• Anemona Knut

INTERVIEW - MPS Puri talks about hotels, our guests and our future

MPS Puri – CEO of Nira Hospitality Limited - owner and founder of Nira Hotels and Resorts, a hospitality mastermind with more than 40 years in the operation. A graduate of Cornell University and Punjab Universtiy, he was working in top managerial positions with many iconic brands such as Raffles Singapore, Peninsula Hong Kong, Halekulani in Hawaii, Fairmont Chicago to name but a few.

Thinking of issues with younger generations and their influence on hospitality today I had no second thoughts on who to interview. I sent an e-mail to Puri and we met for a late breakfast in one of Mayfair’s hotels. The staff all treated him more as a friend than a guest, just as I always have. He arrived, sat at the table, quite at home, his usual sencha in a cast iron pot placed in front of him in the blink of an eye, and we started our conversation just as we have done many times before. I wanted to ask him so many questions about the matters we have published over the past month on our blog. How to prepare for the younger generations of customers and guests? Should we implement every drastic change in our  dining philosophies right now, as pressure grows, or do we need to change the way we perceive employees? However, we started talking about houses in London, but then we turned naturally to the state of the world today predictions for tomorrow. My interview changed into a thought-provoking discussion on an inspiring, intriguing and hopeful vision of how the younger generations are going to change the world we live in, how they are going to travel and what they are going to eat.  AK: Looking at all the reports and stats, seeing how different Millennials and Generation Z are in their habits and in the way they see the world, do you think the hospitality, and especially the luxury sector, needs to step up their game in trying to exceed expectations? Puri: Hospitality is ever evolving. There is no one way hospitality can be defined. There is only one part of our business that remains static and will never change, and that is the hospitable heart in all we do. It is the art of being a host, and the host always does everything to make his/her guests feel at home. I have no doubt that whatever will come about, we will adapt. Our business is lifestyle. We mirror it and we shape it too. One thing I fear, though, is the younger generation’s understanding of being a host. I worry they might not know how to receive and care for their guests.  AK: So what can we do to inspire them to become good hosts?  Puri: We should raise hospitality veterans into icons. The generations of the greatest hoteliers,  the founders of the most iconic brands are getting very old now and no one seems to want to use their experience and knowledge. We should gather the voices of people like Horst Schulze of Ritz-Carlton, Isadore Sharp of Four Seasons, Sol Kerzner of One&Only, Adrian Zecha of Regent Hotels and Aman. They hold the key to a full understanding of what makes a true iconic brand, one which will leave a mark in culture and history. I would give a lot to be able to dive into their minds, to find out what was driving them and how they came up with those groundbreaking ideas that shaped the world of hospitality today. Now the brands became are commodities, and that’s sad. Where do we draw a line between creating a real brand and a commodity? Maybe by bringing the truely inspirational characters back, so the young generations will be able to see beyond the maximisation of capital-centred strategies and will soak up the true spirit of being a host.  AK: Looking at the younger generations, it seems they are a bit more open to different experiences than their predecessors. Therefore they might not be this reliant on the uber luxurious brands. Would you agree with that? Will there still be place for the most extravagant and exclusive hotels in future? Puri: Let’s not forget that all that goes around comes aroundsometime. Today’s fashion will become tomorrow’s nostalgia, which will return the day after tomorrow as fashion again. I have no doubt the timeless classic will have a come back as a part of the cycle.  TODAY’S FASHION -> TOMORROW’S NOSTALIGA -> DAY AFTER TOMORROW’S FASHION Puri: Luxuries in life - let’s define what the luxuries really are. Today they are time and space. Naturally there will be a lot of demand for those utilising it in best possible way. However, the experience will need to be shaped in a different way. As you mentioned, the experience is what intrigues young people the most, the experience is what they crave. Look at Air BnB, the core concept behind the start up was to enable people to have a unique experience. The idea was to live with locals, eat like locals, to establish a relationship with a host. Young people want to be at home everywhere, they don’t want to be tourists. But we need to beware of not falling into the same trap as we did with hotel brands and not to commoditise the experiences. We already see some examples of scaling brands for increased revenue by expanding the offer in order to create experience - look at new hospitality players such as Nobu or Brew Dog. So experience, in a way overcomes quality in some cases, but what stays the same is the service. I believe the young will still want service. AK: But doesn’t service need to become more indirect? Nowadays luxury hotels and restaurants are still featuring a good looking, happy staff that is  required to call you by name, escort you wherever you go, inquire all about your plans and habits. Despite them all being trained not to be intrusive, the young might find it too much. Puri: Absolutely, but they will still need the service. They will still expect their favourite tooth paste to be set up in their bathrooms, they will want the room to be ready when they arrive, they will want the amenities to be personalised and their current needs to be satisfied. So they do need visualisation and information. Less human interaction doesn’t mean less service. Service will be defined by limited contact with other people but with elevated personalisation. AK: Let’s go in a slightly different direction now, what’s going to change in the way we eat? What does the future hold for restaurateurs? Looking at the state of our planet today we get a clear message our eating habits need to change. Puri: Of course, but it is one thing talking about sustainability, another putting it into practice. The young love talking about the importance of change, but they are not ready to put effort into it, and today, let’s be honest, good food requires effort. Young people still just expect things to be delivered to them, they want to read different things on the labels, but they don’t yet have the time to spare on making sure the ethics are there. I truly hope and believe this will soon change. We know future generations will have more time. They will still have jobs but will not be required to work as much. All the robotics, AI technologies, working from home, this will give people time to think and to go back to their roots. The cities will change their primary roles. Look how high streets are changing, there are less and less shops. There is no need for them with all the globalised internet shopping. There isn’t that much office spaces anymore either – an increasing number of work from home models, hot-desking practices, even banks are letting off entire buildings in the centres of the cities.  AK: This is so true! Look at what’s happening with Paris. The population of the city is going down.  Puri: Cities will start loosing the local communities that create culture, these communities will move out. Young people will be either modern nomads, with no fixed addresses, constantly travelling and living on the move, or they will choose the tranquility of smaller towns. This will have a great impact on food. We already know we need to move away from the industrialisation of food sector and go back to what real food is, and this will only happen if we come to understanding of what food is for, and why do we eat, how do we eat and what do we eat. We need food for nourishment. Food is to satisfy nutritional needs, which are subservient to emotions and intellect. The word restaurant comes from ‘restore’, the first meal in the first ever restaurant (which was in Paris) was a plate of soup. In order for food to fulfil its role it needs to be pure. Food that is dead and full of wrong things cannot nourish you. With good diet people are healthy, their minds and their bodies are healthy, and people look good. How often do we ask ourselves why do we eat? Why are there food offerings in every single religion? Do we understand what food really is?  I see this issue on three different levels - everyday eating habits, habits around alcohol and general wellness. All these levels are currently shifting. If you go back you will see farmers with pure eating habits. Even not that far back, in the 60’s food was still natural. But the consumption of alcohol was higher, and there was not much emphasis on wellness.Now, with the world being richer than ever before, with people being connected on a scale unimaginable half a century ago, younger generations have not only an economic ability to focus on wellness but a general interest in conscious decisions. AK: This is a very positive outlook, such a rare thing today, when all we read is predictions of catastrophy. Taking these positive thoughts forward, how will hotels and restaurants change? Puri: Let’s make a few assumptions - the world has never been richer; the young person is a global citizen that travels  and they are informed with good basic research. They live in hotels where they don’t need to check in or check out. They want to blend in with local environments, they don’t want to travel as tourists, they want to live the life that goes on where they stay. They want a holistic, nourishing food that would also inform them about culture and respect for season and region. Wellness is playing a big role. Hotels and restaurants will be free to go back to being authentic and not trying to please everyone. There will be no longer strawberries served in a Canadian chalet in January, or green asparagus in Seychelles. We will go back to serving what we have best without a pressure to have the whole world in one menu.  AK: Luxury brands have never been as successful as they are now, are they going to be still as relevant?  Puri: Absolutely! Fashion brands are much more forward thinking then we are. Louis Vuitton - they changed the designs to meet the expectations of the younger generations. Psychologically - what is going to be status quo in the future? Not cars - these will be more like shared self driving taxi pods. Not owning a home as people will be moving frequently. What is going to create status within a group?  We are on a great course in eradicating poverty, hunger and diseases but neople will still spend their money on fashion and clothing. We might consume better and but consume less. I believe the rich guys will do better. AK: But are they ready to give out a piece of their cake for the benefit of us all? Puri: On a larger scale, yes. Wealth will be distributed differently as economies shrink. There is quite a lot of data proving they are shrinking already in fact. Populations will shrink naturally as well, most recent UN reports say the global population will reach its top at around 8bn and then it will start going down. Already a lot of economical growth is false growth. There are not that many new products, ‘Merge and Aquire’ is going crazy nowadays. It costs a lot and is not always successful. Look at Marriott&Starwood - in order to pay for Starwood they needed to save 250m p.a. This money needed to come from within, this is not growth. Data shows 87% of mergers and acquisitions fail - integration of cultures fails them, integration of people: this doesn’t work. Look at how much economies spend on RAD (Rapid Application Development) - 100 billion yearly, this money is not going towards growth. How much money go into new businesses that fail? Another sign economies are downscaling - innovation and growth aren’t as prominent as they used to be. We are not creating anything new anymore. But we still need to sustain society. There still will be plenty of jobs. Robots can not grow food, and we need people to design, control and manage systems.  AK: So the best business opportunity for today is... MPS: Something that promotes health and nourishment, is experiential, authentic and original.

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