Monday, 13 April 2015

Great Names Behind Hotels: One-on-One with Deepak Ohri, CEO of lebua Hotels & Resorts

Lyssiemay Annoh chats to Deepak Ohri, CEO of lebua Hotels & Resorts over a bottle of Vintage Blanc de Blanc

I crave to meet with anyone who really knows about luxury so I simply could not pass on the opportunity of conversing with the luxury experience guru behind lebua Hotels and Resorts.  Award-winning Deepak Ohri is the Chief Executive Officer of lebua Hotels & Resorts, an international luxury hospitality company. Lebua has a collection of 5-Star hotels and fine restaurants in Thailand, New Zealand and India, His contribution to the hospitality industry has been recognized by most of the big wigs of the industry.  Deepak joined lebua at its inception in 2003 and has brought the vision of the brand to reality as well as expand it across continents with several of the world’s finest five-star hotels, restaurants and bars.
He introduced The Dome at lebua, Bangkok’s preeminent culinary destination, which includes Sirocco (the world's highest open air restaurant), Sky Bar (named "the most stunning rooftop bar you’ll ever see" by The New York Times in 2013), Breeze (highlighted by USA Today as one of the world’s “10 most cutting-edge restaurants” in 2014); and Mezzaluna (honoured as a ‘Foodie Top 100’ fine-dining mecca in 2013). 

Our meeting

Deepak Ohri greets me with a very warm smile at first sight then orders a bottle of Blanc de Blanc an organic commercial vintage from Champagne Salon, a small producer of critically acclaimed Champagne made in the Blanc de Blanc style.  I was impressed – that was certainly a man who knows a thing or two about my favourite drink.  Salon, along with Delamotte, has been part of the Lauren-Perrier group since 1989. It is regarded as one of the greatest Champagnes on the market.  I was definitely meeting the man renowned with the term “luxury experience”.

The conversation:

How did you get into the industry? 

I got into the industry by default.  As a youngster, I needed to work to pay my way through education as well as for sheer survival and since the hospitality industry is that largest employer it became the obvious choice. 
Nevertheless, I love to talk, meet and understand people so I knew that it was an industry that I wanted to work in.  I fulfilled my dreams when I formally entered the industry after graduation and 28 years on I am still enjoying my biggest hobby.

Where did you start?

As a youth I was a dishwasher for 3 years, then after graduation, I became a trainee manager.

Education versus training - What is your view on this?

Most companies think that one is more important than the other but I think both.  As a young “dishwasher” employee in a hotel, I saw first-hand how junior employees were treated and made a vow to myself that when I entered a managerial position in the industry, I would ensure all my employees are treated the same, irrespective of their career level. 
At lebua, all employees benefit from the private health scheme and enjoy the same amount of holidays.
With regards to education, we outsource to English Business schools in Bangkok and offer our managers the unique opportunity of studying the worldwide renowned INSEAD MBA graduate programme.  It is also important to ensure that all our staff receives adequate on the job training.

Lebua appears to take its F&B businesses very seriously – what is the notion behind the concept of a Restaurant before a Hotel?

Food and Beverage makes better investment.  Food and beverage dictates the economy.  When you arrive at any destination and visit a McDonald’s, you can judge the economy or standard of living of that destination by the cost of the “Big Mac”.
The lebua F&B businesses have been very successful. The Dome at lebua is Bangkok’s preeminent culinary destination, which includes Sirocco, the world's highest open air restaurant, Sky Bar.  We also has Breeze and Mezzaluna.
We know our trade.  We have studied our markets and know the most important things that can go wrong.  One must not fail to fully develop a compelling value proposition for their guests. Know whom you want and whom you do not: you cannot be all things to all people. A second major cause of failure is "cut and paste." No two locations are the same, no two managers are the same and no two clients are the same. A third common cause of failure is interior designers. This is a critically important part of any restaurant and getting the interior ambience wrong is deadly.
Create a successful restaurant and then follow it up with a complete luxury experience for the guest in a place to stay.

What would you say to any young person who wants to enter the industry?

Clear the difference, create a difference, appreciate that hospitality changes all the time and understand that service has no barriers; it is one hospitality, one world.
Above all, remember that hospitality means having an emotional connection with the consumer. 

Where do you see lebua in the future?

I am now focusing on expanding the lebua brand globally.  We are expanding our dining concepts to Europe through a strategic partnership with Steigenberger Hotel Group, starting with the 2015 launch of the Breeze restaurant in Frankfurt, Germany.
However, it is not all about Food and Drink with lebua.  For Deepak, luxury is about experience and rarity, not necessarily the “excess”.  It is not about a price tag. I believe that hospitality has an emotional connection with the consumer.  In this regard I want to ensure that lebua hotels connect emotionally with all its guests.  In my visionary future, check-in desks will be a thing of the past.  They will not be the first thing that greets a guest when they arrive at the hotel.  Guests will be greeted by a guest relations manager who will be subtly aware of all the guest’s needs and will fulfil them without the bother of a check-in desk.

How do you feel when you stay in other hotels?

There is something to learn from every property and I use the opportunity of staying elsewhere to see what I can improve in our hotels because everyone is doing very well.
When it comes to luxury brands’ value to the consumer, and their ultimate success, I think the key is staying humble. We all have a lot to learn and we should stay close to the customer so that we can learn properly. Things will inevitably go wrong but only true luxury brands will do what it takes to make it right.

Deepak join lebua as its first employee and created Bangkok’s best culinary destination – The Dome at lebua in 2004. The Dome houses a collection of stunningly beautiful restaurants & Bars such as Sirocco, Mezzaluna, Breeze, Distil and Sky Bar which are of international culinary acclaim and have won countless awards.
After the success of The Dome, Mr. Ohri rechristened the Meritus hotel as lebua, an all-suite luxury hotel in 2006. Then, he launched lebua Hotels and Resorts as a luxury hotel chain that includes exclusive properties in Thailand, an ultra-luxury lodge in New Zealand and India. He launched a new level of luxury hotel, Tower Club at lebua in 2008. The suites are located on the top floors (51st to 59th) featuring exclusive privileges; such as complimentary soft drinks and high speed Internet, Acca Kappa amenities as well as access to Tower Club Lounge. With Mr Ohri’s leadership, lebua & The Dome have won over 60 world awards.