Position - Chairman and CEO, EIH Limited
Mr P. R. S. Oberoi is also the Chairman of Oberoi Hotels Private Limited, the major shareholder of EIH Limited. In addition to providing leadership for the management of luxury hotels in several countries, he has been instrumental in pioneering the development of the new Oberoi Hotels and Resorts. He is credited with placing Oberoi Hotels on the international luxury travellers’ map with the opening of several new luxury hotels in important locations, redefining architectural and design standards in luxury hospitality. In January 2008, he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian honour, in recognition of his exceptional service to the country. In 2010, Mr. P. R. S. Oberoi was recognised as the “Corporate Hotelier of the World” by Hotels magazine.
Green Hotelier asks
Your father and founder of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts, the late Rai Bahadur MS Oberoi, was the pioneer of luxury hotels in India. What was the best piece of advice that he ever gave you?
The best advice my father gave me was that one should always be mindful of the consequences of one’s actions as it takes years to build a reputation and minutes to destroy it. He also used to tell me: “Never think of money. Do the right thing, success will follow.”
Following in your father’s pioneering spirit, you have been credited with redefining architectural and design standards in luxury hospitality, particularly in terms of developing hotels that reflect their environment.
The architecture, interior and landscape design of our hotels is a team effort led by our internal project development team and renowned and carefully selected architects, interior designers and landscape consultants. The design of our hotels is largely dictated by local architecture and high environmental standards. We also keep in mind the local culture and preferences of our guests.
Several of our hotels are in locations with a strong culture and history. We have attempted to reflect these in the architecture and interior design of our hotels. For example, the inspiration for the Oberoi Rajvilas, Jaipur came from Naila Fort, which I restored in 1980 and 1981. The inspiration for the Oberoi Udaivilas, Udaipur was the strong tradition of palaces in Udaipur. It was my vision that guests would stay in a traditional Mewar palace and not a contemporary hotel building.
Which hotel development in the Oberoi portfolio are you most proud of, and why?
The Oberoi, Mumbai has a special place in our history. The hotel was completely destroyed by terrorists on 26 November 2008 and had to be restored. I was personally involved with all design aspects so that the hotel would have a fresh contemporary feel. In my opinion, the Oberoi, Mumbai is now a luxurious haven of contemporary elegance.
You established the Oberoi Centre of Learning and Development. Could you tell us a bit more about it?
The centre began as the Oberoi School of Hotel Management (OSHM) in 1966, at which time there were no professional training institutes other than a few in Europe and in the US. In India, we had no institute that offered structured hospitality training. Our founding chairman, Rai Bahadur MS Oberoi, recognised this and encouraged the company to start its own hotel training institute.
OSHM provided a foundation in unmatched hospitality training for young aspiring hoteliers. It was also a strategic move to support the group’s growth by generating a stream of qualified young talent. In 1996, the name of the OSHM was changed to the Oberoi Centre of Learning and Development (OCLD). Today, OCLD is a small but elite centre of learning and training that covers all aspects of hotel operations. Many of our senior managers and senior executives are graduates of OCLD. A substantial number of OCLD graduates are managing our restaurants, kitchens and housekeeping departments.
The Systematic Training and Education Programme (STEP) is also managed by the OCLD and conducted in hotels within the Oberoi Group. It is for young men and women between the ages of 17 and 20 who have successfully completed their Class XII examinations and who are interested in progressing their careers in hospitality. The programme lasts three years; it offers practical, comprehensive and systematic training in hotel operations.
The programme also provides distance learning affiliated to the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), which offers a Bachelor’s Degree in Hospitality and Tourism Studies. This combination of practical and technical training and learning offers a meaningful alternative for young people who are interested in joining the hospitality industry. Many STEP trainees are offered supervisory positions in our hotels; several join the OCLD programme.
It is often suggested that concepts such as “sustainability” and “corporate social responsibility” are rooted in Western markets; how are they perceived among business leaders in India, and where is the biggest area of focus?
There is an increasing level of awareness and commitment to corporate social responsibility and sustainability in India. Responsible development goes hand in hand with being a good corporate citizen. The objective of corporate social responsibility is to maximise the corporate impact on society. It is a comprehensive set of policies, practices and programmes that are integrated throughout our business.
In your opinion, what are the main challenges of operating sustainably in developing markets and why? What are the Oberoi Hotels & Resorts doing to address these challenges?
Sustainability is a key to our business irrespective of the country where we operate hotels. The Oberoi Group is committed to integrating environmental best practices and sustainable principles with its core business strategy by adopting advanced building design in construction and renovation and improving operational efficiency. Commitment towards the environment is integral to the group’s strategy, both in the management of existing properties as well as in planning new developments. Specifically speaking, all Oberoi hotels have water harvesting, water recycling and energy-efficient technology. We are also seriously contemplating wind and solar power as alternative energy sources.
What is your vision for a more sustainable hotel industry?
The hospitality industry has an opportunity to be a leader in sustainable development. Most governments have stringent environmental guidelines. The hospitality industry and governments need to work in tandem. Renewable energy and carbon credits are some of the key environmental measures for the industry. On a social responsibility front, addressing poverty and issues such as youth education are equally critical. We are looking forward to partnering with the International Tourism Partnership’s Youth Career Initiative (YCI) programme with our Mumbai hotels in June 2012.