THE ALCHEMIST OF HOSPITALITY
CEO India|February 2020
Puneet Chhatwal, the CEO and MD of Tata Group’s hospitality arm Indian Hotels Company, talks about how his company is reimagining and repositioning some of its most renowned brands, raising the hospitality bar, with an eye on the evolving customer and emerging concepts and trends
PRIYANCA VAISHNAV

Through the '60s, Puneet Chhatwal spent his growing years admiring the inspiring edifices of the Indian Hotels Group rise on the Delhi skyline. For Chhatwal, therefore, assuming the position of CEO and MD of Indian Hotels Company Ltd (IHCL) seems to have been par for the course. It is not surprising that Chhatwal came to be selected for the position out of five external candidates and other Tata Group alumni and existing senior executives.

An alumnus of the Institute of Hotel Management, Delhi, an MBA in Hospitality from ESSEC, Paris, and an Advanced Management Programme from INSEAD later, Chhatwal went on to occupy positions of leadership at various European and North American hotel groups. He was Chief Development Officer of The Rezidor Hotel Group —Carlson Hotels Worldwide, and CEO and Member of the Executive Board of Steigenberger Hotels AG — Deutsche Hospitality, before being appointed to his current role.

After his last stint in a market like Germany, where professionalism and guest standards are exacting, what lured the HSMAI European Awards 2014 winner and the First Alumni to be included in the ESSEC-IMHI Hall of Honor 2014 back to his country of origin? Chhatwal’s cognisance of the brand, his humility and emotional connect to India is plain as day in his response. “The Tata Group is a renowned global conglomerate and a values-driven organisation. Right from when I started my career 36 years back, Indian Hotels was a prominent name in the industry in general and Taj has a very strong brand equity and customer connect in particular. It is an honour to be associated with such an iconic brand and India’s most trusted entity. It is also good to be closer to family.”

CAREER WITH A VIEW

Elected as President of the Hotel Association of India for the next two years starting January 2020, Chhatwal’s move has paid off in more ways than one. On his relentless path to profitability for IHCL, the company has already shown progress in scale with 22 new hotels signed in 2018-19, an infusion of funds for expansion, the creation of “SeleQtions” — a new brand that will replace the now-defunct “Gateway” — and the re-launch of “Ginger”, the budget hotel chain, as a “lean luxury brand” in December 2018. When a professional performs in leadership operations across highly-acclaimed hospitality brands as Chhatwal has, passion is hard to miss. He says, “This is an exciting industry that provides the platform to connect with so many wonderful people across the globe.

Having travelled the world and worked in different continents, the learning process has been enjoyable and the professional journey has been much more than a job. There is never a dull day and no two days are the same.”

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