In an exclusive interview with Restaurant India, Dietmar Kielnhofer, General Manager, JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar talks about his journey in the field of hospitality.
What made you choose hospitality as your career?
The constant customer interaction and the fact that every day is different; there is no monotony in our industry. Every day can be as rewarding and gratifying as one wants it to be. For a person who thrives on challenges and seeks opportunities there is no better place than the hospitality sector.
Under your leadership Starwood was rewarded as the best hotel in 2016.So, what are your plans to take JW Marriott to the next height?
The JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar is an incredibly beautiful hotel and well positioned in the market. Our owners have left no leaf unturned in making our hotel a compelling and excellent product. My objective is to build on the past successes and make it even better - in terms of commercial success, brand positioning as well as guest satisfaction. And naturally to make it a great place to work for our associates to grow their careers where they can find job satisfaction and reach their earning potential. The challenge with a good performing hotel is always how to make it better, identify the next trend, break with conventional wisdom and stereotypes and impress stakeholders.
You have almost 30 years of experience in the industry across Europe, Africa, and the Middle East & Asia. How do you see India at par with global standards and food trends?
Indian food has the ability to effortlessly compete with the finest cuisines and the latest F&B trends in the world. The quality of five star hotels in India (from a product/hardware standpoint), is as good as in any other part of the world. From a service delivery standpoint, India surpasses most European and American countries hands down. When it comes to food trends, in particular food from the North-West frontier area, Mughal cuisines, and naturally the famous curries and Biryanis from the south of the Indian subcontinent, India has the finesse and sophistication to compete at a global level. The versatility, complexity and creativity involved in cooking good Indian food is definitely at par with food from other parts of the world.
You are keenly involved in hotel operations, marketing, food & beverage, human resources and finance. Which aspect of the hotel businesses you find is more interesting?
Digital and social media marketing seems to be engulfing our industry 24/7. Consumers get bombarded with news 365 days a year. It became an art for marketing executives to distill that noise and determine what is important and relevant. In a globalized, totally interconnected economy, the job of a General Manager is to consistently monitor consumer behavior and provide a high level of personalized service; technology provides me with that opportunity. The dynamism of electronic media and rapid changes in technology fascinate me. We moved light years over the past two decades as far as communication networks, distribution platforms and technology is concerned – all in benefit for the customers.
Food Beverage is naturally an equally exciting subject. As consumers becomes more affluent and knowledgeable they begin to gain a better understanding of food cultures as well, they become more daring and advantageous in trying different things. This evolutionary process benefits all parties, chefs, who can dare to be different and experiment and consumer who have wider choice of food available.
India is at peak of growing food culture. What are some of the trends you would like to introduce at Marriott?
I don’t think India is at its peak as far as food culture is concerned; what we see is just the beginning of an evolutionary process that will take many more years to realize its full potential. We haven't even scratched the surface yet. I am always amazed of the talent and passion I have encountered in India from chefs, they can easily compete with the best in the world - the level of innovation and “out of the box” thinking is phenomenal.
Talk to us about your journey in the world of food and hospitality?
Food always played a vital part in my life. I was always fascinated by different species, herbs and the complexities of making sauces and bring it all together in a harmonious tasteful dish. Curries are a classical example of that complexity that blends spices into an artistic dish. As I started my journey in the hospitality industry as a Chef, I started believing that Chefs should be held in the same esteem as any other artist (and not necessary for the showmanship but simply for their creativity and boldness). Food defines our culture, who we are and where we belong. In the last three decades I learnt that the success of a hotel depends largely on the quality of its food and beverage it provides to its customers. Soon I saw myself cross training with different departments and saw myself gaining a strong understanding of all of the hotel’s operations. Before I knew it, I saw myself wishing to learn more about the business aspect of a hotel, its revenue strategies, cost control mechanisms and how to successfully market your brand in an increasingly competitive environment. There was no looking back from then. My first encounter with India was in 2001. I was amazed at the diversity in cultures, cuisines, values and traditions. India, the land of wonder, has not stopped amazing me even today!
How do see the competition in the market?
Competition will only intensify; it would be wishful thinking that competition will disappear. Competition is healthy as it forces hotel companies to innovate consistently to remain relevant – and as a brand this is what you want. Likewise, competition is good for the end consumer as it provides more choices which in return forces hotel operators to be on their toes.
Can we expect you of opening a restaurant of your own as you have got so much experience?
Well, stay tuned, I won’t let the cat out of the bag! J