Puneet Chhatwal of Rezidor talks to Sydney PauldenThe Executive Vice President & Chief Development Officer of the Rezidor Group is Puneet Chhatwal. He describes himself as ‘part of the furniture’ because he has been with the group for 14 years and he also suggests that he is not very clever but does claim to have common sense, which, he says, he sees as vital for the hotel industry.
He can’t deny, however, that he is a dyed-in-the-wool hotel man. He studied at hotel school, worked in hotels in Germany and then joined Carlson, the Rezidor parent. There is no doubt, therefore, that it is worth listening to his views on the hotel sector and how it is affected by world-wide events.
Puneet’s geographical area of responsibility is Europe, the Middle East and Africa for Radisson Blu properties and for Park Inn. ‘For the Missoni brand’, he points out, ‘it is world-wide responsibility’. Missoni is what he terms a ‘Lifestyle’ brand, boutique hotels with great emphasis on design. There is one in Edinburgh and one in Kuwait, with Oman under construction and others in the pipeline but not yet announced.
Puneet does not see competition from the increase of supply in mature markets as a big challenge. Rather he defines the perennial challenge for hoteliers as the need to raise enough capital to re-invest. Existing hotels have to be refurbished and updated regularly and this becomes all the more difficult when business levels are low and when the banks are reluctant to lend.
‘Travel’, he agrees, ‘is one of the first areas to be hit in an economic turndown and amongst the last to recover. It can stop suddenly, then re-start slowly’. Radisson Blu, which competes at the top level, is a brand that has been expanding rapidly. In the UK alone Radisson Blu properties have been opened recently in Aberdeen, Southend, Wembley and at East Midlands Airport.
The brand has now reached into the USA, where it comes within the Carlson remit. A Radisson Blu has just opened in Chicago.
‘Several more Radisson Blu properties will be opening in the States’, says Puneet, ‘one in Mall of America in Minneapolis, near to the Carlson HQ. It always helps to have examples of your brand in an important market.’
Turning to the MICE sector, Puneet shows his evident enthusiasm, based firmly on facts and figures. When carrying out due diligence some years ago on a large property being taken into the Park Inn brand, he identified that regular corporate business contracts were showing around £50 to £55 per person yield during their stay, but delegate spend was double at about £110 per head.
‘We are, of course, happy to have the regular clientele as a business base’, he says, ‘but there is no doubting the value of the events sector, where the guests have more disposable income to spend on all the extras a hotel can offer, from the bars to the shops to the spa.’
Rezidor has a team specially focused on the MICE sector. ‘There is always a vital need for people to meet face to face’, he maintains and agrees that in difficult times and when enterprises have less staff to tackle big challenges, meeting is all the more vital to brainstorm and to share best practices.
‘Up to about June this year’, he says, ‘there were really positive signs. It is still improving, but at a slower rate. We have a very wide range of facilities at competitive rates in many areas of the world, so we are confident that we can stay strong in the MICE market’.