Jasmeen Dugal  (click here to know more about this blogger)

RishiRaj Singh's passion for hospitality and resolute belief in the brands he has worked with has earned him an association with one of the nation's most luxurious hotel chains, ITC Hotels, and the acclaimed distinction of General Manager at their flagship — ITC Rajputana, Jaipur. Having been acquainted with him since years, I sat down with the hotelier to talk about his vision and outstanding success story.


Do share your journey with us. How did you venture into hospitality?


People often ask what really motivated me to venture into the hospitality business. It goes a long way back… There was a special bond between me and my grandfather, and like any grandparent, he acted as an authority figure and provided unconditional love, but he also had the privilege to spoil me in a way parents simply can't. He was President of Rotary Club and I got the opportunity to accompany by him to most of the five star hotels and that's where the thought of becoming a hotelier came into my mind. Little did I know that the journey would be so tough! Thereafter, the thought of becoming a hotelier settled within me and when I graduated from school, I was lucky to get admitted into the Institute of Hotel Management; it is one of the best in India. I am grateful that even though I belong to a family of lawyers and civil servants, my parents supported my career choice which at that point of time was not the best choice!!


My journey in Hospitality began with TGIF, New Delhi as Operational Trainee and somewhere down the line I became fascinated towards the bar. I learnt and polished bar-tendering skills from the best bartenders at that time. Shortly, I got an opportunity to be a part of the opening of the iconic Burj al Arab, where I was exposed towards the luxury cushion of the hospitality business and there I sharpened my people handling skills. It was then I realised that the domain of hospitality can only be enriched by those who have the keenness and the spirit to extend beyond themselves and serve. During that period, I was managing a team of twenty people of eighteen nationalities and I expanded my horizon by learning different approaches in interacting with people from around the world. In1999, I decided to head back to India and landed an opportunity to open a bar at Taj Mahal Hotel, Rick's, which soon became a benchmark in the Capital.


In 2004, I joined ITC Hotels as Corporate Beverage Manager… and my journey with ITC began. When it comes to work, everyone needs advice and there's nothing better than mentors to help you along the way. I was blessed to have worked under bosses with great leadership and mentorship qualities. In the past fourteen years I've worked in various capacities — F&B Manager at Sheraton New Delhi, F&B Manager at ITC Maurya New Delhi, Resident Manager at Sheraton New Delhi and General Manager at WelcomHotel Dwarka. WelcomHotel Dwarka was a challenging post, which now has a turnaround story and is a hotel to reckon with in the sub-township of Dwarka. The organisation recognised my efforts and gave me the opportunity to command their flagship in Rajasthan — ITC Rajputana: A Luxury Collection Hotel.


What have you enjoyed about the hospitality industry?


There are only a handful of industries that permit an individual to experience job satisfaction and hospitality is one of them. The appreciation and gratitude that pleased guests offer, give drive to your work, and there are few things that equate to aiding a guest who is in a genuine fix. I, as a person, enjoy meeting people and this industry gives you a huge platform to connect with people from every walk of life. I had the good fortune of being around people who are exceptional at what they do and passionate about it. Some add to your experience and some become friends for life.


What is unique about ITC Rajputana?


ITC Rajputana is a business hotel in the heart of Jaipur. It reflects everything that is splendid about Rajasthan and all that is unique about ITC Hotels. Designed to echo the traditional havelis of the region, it has a red brick exterior, rising to different levels around a central area. The breathtaking lobby takes you back to the Rajput era with its architecture and interiors. The property is an exclusive place where you can experience the finest in hospitality and personalised service in an ambience of gracious elegance, where everything you need is provided — the spa Kaya Kalp; swimming pool; three restaurants: Jaipur Pavilion, Jal Mahal, Peshawri; lobby bar Jharoka; 24-hour room service; Shatranj, indoor games; Bachpan, play pen; live folk dances; jogging track and much more!!


ITC Rajputana is the only Luxury Collection Hotel which has a rooted sacred relationship with the environment, of sustenance and nurture; it is a vital living heritage that is the cornerstone of ITC Hotels' ethos and an affirmation of Responsible Luxury: luxury without compromising the earth and sustainability without compromising luxury. Responsible Luxury is an effective combination of luxury and responsible practices so that the luxury experiences delivered at the hotel do not in any way burden the environment or the society around us. ITC Rajputana has become Rajasthan's first and only hotel which meets all its energy needs through non-renewable sources of energy. Apart from harnessing wind power from energy generation, the hotel takes measures to meet its energy demand i.e electricity consumption, heat pump, chiller pant, LED lamps; rationalising utilisation of equipments in the unit and much more!


How challenging is the food and beverage segment of the business and how important is it to bring the local community into restaurants and bars?


The Food and Beverage segment isn't the same anymore; it's become highly competitive and to stay ahead of the game, one has to consistently innovate and excite diners not only by palate but also visual appeal. Obviously we cannot ignore what's local to the soil and the community that defines the destination; we constantly engage with locals to create a buzz in the city.


What authentic local experiences do your guests have access to?


We provide several authentic experiences to our guests. ITC Rajputana showcases cuisines that highlight unique, royal and forgotten aspects of the Indian culinaryscape that are under the aegis of Kitchens Of India. The local favourites enable a connect with the city and give guests a slice of local culture through the cuisine, in a luxurious safe environment. Kitchens Of India also provides signature services like concierge, butler, WelcomArt, WelcomTheatre and cuisine showcase. For example, Rajasthani Rajwada Silver Thaal sit-down dinner is a superlative experience that takes you back to the era of Rajputs.We have received excellent feedback on the specialised cuisine curated by our Chefs; it has been immensely praised by guests!! ITC Rajputana also invites local artists to sustain local culture through interactive sessions with eminent personalities.


A day in your work life looks like…….


Each day varies in hoteliers' lives. Mine begins at 7 a.m. with a glass of lime juice or a cup of tea, followed by my daily workout. At the hotel, my work day begins by conducting meetings with Heads of departments, reviewing the previous day's performance and any problems or concerns that may have emerged, followed by other agendas to be taken care of. I have sales meetings at 5.30 p.m.; it's a paramount opportunity to communicate with the sales team, discuss strategy and tactics, clarify doubts, reveal expectations and most importantly listen to their views and feel the pulse of the business. Then I spend a part of the evening interacting with guests, especially during Happy Hour, not just to perceive the voice of the customer but also to ensure the guests are having a great experience with us. Hoteliers have long days and at times never ending days but I try to balance my life as much as possible!!


Rishi… what do you do at work that you enjoy so much you actually lose track of time?


I am a 'people's person'. For me, my team and my guests are equally important. Being a passionate hotelier, I motivate my team to deliver quality performance. I strongly believe guest experience is a principal objective we need to achieve together. And I try to reinforce that what we're trying to do every day matters; it really makes a difference. I love to work towards enhancing guest experience and constantly challenge the present scenario to try and see it from the eyes of our guests and their evolving expectations from a luxury hotel like ours. It's a challenge to stay current and relevant. Falling behind can cost us customers and revenue. My challenge is to make my ageing workforce stay in sync with the current scenario and deliver on time without compromising on quality at any given point of time.


In your opinion, what is the qualities your employees absolutely must possess?


Knowledge of product  processes, excellence and deliver a superior guest experience. One should have the right attitude and excellent communication skills. Our job is to provide quality service and solutions to our guests and not to prove them wrong. So, one should possess or develop qualities like patience, passion and perseverance.    


As you look to 2018-19, what are the key priorities that you are focused on for the property in order to make sure that it retains its leadership position in Jaipur?


We know that all hotels are measured on their amenities, location, service, food and overall value. What guests now desire from luxury hotels is a new unforgettable luxury experience. That is where we will keep improving and we will make it a continuous incremental attempt towards retaining our position in Jaipur.


Rishi where do you see yourself five years from today?


Well, I still see myself contributing to the organisation's success. I would love to exhibit my leadership proficiencies at the right position, maybe handling a cluster of hotels. Long story short, I'd like to deliver the best of my abilities while learning from the best — ITC Hotels.

ITC Rajputana ITC Rajputana General Manager RishiRaj Singh



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