Srijan Vadhera, General Manager, Conrad Bengaluru

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WHAT SETS CONRAD BENGALURU APART IS ITS DESIRABLE LOCATION

MS. Conrad Bengaluru is about to complete successful four years of serving Hilton hospitality to guests in Bengaluru. Please describe some of the key aspects of Conrad Bengaluru that distinguish it from other hotels.

Srijan Vadhera. Spanning five continents with nearly 41 properties, Conrad Hotels & Resorts creates a seamless connection between contemporary design, leading innovation and curated art to inspire the entrepreneurial spirit of the globally connected traveller. What sets Conrad Bengaluru apart is its desirable location. Situated amidst attractions, the hotel is at a comfortable proximity to key corporate hubs and lifestyle destinations. All of our 285 rooms and suites offer unparalleled views of the Ulsoor Lake and the city skyline. They boast contemporary design with inbuilt television mirrors and digital check-in features. Conrad Bengaluru is the tallest Hotel in the south of India with the largest pillar less ballroom in the city. It has become the most desired venue for Big Fat Indian weddings which has been enhanced further by the new concept of “Wedding Diaries By Hilton” and “Wedding Studio” which offers especially curated delightful wedding experiences for guests.

Apart from this, we also have a temperature controlled pool, a gym equipped with top-notch equipment and the Conrad Spa with a rejuvenating ice fountain. Being a Hilton Honors member will also provide additional benefits to our guests availing various services at Conrad. Conrad Bengaluru offers customized packages/ experiential offerings which makes the guests come back to us time and again. We have curated many such experiences like a Vineyard tour with brunch along with our Staycation package which has attracted many families and couples. We also have Great Small Breaks, a concept that revolves around a family experience right from your door step and all throughout the journey which has engaged huge audiences in the local market. Our customers truly value something exclusive & experiential in essence & are willing to pay the extra buck if our offering is on the lines of what money cannot buy.

MS. The position of leadership involves high stakes, and leaders are responsible for forward progress. Having the privilege of leading a young, energetic team, please tell us how has your leadership led the hotel to greater heights?

Srijan Vadhera. During these difficult times, I did everything in my capacity to ensure Conrad Bengaluru climbs to the top. I was able to connect Conrad Bengaluru with the wedding fraternity across India through the connections I have gained from almost two decades of experience in the hospitality industry. Conrad Bengaluru also collaborated with EEMA (Event and Entertainment Management Association) as the hospitality partner and hosted one of their recent meets in Bengaluru. Lastly, from my vast wedding segment experience from my previous assignment, I was able to shift

Conrad Bengaluru from being a primarily business oriented hotel to the most desired wedding destination in Bengaluru.

To cater to the growing wedding market at Conrad Bengaluru, we designed Wedding Studio, which is a miniature version of elements that you would need to plan your dream wedding. It is a one-stop solution for our guests wanting to plan their wedding with Conrad Bengaluru.

MS. What was an early project that you’re proud of, as well as an early career defining moment? How did you land up here? Please share with us your professional journey, hurdles overcome and milestones achieved so far.

Srijan Vadhera. I possess almost 2 decades of rich experience in hospitality primarily in luxury and upscale segments. I was the General Manager of Fairmont Jaipur before I was appointed at Conrad Bengaluru. Prior to this, I have been associated with other hospitality brands such as Shangri-La, Marriott International and Hyatt in different capacities. I have a comprehensive knowledge of international service standard procedures and believe in building teams from within using an adept business development approach

Some milestones achieved so far would be the following:

  • Luxury Hotel General Manager of the Year 2021 at the India Hospitality Excellence Awards.
  • Fit and Fab Award 2021 at the SYNTH Global SPA The Fit and Fab show
  • Recognition for outstanding leadership as Chairman of the Tourism, Hospitality and Facility Expert Committee, 2019 – 2020 from Bangalore Chamber of Industry and Commerce.
  • General Manager of the Year 2017 (Luxury to Upper Upscale category) at the Hotelier India Awards by a jury eminent of travel & hospitality experts.
  • Special recognition for outstanding dedication & excellent performance by MD India & Regional Vice President South Asia – Starwood Hotels & Resorts.
  • Marketing & PR Person of the Year 2011 (First runner up) at the Hotelier India where he was celebrated for his excellence in all visible aspects of hospitality and his contribution in making Sheraton Bengaluru known for world class standards.

MS. We have heard, amid the challenges, the hotel supported society on many occasions. How have you dealt with the situation and geared up for resurgence?

Srijan Vadhera. Any activity that Conrad Bengaluru takes part in, we try to revolve it around a purpose. We echo our brand values with everything we do and strongly believe that the most important things to do is to give back to society. We also focus majorly on sustainability in our hotel like the eco-friendly compost process we use, our on-site recycled water bottle plant and our Christmas tree is also driven by the tagline “Travel with Purpose”. This year’s Christmas tree decor is an encapsulation of all elements real and authentic. Incorporating the brand’s tag line – Travel with purpose, the Christmas tree will be adorned with saplings. These saplings will be supported with repurposed tin cans and repainted by the team of Conrad Bengaluru. The funds generated and raised from the sale of saplings will be donated to the Iksha foundation. IKSHA Foundation is a public charitable trust which primarily focuses on supporting children with eye cancer (Retinoblastoma).

Last year we installed an eco-friendly tree swaddled with jute and adorned with goody bags (coasters, fridge magnets, beaded earrings and bracelets) hand made by the individuals with Autism and other Intellectual challenges from NGO Biswa Gouri Charitable Trust and as we also encourage to use local and go global concept, the wooden toys sourced from an NGO of Toymakers from Channapatna, backed by the government of Karnataka were part of the tree decor. We also had members and the children of IKSHA Foundation – a public charitable trust that is focused on Retinoblastoma (eye cancer) and Biswa Gouri Charitable Trust, an NGO working towards empowerment and enhancement of Individuals with Autism and other Intellectual challenges present at the event.Last year all the proceeds from the goody bags were given back to Biswa Gouri Charitable Trust and IKSHA foundation. Along with this, special activities were planned for the Children of the NGO’s by our human resources department. We also conduct regular CSR activities, for example, we recently visited “The Friends in Need Society” to bring smile and happiness among the elderly people and clean their garden to make it more beautiful. We have also previously conducted a ‘Hygiene and Self-care workshop for them by our hygiene manager.

MS. How do you overcome the challenge in initiating and conducting the events? Please share your experience on some of your recently held events at your venue.

Srijan Vadhera. The biggest challenge we face while conducting such events is the safety and security of all the guests present at the hotel, especially during these difficult times with all the government protocols and restrictions in action.

We have recently conducted a few residential conferences at the Hotel during which we insisted on receiving negative RT-PCR tests from guests travelling from outside Bangalore. We follow strict hygiene protocols in line with Hilton’s safety and hygiene program called Hilton CleanStay. We ensure frequent sanitization of public areas, sanitizer stations around the Hotel, contactless check-in and check-out facilities and more.

Hilton has also launched Hilton EventReady along with CleanStay which provides curated solutions for every step of our guests’ event planning process to create event experiences that are clean, flexible, safe and socially responsible.

MS. Bengaluru is still largely driven by business travelers considering the overwhelming presence of IT and ITeS companies in the city. How Conrad Bengaluru is attracting events and conferences that are relocating from other states?

Srijan Vadhera. Apart from IT, Bangalore also has a base of infrastructure and automobile industry. Before the pandemic, a lot of global companies with offices in Bangalore and around used to conduct major conferences in international destinations which has certainly been affected due to Covid-19. These companies have started to look at properties in Bangalore to conduct their conferences for the ease of both the employees and the management. Conrad Bengaluru, having the biggest venue in the city, has been able to attract these corporate residential conferences. Our promise of Hilton EventReady along with CleanStay, which is a program launched by Hilton Worldwide to ensure ease of conducting corporate events for our guests, provides confidence and trust to companies looking to organize an event at our property. We provide hybrid solutions, redesigned spaces, event planner resources, innovative technology and more as part of Hilton EventReady.

MS. Tech is now an enabler for great hospitality. Can you share with us some of the tech that goes into creating your guest experience? With the objective of providing major impetus to safety, how have you equipped to ensure safe and secure events?

Srijan Vadhera. The pandemic has pushed the hospitality industry towards investing in technological advancements in every aspect of the guest experience. Conrad Bengaluru has incorporated multiple elements of technology like in – mirror television in our guest rooms, digital check-in services through the Hilton Honors app enabling contactless experiences throughout the guest stay. Guests can even choose the room in which he’d like to stay in, before physically entering the hotel using the app. They can enjoy card less access to all areas of the hotel and manage and redeem their Hilton Honors points. All of these member benefits make life on the go much easier. We offer our guests complimentary MAGZTER access, which is a digital news stand that provides access to thousands of magazines and newspapers from around the world in almost every language.

Our multiple payment gateways enable seamless digital transactions for any guest payment. We have also been able to deliver exceptional concierge services through Kipsu, a messaging software that facilitates seamless real-time assistance around the clock. We also disinfect rooms with ultra-violet electrostatic sprays 24-hours post guest departure. We have also replaced traditional print menus with QR – code enabled digital menus at all our Food & Beverage outlets to reduce cross contamination.Hilton has partnered with Reckitt, makers of Lysol & Dettol, to help deliver an even cleaner stay for our guests with the creation of the Hilton CleanStay program. Conrad Bengaluru also follows Hilton CleanStay and Hilton EventReady which is launched by Hilton across 6400+ hotels worldwide.

Every staff member wears a face mask at all times, there are disinfecting stations with wipes and hand sanitizer placed strategically around the Hotel, the rooms are sealed with a Hilton CleanStay tag after disinfecting, public areas are cleaned at scheduled intervals giving extra importance to high-touch areas like elevators, all the team members are vaccinated and as a hotel we are Certified ISO 22000:2018 for Food Safety Management System, the property ensures complete hygiene and safety.

MS. What are your learnings from the pandemic and how it has changed the face of the MICE industry?

Srijan Vadhera. The Covid-19 pandemic has taught the hospitality industry how to sustain and recover from the most unexpected and difficult of hits. It has taught us to be proactive and get things done quickly without waiting for things to happen. Another major learning was the importance of investing more time and resources into the use of technology in every aspect of guest experience as possible. Many hospitality businesses were able to sustain the pandemic solely due to the use of technology. Conrad Bengaluru has also taken advantage of technology to continue to welcome guests to the Hotel through contactless check-ins, online Concierge services and digital keys. With respect to employees, he pandemic has taught us the importance of mental health and how crucial it is to maintain high levels of productivity in the workplace. During the lockdown, I made sure to keep a track on my employees through regular online meetings to ensure their overall well-being during these difficult times.

On a personal note, I have used this time to gain momentum in building thought leadership – from industry led webinars to connecting with university students, there was so much that was keeping me busy. Through my association with Bangalore Chamber of Industry and Commerce, and in my capacity as Chairman – Tourism, Hospitality and Facility Expert Committee, I represented the industry body to receive a relief on power charges and an extension of license fees through interactions with the Chief Minister and Cabinet of Karnataka. I also learnt about the importance of the fixed costs of running operations and how to critically review and minimize expenses wherever possible. Being cautious about the cash flow, relooking at operational manpower ratios and finding areas to optimize, and the need of having strong expense mitigation plans are very important leadership lessons that I gained this year.

The MICE industry has been affected drastically. More and more organizations have shifted from large conventions to online meetings across the globe. This has impacted both corporate travelers and event spaces for Hotels. Businessmen are skeptical of leaving the safety of their Homes and travelling away. However, as the number of vaccinations have increased, people are becoming more confident to travel. Conrad Bengaluru has been attracting business travelers regularly in the past few months. Bengaluru currently houses 43% of the Indian Unicorns and is known as India’s startup capital. Along with our promise of Hilton CleanStay and EventReady, guests have started to travel again for business. We also offer top-notch hybrid meeting facilities for companies who wish to opt for the same. We have seen a steady increase in the number of corporate bookings in the past quarter.

MS. An ardent rider, with a cause, and has previously taken part in awareness programs for road safety, on a personal note, we would like to know, how has the love for bikes transformed your life?

Srijan Vadhera. My rides have always been purpose-driven and I always promote riding as a sport which requires safety gears as a mandate. We have also conducted joint bike rides along with defense officers on Independence Day and Vijay Diwas. We initiated an awareness campaign Silent Expedition to create awareness for disabled riders which would aid them in getting licenses, along with it we hosted a breakfast event at Conrad Bengaluru. Lastly, Conrad Bengaluru does not allow any vendor or guest to enter the hotel without a helmet or seal belts. When I’m away from work, I love to spend time with my family and friends to maintain a good work-life balance. I like to start off my days with a workout session at the gym to ensure I feel energized for the rest of the day, as I always encourage everyone towards a healthy lifestyle. Lastly, I try to travel to new places whenever I get time because discovering new and unknown places is one of my passions.