In an exclusive to Restaurant India, Ashish Vohra, Founder & CEO, jUSTA Hotels & Resorts talks about creating a budget hotel.
How has been your journey till now? How did food happen to you?
This journey is a wonderful dream that we have lived and I cherish every single moment of it. What started out as a single serviced apartment way back in 2005 has now grown into a company that consists of fifteen hotels and more than four hundred members and still growing. Initially, our business approach tilted more towards the lodging aspect as we were good at it and did well too. The focus on food started around 2012 when we forayed into leisure segment by expanding in Rajasthan, Goa and a MICE venue in Delhi and realized that there was an opportunity to offer something unique and niche. We built on that and the results have been quite encouraging. We have now recently launched a one of its kind restaurant in our new hotel in juSTa Sajjangarh Udaipur and Chennai’s best lounge bar, the Wire Room at Design Hotel in Phoenix Market City.
From being a Regional Director, Director of Marketing and Brand Development to the Founder and CEO of juSTa Hotels and Resorts, what transformation have you witnessed in yourself and the market?
This transformation to becoming an entrepreneur has been exceptional to say the least. My enriching experience at The Oberoi Hotels was a solid foundation that geared me for this exciting and at times, unpredictable journey. The learnings have been immense since our inception going through many challenges that we came from the markets and business downturns, establishing ourselves and building the brand where my team members have been behind me all the time in doing so.
How is your experience contributing towards running juSTa Hotels and Resorts successfully?
juSTa, as a company has evolved organically and we have learned as we grew. We soaked in the challenges that we experienced such as the economic slowdown during the 2008 to 2011 period, the pressure from the unstructured market, the aggressiveness of the other established brands in our segment as well as the onslaught of the aggregators and online portals. We became innovative in our approach to the business and overcome the challenges. And at the same time ensured that we retained our guests and clientele through enhanced and customized service solutions - this has been and is the DNA that drives all members of our organization.
What kind of changes this company has witnessed over the course of time?
I can proudly state that now we are an established mid-sized hospitality company. When we set out in the beginning, we had no idea that we would be where we are today. We have witnessed and at the same time been flexible enough to adopt many changes in the market, the conditions that affected our business and technology too being positively disruptive in the way our industry functions. We are a young and forward thinking company that has carved out a niche for itself and looking to steadily grow as we progress.
How are you promoting art and young artists for which you are so much passionate?
Art is a personal passion of my wife and mine which we have successfully introduced in our hotels to complement them. A few years ago, I was able to initiate a ‘Chitrashaala’, a weeklong Art Residency held annually at any of our venues where we host talented young and budding artists from all over the country to mingle with established artists from around the world from countries such as Spain, Turkey, Egypt, Iran, Africa, Americas, South East Asia and Europe. During this program, all the artists are also introduced to local artists where they get to experience our culture, heritage and get inspired. Along with my wife, I am personally involved to oversee that we enhance the experience of the Artists and add value to what they add. I believe that everything comes to life through art.
How are you balancing the guest recognition and the service delivery factor which sets you apart from the other companies in the market?
Our guests and service to our guests is the single focal point on which our complete DNA revolves. As an organization, we have empowered our team members to take decisions that affect a positive guest experience at all times. Our USP has been being flexible and customize our services to meet the needs of the guests. Unlike the other hotels, a guest in our hotels isn’t looked upon a room number or a rate tag. We believe that every guest has a unique identity and their expectations are varied and hence we work towards meeting those expectations.
How has been the response in Chennai?
We were quite optimistic yet nervous when we set out in Chennai. Now that we have been in that market for some time, we are overwhelmed with the response received from the locals. The Chennai audience did take a time to take a liking to our hotels but the numbers grew not just for our hotel in Chennai but now steadily flowing to other hotels in our chain. Their confidence in us is encouraging and we are sure that it’ll only grow.
What are your future plans?
In last few years, we have established ourselves well, especially in Rajasthan where we launched juSTa Sajjangarh in Udaipur and more recently expanded our Chennai operations with the city’s best lounge bar and Kitchen called Wire Room which is located in the bussing Phoenix City Mall. As part of expansions, in the next few months we will be announcing the launch of a property in Jaipur and another in Delhi. There are some more projects in the pipeline and will be announced in due course. Our vision is to grow in the markets of Mumbai and more cities in the south and east as well by way of managing hotels and there is a huge opportunity we see in the country.