Saurabh Kukreja was appointed general manager of Crimson Hotel Filinvest City, Manila last year. A British national, the young executive brings with him a wealth of experience working for luxury hotels like Amari Watergate Bangkok, Le Méridien Piccadilly, The Bentley Kempiski Hotel London, The Savoy, and The Berkeley.
This interview excerpt was first released in Hospitality News‘ print edition on September 25, 2014, with the title “Crimson’s new GM: On creating brands”
HNP: What were your first thoughts when you arrived in Alabang?
Saurabh Kukreja (SK): My first thought was that this is paradise. I’ve always lived in city centers. I’m a city guy. For me, having a location like Filinvest City which is planned so well with great amenities, less traffic, and the pollution is nothing compared to any city, I can get used to this. These satellite cities coming up in Metro Manila are so well-planned, if you compare it in other cities in Southeast Asia, you see they’re much better planned than random growth other cities such as Bangkok or Hong Kong have gone through.
HNP: What were your initial observations about the Crimson brand?
SK: I think the one thing that we got right about the Crimson brand is the warm, genuine hospitality. I feel that the Filipino culture is a very hospitable culture, and for a travel brand that was born here, to have values of hospitality and service-mindedness deeply rooted, is a great start for a brand.
You would hear “genuine hospitality” overused in the industry. Not everyone can get it right. But in this brand and location, we definitely got it right. And I’ll tell you why I said that – the first time I came here, I was unknown as the GM, and I still experience the same warmth and service in our team member’s eyes and how they interacted with me now. In my position especially, this gets disguised for us. I feel sometimes what I see is not what the second or third person sees.
The other thing we’ve done well is that, since we’re a young brand, we’re very savvy. It’s a good combination of luxurious yet not old-fashioned or stuffy. You see, no ties here [points to his open collar]. That gives us the impression of being open. And I feel those are the elements that as a brand Crimson got right.
HNP: You say experiences create brands. How then does visual identity help in experience or in creating brands?
SK: I feel visual identity helps you identify the brand, but the experiences make you remember the brand. That’s why logos change. People change logos of the company. I’m not a branding guru, but in an operator’s mind, the experiences make you remember it. The memories come from the experiences.
HNP: As a hotel operator, how much of a guest’s experience can you control?
SK: A hundred percent. Yes, I cannot control what happens to my guest outside of the hotel – they could have been bumped off in their flight, traffic, their bags missing, and issues in their tour – but when they come in to the hotel and how my team reacts will create that experience still.
I have many stories that when people really had bad experiences, but as a hotel we were able to change their mindsets around that experience. While I don’t directly control a hundred percent of a guest experience, I can make up for it in many ways when they’re in the hotel. We train a lot of our staff on a concept called service netting, which talks about identifying what could trigger for a customer to have a bad experience and prevent it. When a guest checks in had a delayed flight, or a missed connection, they were stranded in other airport and the airline did not treat them nicely, what can you do to make sure that they don’t have problems in here? Otherwise you know even the small problem will be a big problem.
HNP: What are your plans for MICE?
SK: We are increasing our brand presence in the market of weddings. For example, for social events, we already have a lot of birthday parties, debuts, and celebrations, so we’re exploring that angle. We had our first concert this month – John Foley. As such we are very well positioned from an event’s point of view, we have all it takes to create memorable events. The more people who come in here and attend these events, the more they appreciate these venues and hopefully spread the word of Crimson Filinvest City, being a very good venue for events.