Back From Bombings
    Category: Issues & Ideas By : Kellen Svetov Read : 1625 Date : Thursday, July 10, 2014 - 05:55:11

    Toto Santiko Budi for Forbes Indonesia

    When Nagesh Chawla was a child, he lived for a while in Jakarta and used to pass the Grand Hyatt hotel under construction in Jakarta—and dreamed of one day working in a five star hotel. Now 41, Nagesh made his dream come true with a 15 year career as a hotelier. He came to Jakarta in 2009 to become general manager of the JW Marriott and then switched in 2011 to be the general manager of the Ritz-Carlton Mega Kuningan (both brands are under hotel group Marriott International). A mere two months into his job, Nagesh faced the greatest challenge of his life: the 2009 Jakarta bombings on both properties. Although he wasn’t hurt, the bombings killed seven and injured more than 50 people. Immediately afterwards, occupancy at the JW Marriott dropped to 2%.

    Nagesh worked hard to rebuild the hotel’s reputation and business, bringing occupancy back to over 70% within 18 months—and in 2011 the hotel had its best year ever, surpassing a record set before the bombings. Based partly on what he had accomplished at the Marriott, he moved to the Ritz in 2011 and had a similar success, bringing that property back to over 75% occupancy. Meeting in the executive club lounge on the 26th floor with dramatic views of downtown Jakarta, Nagesh recently spoke with Forbes Indonesia about his views on the luxury hotel industry.

    You were on duty when the bombing occurred at the JW Marriot. How did you respond?

    The first thing is your human instinct kicks in, so my reaction was let’s get everyone out of the hotel to safety. The bombing itself is one thing but rebuilding business and the brand is where the challenge lay.

    How do you recover and rebuild from such a tragedy?

    You have to look at the greater picture. It’s not just a hotel, it’s a livelihood for over 700 of our associates who come to work every morning. As a senior management team, we made a plan for the next 12 months: building occupancy, training our associates and reinstating everybody’s confidence in our brand through security services. We thought, “How do we want to get the hotel up and running?” The first thing was getting our first customers back. Of course, you know, everything is owed to the customers. We started working with a few accounts, small ones, and you have to drop rates to attract people to come in. Thankfully, there were companies that grabbed the opportunity.

    You’ve had a lengthy history in the hotel industry, working in Shanghai and Mumbai among other major cities. What inspired your interest in hospitality?

    My initial interest started when I was a child and I used to travel with my parents. My father was a diplomat and every three years, he used to get posted from one country, one city to another. Of course, we always had to stay in hotels. Initially, it was the glamour bit of hotels that fascinated me but, since childhood, I’ve always wanted to work in hotels. It was always my dream. It was something very different from what others would do—typically everybody in my family would go into the foreign service or become an engineer or a doctor. I wanted to do something that was more in just services, something that had to do with people.