Rahul Bhagat is the Director of Operations at Conrad Pune. He joined Conrad Pune in October 2015 as Assistant Director of Food and Beverage. In February 2017, he was promoted as the Director of food and beverage and was responsible for the overall functioning, marketing and revenues of the entire Food and Beverage division and leading a team of 107 team members. In June 2021, he was elevated as the Director of Operations based on his consistent track record.
With over 16 years of experience in the hospitality industry, Rahul joined Conrad Pune after almost a decade with the Hyatt Group across different hotels in India where he started as a Corporate Leadership Trainee in 2006. In his current profile, Bhagat is responsible for the seamless functioning of the entire hotel and employees in sync with the international Hilton brand standards while ensuring maximum client satisfaction. He also assists in the preparation and execution of the Annual Hotel Business Plan and the marketing strategies for the overall hotel. He is personally involved in the recruitment, training and motivation of the entire hotel team.
Having completed his B.Sc. in Hospitality & Hotel Administration from Institute of Hotel Management Catering Technology & Applied Nutrition, Mumbai (2003 – 2006), he was Awarded “Excellent in Performance during the Industrial Exposure Training’ at The Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, Mumbai. Under his leadership, Conrad Pune was awarded the Best Food and Beverage Department in the entire APAC Division for Hilton Hotels which has more than 450 hotels. Rahul enjoys keeping abreast with the developments in the international hotel scene and is passionate about catching up with the latest movies, video games as well as cricket.
What makes Conrad Pune stand out from other properties you’ve worked in?
There are two aspects that definitely stand out in a hotel from both guests and employee point of view, the hardware (as in the property, architecture, design, etc.) and then the software (the people who manage the hardware). I believe Conrad Pune excels on both these parameters for me as compared to my previous properties. Located in the heart of the central business district, the iconic Art Deco styled Conrad Pune is a treat for sore eyes where a lot of emphasis has been put on height, light and space in all its areas. The largest room size, iconic restaurants, state of the art ballroom, landscaping throughout the hotel truly makes Conrad Pune a luxury hotel of global repute. Coming to the employees, the number of awards that Conrad Pune continues to win since its inception shows how well the employees look after our guests. Our philosophy is simple, host the guests in the same manner, that you would host guests at home. This allows them to be expressive and go that extra mile to ensure maximum guest satisfaction. With stylish accommodation, exceptional dining outlets, well-designed and well-connected meetings & events facilities, Conrad Pune inspires a world of discovery and authentic experiences for our guests.
Who is your typical customer?
Corporates, leisure guests and families, celebrities, millennials and nouve riche. Our customer is a traveler who journeys with a purpose. Someone for whom business and pleasure seamlessly intersect. Our customers are smart, well connected and someone who look for intuitive service, infinite connections and a world of style. They expect innovative, unobtrusive and unexpected experiences. Since they are well traveled, they expect flawless and personalized service at all possible times.
If you could plan a one-day itinerary for guests looking to explore Pune in India, where would you send them?
Our concierge team prides itself in creating bespoke local experiences for our guests by offering itineraries varying between a 1 hour, 3 hour and 5 hour time-frame. These experiences have been crafted keeping in mind the interests: Food, Shopping, Art + Culture, Family, Wellness + Beauty, Active + Adventure. Ideally the day would start with a visit to the Aga Khan Palace, built in 1892 by Sultan Aga Khan III and is 5 kilometers away from the hotel. This graceful building was where Mahatma Gandhi and other prominent nationalist leaders were interned by the British following Gandhi’s Quit India campaign in 1942. Another historic sight of the city is Shaniwar Wada; a fortress palace of the Peshwa rulers built in 1732 and located at a distance of 4 kms. The Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum is the city’s true delight, housing a fraction of the 20,000 odd objects of Indian daily life such as hookah pipes, writing instruments, lamps, textiles, furniture, puppets, jewelry and musical instruments, collected by Dinkar Kelkar. With a flourishing shopping scene, the city has everything from the finest shopping malls and budget markets to elegant retailers. Mahatma Gandhi Road, named after the father of the nation, is a shopping destination for the more affluent shopper. Laxmi Road is a favorite with tourists for shopping local specialties and impulse purchases.
Building the right team is crucial for a property’s success. What are the key skills you look for when hiring new employees?
More than skills, we have been hiring talent with the right attitude. Our philosophy is that skill can be taught however attitude is inherent. A luxury mind set and experience are definitely advantageous. However the right attitude takes precedence here.
How important is it for a luxury hotel to have a solid gastronomic offering?
Absolutely important. A solid gastronomic offering has become one of the most important deciding factor for guests whether they travel for leisure or for business. It just adds so much of value to their travel plans as they get to enjoy the best cuisines, at their convenience and saves a lot of time in travel or in planning for our guests. In Conrad Pune we boast of 6 diverse award winning F&B destinations that are an absolute delight for our guests. Due to the consistency in the quality of our F&B offering, our Rooms to F&B revenue ratio is almost 50:50.
What is the one dish that guests have to try when at Conrad Pune?
- Being a multi-dimensional F&B establishment, it becomes difficult to highlight a single dish, hence I have taken the liberty to highlight the best of each of our space:
- Galouti Kebab and Nihari from Chef Qureshi & the Tandoori Raan from Chef Kamlesh at Zeera. Not to forget our Dal-e-Khass.
- The signature Koji chicken, Truffle Edamame Dim sum, the avocado and cream cheese sushi, to the black pepper NZ lamb chops at Koji
- Chocolate heaven at Pune Sugar Box
- Tomato burrata salad at Kabana
- Norwegian salmon steak at the Coriander Kitchen
- One should also not miss our delightful Filter Coffee Ice Cream served, wherever you want.
2020 was a challenging year for the hospitality industry. In your opinion, how will travel trends change in 2021?
The travel trends in 2021 will favor a lot of domestic leisure movement. Having spent a lot of time at home due to the various lockdowns, everyone would want to travel for an experience. Corporate movement will not happen until and unless absolutely necessary and international travel looks like starting only from Q2 2022. PSUs and Automobile industry will travel due to need arising on their sectors and for the new car launches that have lined up.
Was a career in hospitality something you always dreamt of? What is your advice to aspiring hoteliers?
I always wanted to become a doctor and became a hotelier by chance as one of my best friends pulled me into this. Having said that, I have enjoyed every single moment of my being a part of this industry and relish the challenges and opportunities that come along. It is a very rewarding industry where you get to create memorable experiences for the guests who in turn become lifelong friends. My advice to aspiring hoteliers would be that patience is a virtue and our industry will definitely bounce back from the current uncertainties as we are an inherent part of a lot of events in a human life. Keep your basics strong and with the right attitude, sky is the limit for success.
Which Indian cities are your favorites for: 1) food 2) history 3) fashion?
For food and history my favorite city would be hands down Delhi. Moreover as my in-laws are from Delhi so visiting Delhi is all the more fun. You just can’t get enough of Delhi as there is always so much to explore… Fashion has to be Mumbai, I have lived in Mumbai for almost a decade, a big part of my extended family resides in Mumbai and you just cannot beat Mumbai for the sense of fashion it has and also the class that it exudes.
What are some of the new measures your team has put into place to deal with the post-COVID-19 situation?
- Conrad Pune under the flagship of Hilton Hotels have implemented CleanStay™ and Hilton EventReady with CleanStay. This industry-leading program impacts every aspect of the hotel experience and reinforces our commitment to the well-being of our Guests and Team Members. As a guest, you can expect the following CleanStay measures during the stay:
- Pre-Arrival Messaging about the new features
- Contact less and Enhanced Check-in and check-out
- Lobby seating, Signage & enhanced cleaning using leading disinfectant solutions from Johnson Diversey
- Enhanced elevator cleaning and sanitation stations at regular intervals
- All Guest rooms are sealed using the CleanStay seals
- Deep Cleaned rooms that are disinfected using Ozone
- Fitness Centre with social distancing disinfected using UV lights
- Food & Beverage with proper social distancing and services made contact less using QR codes or grab and go
- Hotel Shuttle with disinfectant wipes to maintain hot spot disinfection and cleaning
- All fruits, vegetables, eggs, meats and seafood are disinfected using ozone in our receiving areas.
How has the pandemic affected the food and beverage industry in India?
I think the pandemic has taken away the volume business from the F&B industry in India. Due to the disruption in travel and office occupancies, the production from the corporate sector has dropped by 85%. Also due to government guidelines you can only use 50% capacity of the outlets. Drop in occupancy to almost 20% has resulted in in-house utilization dropping by 80%. Nonresident footfalls are now seeing an upward trend, however it is mostly driven on weekends and not on weekdays. Again there are time restrictions hence one cannot maximize on footfalls. Hence we have only been able to reach to 45% of overall revenues. Similarly, events has been majorly impacted as there are almost no corporate events happening due to the travel restrictions within the companies. Social events are allowed for a maximum of 100 guests which is a very low number as per the general numbers seen in events in India. However, since guidelines are different in different states, hence destination weddings have become immensely popular. There is a pent up demand for weddings, which would definitely see an execution as and when the government guidelines are relaxed.