OF THEIR OWN ACCORD
Hotelier India|January 2021
Pivoting from traditional business plans, Puneet Dhawan and Kerrie Hannaford adopted a flexible approach allowing Accor to be in sync with changing guest choices and government policies
VINITA BHATIA
For as long as he can remember, Puneet Dhawan nursed a desire to join the hospitality business. This was stoked by a zeal to travel, an eagerness to experience new adventures and explore the world.

After completing his education in César Ritz Colleges Switzerland and University of Massachusetts Amherst, he dived straight in the industry as an F&B management trainee in Philippines' Mandarin Oriental. But his career-defining movement occurred when he joined Accor in 1998 as F&B Director of Novotel Century Hong Kong. He has been with the European hotel chain since then, managing key positions in Singapore, Vietnam, Australia, the UAE and India.

When Jean-Michel Cassé retired as Accor’s COO for India and South Asia, Dhawan succeeded him as Senior VP-Operations, India and South Asia. There was just one hiccup in what should have otherwise been a smooth transition – the country was in lockdown phase, which had hit the hospitality industry really hard. It was hardly the expected reception while taking the helm.

However, to tackle this challenge head on, Dhawan got busy building a resilient communication strategy with guests, owners, partners and teams. “After landing in India, my priority was to meet all owners to understand their evolving needs, as well as hotel teams across locations to formulate a recovery plan in detail and assist hotels in their reopening and sustainability approach. During this time, I visited majority of our 52 hotels in India, ensuring the teams of their wellbeing and safety,” he recalled.

Dhawan was ably supported by Kerrie Hannaford, VP-Commercial, Accor India and South Asia in the company’s endeavours to stay agile by keeping an eye on changing trends and swiftly working with the teams to deliver top-notch services to guests. “In terms of planning, we pivoted from the usual short and long-term plans to take a more flexible approach by concentrating on our ALLSAFE protocols and messaging. We are looking at everything quarter by quarter to stay aligned with changing guest preferences, government restrictions and travel policies,” she stated. While the future is still uncertain, she is cautiously optimistic about 2021.

LEADING WITH COMPASSION

When he took charge of operations in August 2020, the hospitality industry had hit the pause button. Despite being Europe's biggest hotel group, Accor announced plans to cut 1,000 jobs as part of a ¤200 million annual cost saving plan to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus crisis. “It is difficult to implement cost saving measures in our industry without it having an effect on staff,” CFO, Jean-Jacques Morin stated, while making this announcement.

Nonetheless, the hotel chain decided to do things with compassion and launched the ‘ALL Heartist’, a ¤70 million COVID-19 special purpose vehicle to assist employees. “As of December, more than INR 7.5 crore has been distributed to 2,500 employees in India who were affected by the pandemic,” Dhawan revealed.

With trust becoming the new currency in business, the company did its best to regain guest confidence. It channelised its resources to ensure high standards of safety and hygiene across properties. This resulted in the Accor’s ALLSAFE cleanliness and prevention standards, which it launched in association with Bureau Veritas.

At the same time, Dhawan believed that the show must go on when it came to brand expansion, COVID-19 or not. Accor, which has been operating in India for 15 years, has a network of 52 hotels across 23 gateway cities in India and South Asia with close to 10,000 keys.

To keep the juggernaut rolling, it announced Novotel in Chandigarh amongst other openings. “As a leading international operator in the country, we continue to grow our network with our owner partners on the back of a strong development pipeline. We look forward to launching the iconic Raffles in India at Udaipur and Jaipur in 2021 and 2022, respectively,” Dhawan announced.

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