Stefan Radstrom, General Manager, Grand Hyatt-Goa, believes hospitality comes naturally to Indians. He has worked in the hotel industry in several Eastern European countries, then in the Middle East before moving to India to become General Manager at Grand Hyatt in Goa. He shares with The Smart CEO his impressions about the hospitality industry in India, his management style and a typical day at work at the Grand Hyatt-Goa
S. PREM KUMAR
Can you tell us about your experience before coming to India?
I am originally Swedish but consider myself a global citizen. Before coming to India, I have worked in Russia, Poland, Norway, Hungary and Qatar. I love sunshine and wanted to work in the Middle East. I have been in India now for three years. This is my first time here, and it was not even part of my plans. You know, people tend to have preconceived notions and the impression I had was India was poor with lots of slums. But on coming here, I realise how colourful, warm and hospitable the country is.
So did you find adjusting here difficult?
I always go with an open mind. Every destination is what you make out of it. A place could be great, but you may still feel otherwise and the reverse. So it depends on how you accept the place. I am very blessed to be in Goa. Qatar Airways has a direct flight to Goa so I didn’t even transit through any other Indian city. When I travel around now, I realise Goa is not a very typical representative of India.
Have you travelled across the country?
Mostly only on work. In the hospitality industry, you don’t get to take off much. When it is a holiday for others, you end up working more. But I said enough is enough and travelled to Agra. It never is a good time to travel.
How do you rate the Indian hospitality industry?
I rate India very high, even higher than Europe or Middle East, in hospitality. It is in the blood of the people. They like serving others and making people happy. If you take Eastern Europe, for instance, it is not in their blood. They don’t smile – why should you. When I was in Qatar I worked with people from 47 nationalities and observed the differences in the various cultures. In Middle East, everyone is a foreigner. In India, that is not the case so I stand out. It’s an advantage since the Indians are very proud of their culture and want to show you the best. They make me feel very welcome and respected. Retaining it depends on how we reciprocate.
As part of Hyatt, what do you expect from your people?
We don’t want any subservience. From bell boy to general manager, I want everyone to be without any formalities or hierarchy. I am very hands-on. If I see a cigarette butt on the floor, I pick it up and throw it in the dustbin. If I can do it, so can others. Serving guests is our responsibility and we should do all that it requires to keep them happy.
Goa is a tourist hub with several hotels and resorts. How do you expect to establish the Hyatt brand here?
Competition is healthy; it keeps you on your toes. If there is no competition, then you can fail easily. When a new property comes in, there is a lot of expectation and comparison with existing properties. Our property is different from the rest when it comes to inventory and banquet facilities. We are the first to have facilities to conduct large international events in Goa and have captured the market. Goa is a popular destination, and being able to conduct large events works in our favour. But with this, occupancy in other hotels has also gone up since we cannot cater to all the demands for rooms.
Have you been able to find the right talent?
Surprisingly, for a country with such a large population, there is a shortage of good people. Finding educated staff is a challenge. We employ 700 people, and finding and retaining them is not easy. If you have less than 40 percent attrition in this industry, that is considered good. We lose people to cruise lines mostly. So it is important to keep people happy because money is not the only reason they will stay back. Work atmosphere is very critical and we work as a large happy family. We do not believe in managing by fear, as that kills happiness, but through interactions and by taking care of them. This is across Hyatt properties, and of course, we also focus in giving our people growth opportunities.
Hyatt is a big brand. Did you find that an impediment in attracting visitors?
There are many good hotels around, so you cannot afford to put your nose up in the air. Hyatt can be an intimidating name, so it is important to be friendly. First step is to make sure the staff does not get carried away with the brand name. To the guests – and even the local people who visit our restaurants – it is important to be warm and down to earth. Our hotel is inspired by a 400 year old house – the only one remaining from the Portuguese era. This drew a lot of interested crowd, intrigued by our architecture. It has acted as a great pull factor for the Goa people who are proud of their heritage.
What is your typical day like?
I spend a lot of time in operations – meeting people, touring the property, getting feedback from the guests. Since this is a resort, people stay for long periods sometimes and are relaxed. So it is important to be visible. Then I oversee events, make sure everything is running smoothly, and welcome VIPs.
Hotel is a lifestyle, not a job. There is always something to do. So it is important to be disciplined and give time for your personal life as well. My fiancée is with me, and we enjoy going to the beach with our friends. A sunset in the beach is all one needs to unwind. When I am off, I don’t do too many things as my work days are packed.
What do you love about India?
It is difficult to pinpoint any one thing. The colours, richness, the climate, the destination and the hotel – which is my baby. It is difficult to start a new hotel, but the rewards of seeing it running smoothly is rich. It gives one a feeling of achievement.
What are some of the challenges and growth opportunities? What is your vision?
There are always some challenges. Operations in Goa can be difficult as supplies come from other metros. So we need to plan well. Recruitment is another challenge. We never have 100 percent workforce from Goa and bring in people from outside. They have to acclimatise to this place.
As for opportunities, a major part of our guests are from India and they know our brand very well. India is big and our focus is on expanding the market here.
Goa in itself is beautiful, but infrastructure and hygiene can be better. Also, it takes a long time to take decisions. We are off to a good start and we are young. This was recognised as one of the best new hotels internationally. But we must not let it get to the head. Take care of the present and the future will take care of itself. I can say, there is never a dull moment.