FPJ Exclusive: Puneet Chhatwal, MD & CEO Of IHCL, Talks About Women Empowerment And More

FPJ Exclusive: Puneet Chhatwal, MD & CEO Of IHCL, Talks About Women Empowerment And More

He also talks about redefining business and expanding the brand's properties during the pandemic

Shruti PanditUpdated: Saturday, February 17, 2024, 08:51 PM IST
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Puneet Chhatwal |

From making a king the Brand Ambassador of the brand ‘Taj’ to signing thirty-two properties (in India and abroad) and opening eighteen varied properties last year, Indian Hotels Company Limited (IHCL), brand that owns Taj hotels, palaces and resorts, has broken all barriers and norms to emerge as the fastest growing hospitality brand across the globe.

Puneet Chhatwal, who joined IHCL as MD and CEO in 2017, has a lot to do with the speedy growth of the company.

Chhatwal chats with The Free Press Journal about some of the unique policies incorporated in last few years to achieve the unbelievable among other things.

Excerpts from the interview:

While most shut down a few properties during the pandemic, IHCL is the only one to start new. Calculated risk? What would you call that?

The decision to expand our properties during the pandemic was a strategic one demonstrating our confidence in the long-term resilience of the Indian hospitality sector. The proactive approach reflected a forward-looking perspective on the sector's revival.

While Vivanta and Ginger can be clearly categorised, where would you slot SeleQtions and Ama? And why?

IHCL re-imagined it brand scape in 2017 evolving it to a multi-branded hospitality eco-system. Our brands include Taj – the iconic brand for the most discerning travellers and ranked as India’s Strongest Brand 2023 as per Brand Finance; SeleQtions, a named collection of hotels; Vivanta, sophisticated upscale hotels; and Ginger, which is revolutionising the lean luxe segment.

The strength of our ecosystem has become very prominent during the past couple of years as it has allowed us to leverage our expertise to scale brands like SeleQtions, which selects hotels for their uniqueness. Each Elections hotel has a compelling character, with a distinctive historical, geographical, cultural or artistic stamp. Currently we have 24 SeleQtions hotels in our portfolio.

SeleQtions and amã Stays & Trails, however, are distinct in their positioning. amã Stays & Trails, on the other hand, is positioned as a premium homestay brand. Villas and bungalows are often set in scenic or offbeat destinations offering an immersive and personalised experience for travellers looking for a blend of luxury and authenticity. This strategic categorisation ensures that each brand within IHCL's portfolio caters to specific market segments, offering diverse options to a range of discerning travellers.

In the era where F&B, especially fine dining, is being redefined, where do you see your hotels and their outlets? Do we see more Paper Moon and micro-breweries coming up at different properties?

IHCL prides itself on its culinary history and in constantly leading and pioneering innovative dining concepts. IHCL has always been ahead of the food and beverage curve in offering some of the finest cuisines to its patrons and this has resulted in achieving an iconic status for many of its restaurants.

With over 400 restaurants and bars in the F&B portfolio, IHCL has introduced many firsts and notable amongst which were Sichuan, contemporary Japanese, Mediterranean, Thai and Vietnamese cuisines.

Recognising the dynamic shifts in consumer preferences and the constant redefinition of F&B experiences. In recent times, we have launched new restaurants and F&B concepts. IHCL in an exclusive partnership has launched Paper Moon, the global Italian restaurant in India in Goa. IHCL in partnership with AB InBev, the world’s largest brewer, launched the Seven Rivers, brewpubs in Bengaluru and Goa and will soon open in multiple locations across its hotels. We also introduced new Indian-concept restaurant brand, Loya in New Delhi, Bengaluru and will soon be followed by Mumbai.

The Chambers, we hear, is undergoing changes. What are they, if I may ask?

The Chambers is India’s most iconic business club. Built on a 40-year-old legacy of prestige and exclusivity, it represents the absolute pinnacle of service for its members, which include names from the corporate and business fraternity among other global achievers.

Over the years the profile of the global achiever and new India has evolved, and with it, The Chambers too has evolved. Whilst retaining its unmatched exclusivity and prestige, the re-imagined The Chambers adds new codes of luxury.

The recently launched The Chambers Global Membership is a global and elevated offering that makes The Chambers an even more unrivaled proposition. The membership offers its members a global span that covers enhanced and exclusive benefits that spread across all Taj hotels and other company hotels, worldwide. Valid for a lifetime, it allows individual members a unique opportunity to transfer it one-time to their son or daughter, providing a rare chance to enjoy the unparalleled benefits of The Chambers across generations.

With access to the most rarefied spaces, a global presence and enhanced privileges, The Chambers has been re-imagined through experiences which go beyond the ordinary. The first phase included expanding its footprint across geographies in hubs like London, Dubai, Bangalore and more.

Your women empowerment program in management has seen quite a jump and many women have seen significant growth in their careers. Can you please elucidate more about the program?

IHCL is known for championing the cause of women and enhancing their participation both, within and outside the organisation. Under its umbrella of ‘She Remains the Taj’ IHCL offers a holistic framework of women-centric initiatives for all stakeholders including guests, employees, partners and the community. These initiatives and enabling policies not only increase women workforce participation but also extend economic opportunities to the larger ecosystem.

Over the years, IHCL has implemented industry leading policies like extended maternity leave, crèche facilities, healthcare benefits including IVF treatments, and skilling of women in under-served communities and regions.

When you visit a place where there is no IHCL property, what are the qualities you looks for in the other property you plan to stay?

Location is critical whether it is a business or a leisure trip when choosing to stay at a non-IHCL hotel during my travels. Efficiency demonstrated through design, non-obtrusive yet personalized service as well as seamless digital approach goes a long way in creating a positive experience.

How do you look back at your career spanning four decades and continents?

I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work and lead organisations in varied cultural settings from North America, Europe to Asia enabling me to bring a combination of American marketing, European management and Asian emotional intelligence to each new assignment. With many highs on my long journey the opportunity to take forward the 120-year-old legacy of Indian Hotels is the most fulfilling.

Fast Four with Mr Chhatwal

Favourite book and why: I mostly read Case Studies, and especially those with strategic success of cross-cultural business

Favourite Sport: Cricket

Favourite way to unwind: Cooking

Favourite holiday destination: It’s a toss between Italy and Spain

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