner. Once they become an owner, there is nothing else left to check the effect of. We handhold them while they are learning their way, but there is no KPI as such because each owner has his unique way of working. If it is about the member of a team, it is easy to say that he/she should behave a certain way. But as an owner that is difficult to predict. We do feel proud when employees think to open their 2nd and 3rd outlet. We have a sponsorship program where we ask them to pass on the opportunity to build their team of managers. It had a slow start than what we would have liked it to have, but I believe in the long term it will be beneficial. When it comes to customer experience, the biggest mistake we did was right in the beginning when we changed our plans for Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. It is now in the last 2-3 years that we are rectifying our mistakes with restaurants, hotels and franchise owners. We have also lost ties with them who don’t believe in working the Kamats way since we realized that we should deliver to people what they expect from Kamats. We have made it possible to standardize systems to build consistency in providing food to the customer every single time.
The company has been traditionally known to own and operate hotels. Has your business model changed over the years for expansion?
We lead a lot of hotels, and we own a couple of them, and we also do a lot of franchise hotels. We also manage a lot of properties. It is a combination of properties. There has been no change in our business model. We are ensured in achieving profitability.
What are your expansion plans for the future both globally and locally? What differentiates VITS group from other luxury hotels. Why travellers will choose VITS over other chains of luxury hotels, especially in such a competitive market?
We started it because the majority of our hotels are business-oriented as well as some are developed to cater to the family client. At a point, 100% of our portfolio was business hotels. However, we are slowly adding a lot of mixed properties like our properties in Daman, Lonavala, Agra etc. they are not only for business but also for leisure. So, we also have a few resorts now. Internationally we have hotels in Phuket, Pattaya, and plan expansion in primarily south asian countries. India too is currently a massive market for us since we have identified numerous locations where the demand & supply gap is huge, also we are well known in the industry for our F&B services. Today’s hotels focus more on the rooms, whereas we prioritize both rooms and the food we serve and banquets as well, which I feel is a very rare combination is the hospitality sector.
What are your talent acquisition strategies? How do you align the Talent with the culture and the business goals?
Talent is the most important part of the hotel business. “We are able to retain our employees’ right from the time they start their careers to the time they retire.” A part of this strategy is that when someone is aspiring even to have their own hotel, we ensure that we make him capable enough by providing skills to own his hotel. We do visit catering colleges and select raw talent to nurture and teach them our ways. We imbibe in our talent to become leaders with or without association with VITS Kamats Group.
We have a simple system, which consists of 3 parts & has proven to deliver results
– Series of Simple Steps to be followed
– That Anybody Can be able to do it
– That delivers same or consistent results each time.( Irrespective of who did the steps)
An entrepreneur’s journey is a difficult one to go through. You can have all the money in the world, but that does not help you overcome the business challenges. What one needs here is to have a powerful mindset. We teach them the mindset because handing someone money to go open a hotel means that he/she will lose on it if they don’t have the skill to build and survive.
What are the top trends impacting the hospitality industry, and how are they shaping the future of the workplace?
I believe that in today’s day, what is shaping the industry is that the experience is out and exposure is in. It is all about what kind of exposure you have and how you can apply it in. Once you get exposed to different ideas, concepts and workplaces, that’s when they develop. This is what I believe is the trend and is impacting the industry because things are happening so fast. It is ever-changing in nature. The younger generation is all about hopping jobs and trying new things which are changing the industry. If a person has been a steward for ten years, he may be good at his service, but does that mean he can increase the sale of the restaurant? Maybe a young guy doing FB marketing will be able to do that better. This is why I say that exposure matters a lot more than experience.
Since the VITS Kamat brand is one of the iconic brands in India, what advice can you give to other hoteliers?
I am yet to reach that stage where I can provide advice to other hoteliers. I don’t think I am there yet. To budding individuals, I can say that I believe the most under-utilized thing today is the brain, though there is no replacement for both hard work but smart work is equally important. They should spend a lot of time thinking about how things can be done better and in less time.
Can you share some instances of challenges that you might have faced in terms of team building, creating the right culture? How did you get over them?
When you are trying to do new things even with an experienced team, you have to win over people because many people can be sceptical because of their past experiences. You have to show your side by delivering what you have committed to. This builds a lot of trust in your team.
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