Take us through your entire career from the beginning and share a few on-ground experiences that became marketing lessons for you.
After IIM Ahmedabad, I was a sales trainee at Hindustan Unilever. There, I really understood the heartland of India and its consumers. I also learnt the importance of product and brand. The old-school principles of positioning, targeting, segmentation still hold good. I worked in the beverage segment of Unilever where competitors used to undercut on prices, but they weren’t able to dislodge the brand - that’s because the product was never compromised on. In the face of competition, brand managers are often tempted to dilute the brand’s positioning, which is extremely dangerous. Never leave your core as long as it is relevant to your consumer. Secondly, spend time with the consumer as much as possible to get the right insight. The right insight will always get you the right positioning. Thirdly, be where the consumer is. When I was with Aviva, we used cost-effective media to create awareness of our brand, be it outdoor or even in-film promotions. In 2005, we used Amitabh Bachchan to deliver our brand proposition in his film promotion, without a TVC or signing him as our brand ambassador. A brand faces a lot of constraints, but if you think innovatively, a lot of brand solutions can emerge.
Hospitality was one of the worst-hit sectors during this pandemic. What were the key challenges you faced at Mahindra Holidays and Resorts, and how did you overcome them?
The first thing we did was selling through our in-house video calling tool, without Zoom. By clicking a link that went from the email of the Mahindra employee, the consumer could go through the presentation, see the person and also invite a third person to join the call to solve doubts. Secondly, we launched a three-year product instead of our 25-year plan. Thirdly, we tied up with a global company called Bureau Veritas that certified hygiene and sanitation protocols in our resorts with platinum certification. We were the first ones in this sector to launch a Safe Stay programme with contactless check-in and check-out. We launched the ‘Travel with Confidence’ programme wherein our members received car sanitization, discounts with car rental companies and health insurance. All these efforts increased our members’ confidence in us and we started seeing traction. Since our resorts are away from high population-density areas, they are safer. Our occupancy rates improved significantly in November, December and January. February and March, which are usually lean, are also looking equally healthy.
Mahindra Holidays pioneered the concept of timeshare holidays in India. How is the customer perceiving the concept now vis-à-vis a decade ago?
Yes, we pioneered this concept, and the consumer saw that membership made immense financial sense. Someone who got White Season membership in 2005 would have paid Rs 2 lakh for it... he is today enjoying a 5-star studio holiday at the cost of just Rs 1200 per night per room for 175 nights in 100+ resorts and a host of unique experiences. Consumers these days are increasingly seeking newer experiences, which is why our Club M Select programme provides its members special privileges like dining, access to golf courses and yoga studios in their own city. All in all, with a Club Mahindra membership, a customer gets inflation-proof experiences for 25 years, 365 days a year. Our three-year product has been launched keeping the millennials in mind.
What are the top three priorities for Mahindra Holidays and Resorts in the short and long term?
In the next few years, our objective is to increase our inventory to 5,000 rooms, from our current 3,700. Our priority is also to increase our member base from the current approximately 2,64,000 members. A crucial area of focus is innovating and providing unique experiences to our members 365 days a year, not just at the resort, but even in their cities. We have engaged with our members during lockdown through online yoga classes, or chef’s cooking classes, which we will continue.
What can you tell us about Vivek Khanna, the person, outside the realm of business?
I am passionate about travelling. I am an ardent follower of cricket, soccer and Formula 1. I also love reading and my current area of interest is mythology and science. So, I love Dan Brown and Amish Tripathi in that genre. Malcolm Gladwell is another favourite author. I am also a Bollywood fan and I thrive on a combination of Dev Anand, SD Burman and Kishore Kumar.