Roshan Adhihetty is GM at OZO Colombo, part of ONYX Hospitality Group.
What was your first job in the hospitality industry?
I joined the Taj in 1990 as a management trainee. After three months in the classroom, my first job was in the coffee shop kitchen, in the pot wash. It was not what I expected when I joined, but I really liked how busy it was.
During the 3 years of training, I went through all 52 departments of the hotel.
You’ve been GM at OZO Colombo for two years. What changes have you made in that time?
We’ve expanded our portfolio of clients and ventured more into the corporate world.
When I worked here before, as Director of Operations in 2015-16, the hotel had more of a leisure base. Now, we are focussed on the business traveller to a greater extent and have a lot of multinational corporate clients, plus major Sri Lankan brands. Over 60 per cent of our clientele is now corporate.
We actively began to target this market because of the emerging dynamics of the city. Colombo is undoubtedly the business hub. While leisure travellers pass through at the start or end of their trip, they stay a maximum of two nights. Over recent years, the leisure market has also thinned due to increased hotel supply. We still do leisure of course, but not to the same extent.
Corporate clients have to be very risk sensitive. Have the travel advisories impacted your business more than others, because of your majority business clientele?
When you compare with other city hotels that are in our competitor set, we have seen a large drop and it has affected us. Occupancy for August is down 40 per cent compared to last year.
Of course you can’t plan for disaster but you can plan to safeguard as much as possible. As an ONYX brand we have very detailed safety and security audits annually, which meant that in a way we were prepared. Making guests feel safe is out prime duty. Since Easter, I’ve participated in countless security audits and interviews with different corporate companies to discuss the security situation and how we will take care of their guests.
Now we see a lot of our business targets coming back. MICE, conferences and workshops are starting again as people get back to their day to day life.
As an industry we need to reach out and look after our people. Staff engagement will be really important over the next 3 years.
You mentioned the increasing supply in city based hotels. With new international brands like InterContinental and Sheraton set to open, do you think this will become an oversupply?
Most of these new hotels will come into operation between 2022 and 2024. From now to mid-2021, it will be a process of building guest numbers back up because of what happened in April.
Once the new brands actually open, we may feel a lack of guests within the city, but with Port City operating and other building projects in the planning stages, I wouldn’t say that it will be an oversupply.
Year on year, we’ve seen a gradual slide in rates and since April we’ve brought them down, but I think that everybody has to stop somewhere. I believe these international brands coming in will actually drive up the rates.
When major brands come in they lift up your standard of service and products, and the local brands will have to rise to that level to compete. That’s a great advantage for the industry and the country.
Will it be difficult to build up your rates again?
Good question! It is an understanding that when you drop a rate it takes 4-6 months just to increase by $1 or $2 again. If you dip far it’s going to take some time to recover.
More hotels will create increased competition for staff. What are your views on the manpower situation? How can managers retain their talented employees?
Even now, staffing is an issue, although not yet a crisis. Every new hotel that opens takes people from another hotel and that causes a chain reaction.
Retaining passionate staff is not about the money per se. Yes the salaries and service charge do matter, but they are not everything. I believe salary levels will rise in the future when the major international brands come in. But even with passionate staff, if they receive a better offer from overseas, they will move.
When youngsters want to go abroad we should give them the freedom to do so; international exposure is as a good thing. They can learn a lot and bring back with them a world of experience. That’s when the industry needs to be smart, to utilize their skills when they return.
I believe staff engagement is what will be crucial over the next 3-5 years. Here at OZO we have a twice-yearly engagement survey, a practice that comes from ONXY. We’ve tried to create a culture of two-way communication where collectively, the team can raise issues and suggest what we should be doing to make it better.
Who inspires you?
A general manager I worked for in the late nineties stands out in my mind. Sadly he passed away so I won’t mention his name, but even today I look up to him. As a young professional he gave me my eye for detail. His foresight and attentiveness really inspired me to get to where I am today.
If you were not in the hospitality industry what would you be doing?
The next hardest job – the army! When I was younger I actually wanted to join the military. One of my teachers was married to a famous general and I tried to pass her my CV to give to him. She called my mother, who said no!