A hotelier’s guide to successful dreaming
An eye-catching poster outside the Chairman’s office at Aitken Spence Hotels reads: “The key to happiness is having dreams; the key to success is making dreams come true.”
So, how does Aitken Spence Hotel Managements (ASHM) intend to make the ‘third dimension’ dream come true? The Sunday Times FT recently spoke to Anil Udawatte, Director – Sales and Marketing, to find out. Explaining the background, Udawatte said, “Our Director, Gemunu Goonewardene, came up with the health dimension concept and we sounded out the head chefs, who found it exciting.”
Wouldn’t a concerted, Tourist Board-backed effort have had the potential for greater success? “As a commercial organization,” explains Udawatte, “we have to be commercially responsible. If everyone had been involved, things would not have been as smooth as just one company taking the decisions. ASHM now has the first-mover advantage. We will make a start and we would like everyone to get onto the bandwagon.”
ASHM has 10 properties in Sri Lanka, of which Kandalama and Ahungalla are Heritance brand properties. The company has five properties in the Maldives. Last month, it also opened two in India - a 68-room hotel in Trivandrum and an 18-room boutique property in the Andaman Islands.
Speaking of the target audience, Udawatte says, “We are initially targeting Sri Lankans and will gradually take the promotion across the world.” At the Heritance properties, 75% of the guests are foreigners, and 25% are locals. However, the company is focusing on the domestic clientele first “because it typically takes longer for foreigners to get accustomed to our cuisine.”
“Over the coming month,” says Udawatte, “we will implement a special buffet corner with indigenous cuisine, in addition to the existing buffet. This will be kicked off at our Heritance properties”, where occupancy is currently at sub-40% levels and rooms are available at Rs 8500 (approx US$ 77) per day.
Upmarket, widely-travelled tourists from the West look for authentic experiences when visiting countries on holiday. Their palate adjusts to cuisines from Thailand, Vietnam and India. However, Sri Lanka is not attracting these top-end customers at the moment. “What we do get are low-end tourists who prefer cornflakes, butter and jam, cheese and cold meats. We are basically serving Western food to Westerners,” says Udawatte. “On the contrary, Indians promote their food well. There, 75% of the buffet is Indian, with very little cold meats and salads.”
Talking of the ‘third dimension’ promotion, Udawatte says, “Most people in Colombo do not know how to prepare authentic Sri Lankan cuisine, what spices and ingredients to use and what benefits can be derived.” The promotion will be backed by in-room publicity on TV channels, with menu cards detailing the health benefits. Over time, ASHM will also advertise this USP with ‘healthy weekend’ packages.
“You have two options,” Udawatte concludes, “Either you can eat or you can dine. Eating can be done anytime, anywhere, even on the wayside. But fine dining will never go out of fashion.”