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JW Marriott Kolkata turns five

The Telegraph chats with general manager Sumeet Suri on the journey and his plans for the property

Pramita Ghosh | Published 28.10.21, 12:14 AM
Sumeet Suri

Sumeet Suri

Pabitra Das

It’s been almost five years since Calcutta has showered love in abundance to JW Marriott Kolkata, on EM Bypass. Five years since the star property has hosted some of the most-talked about events in the city spreading across the food and beverage industry to nightlife and also dealt with a full-blown pandemic and a super-cyclone in the form of Amphan. Ahead of its fifth birthday next week, t2 chatted with Sumeet Suri, general manager JW Marriott Kolkata on the warm relationship with the city, future plans and more.

This being your first time in the city, how was your maiden Durga Puja experience?


I had heard about Durga Puja from people across the country and abroad. But this was the first time I was experiencing it. I think the sheer passion, love, emotion and culture of people from across any religion to come and enjoy those five days is something I have not seen anywhere in the world. I have heard people say that they wait the entire year for the Puja days but I could not understand until I experienced the festival.

In my complex we had a pandal where I saw the rituals happening and overall the creativity surrounding Durga Puja is mind-blowing. People went with all kinds of materials (for the pandal). What I loved about Durga Puja was the colour. Especially the ladies went all out with their saris and how the festival was not restricted to one section of people in the society. I heard the dhaak for the first time in the hotel, which was great.

Also from the business point of view we have earned the highest ever revenue since the time the hotel opened. Ashtami and Navami were the busiest days for us. Our special Mahabhoj was fabulous where different communities of Bengal came and listened to music and cultural performances. Our online delivery and our JW Bakery did very well. The other thing we noticed was that a lot of people were dining in-room and our room service revenues were exceptionally high. I feel private dining is 100 per cent a new trend. We did exceptionally well with Gold (the nightclub at the hotel) also. Footfall aside, I must mention that we did our best to ensure that guests wore their masks within the hotel premises.

You joined the hotel during a raging pandemic. How do you feel the scenario has changed in the last eight months?

When I came in, the business was slowly getting better and everyone was getting optimistic, like the way we are now. Nobody saw the second wave coming. So February and March were definitely good months for us. April, May were wedding seasons and our dates were packed and then unfortunately the second wave came with a vengeance. So financially, the hotel lost a lot of business. In this phase, many of our associates and guests got affected but we had our act together. We actually created a bio bubble within the hotel. By June when cases were going down, it was a rebound and business started coming back. And July was another wedding month and it was one of the best we have seen. We even saw people going for weddings on non-auspicious days.

As a hotelier, I was very happy that people were open to all kinds of dates. By August, September we saw people coming back. I think that was the time when our focus was to get the vaccination drive done. Marriott supported across the globe and we created a camp in the hotel for vaccination. Today we have over 90 per cent of the people vaccinated with first dose and it’s only a matter of time till all of us are fully vaccinated. This was the time when both our associates and our guests needed the confidence to build on the basis of each being vaccinated. I feel our hotel became a safer place, with our 281 spaced-out keys, large restaurants and banquets.

Is there any other trend you noticed besides increase in private dining?

Smaller events are happening, but guests want a big space. So that’s how July, August, September went and in October we had Durga Puja and Diwali coming up in November. For the wedding season we are sold out for the next three months till January-February. People have understood the instability of the virus. They have decided to stay where they are, call their guests to the hotel and create the hotel as their bubble. Earlier we noticed that people would book a few rooms and take the banquet hall but now they take about 80-100 rooms in bulk along with the banquet hall. Thus they all stay together under the same roof and conduct all their functions in the same hotel. I am optimistic about the future.

Tell us about your personal experience in Calcutta so far...

I have explored a lot of places in the city and I have felt the warmth and love of the people. They are very forthcoming. Calcutta is a great city.

JW Marriott Kolkata has completed five years in the city. What is your vision for the next five years?

JW Marriott Kolkata has definitely made a strong presence in the city and with the help of the ownership and loyal guests, the business we have received over the last few years has been fabulous. Now that business is increasing and coming back, we see that the business is going to be in a slightly different format. I cannot replicate what happened pre-Covid but I would like to focus on the food and beverage section. People in the city and from outside love to come here and eat. So this is one area where I would like to spend more of my time.

We recently launched the JW Bakery that has made a lot of noise in the city. We are looking at using our outdoor venues now with a lot of barbeques, beverages and some music. I have realised that if you add music, food and beverage it is a sure-shot success in Calcutta. We are also looking to relaunch Vintage Asia with a new menu and a focus on Japanese delicacies and more Asian dishes. We are going to adapt to the taste of the locals. I am going to add a lot of beverage elements that are going to come out very strong. We have also realised that there is a demand for private spaces, so we will use our al fresco spaces. So the idea is to create more private spaces for our guests as private dining is on the rise.

We want to retain the modern luxury experience but also include local aspects with respect to food, music, culture. I think this blend of old and new Calcutta is important. People are experimental here. They want to try new things. Yet they want to go back to their roots. So JW Marriott Kolkata has to look forward to new things but at the same time, stay rooted. My focus here is to have events and festivals with a soul of Bengal, which the city has not seen before.

Marriott is known for taking care of our people and I feel that is very powerful in itself. We are going to do talent retention where people have worked beyond their capacity but we have not been able to compensate them but now is the time to reward them. Anyone who was probably displaced, we are calling them now and asking them in case they want to come back. So today our business is booming and we need more people. So we are trying to get people who have worked for us in the past.

The other part is the loyalty program which is very powerful, covering more than 7,500 hotels. For example, we have a program called Earn Redeem Food and Beverage points. Basically you may not be staying in the hotel but even then you can come to the restaurant if you are a Marriott Bonvoy member. On showing your Marriott Bonvoy number, you can earn points while you are eating, which can be redeemed later. Then, we are coming up with gift cards like we are launching a JW Bakery gift card. Then a card where you can gift a room, gift a F&B experience.

Our focus is also on sustainability, which is a big topic but if I break it down into small parts, I think some of it would be going local. Jobs going to local vendors and artisans. So when guests are coming in to the hotel, they are looking at what is local — handicrafts, handlooms and more. Our idea is to have touches of Bengal. Lastly, in the next few months, we will be installing a water bottling plant inside the hotel and be doing away with any sort of plastic. I have realised anything that can be recycled should be used and anything which cannot be, should be discarded. And I have realised that acceptance from the guests have come as they are more aware of their surroundings.

Then we are opening the executive lounge for Marriott Bonvoy members. We will also launch a loyalty program exclusively for the lounge. So if you are not staying here or you are not a Marriott Bonvoy member, you can buy the card and have access to the place. We want to get our room guests enrolled to the Marriott Bonvoy program too, to try to generate more revenue. And we want the guests to book rooms via website or Marriott Bonvoy App and enjoy the benefits. I am also planning to do events in the future where Marriott Bonvoy members can redeem the points for any particular event.

We have opened a small salon, which completes the hotel. We want to focus on the wellness aspect, be it food or spa. And am also looking at a plant-based food menu at the coffee shop and making a botanical garden with more herbs that can be used in the kitchen, dishes through drinks.

Pegging on the number five, what would you say are the five strengths of JW Marriott Kolkata?

First, I would like to say people because they are the soul of the hotel and they have survived this period and they are standing strong.

Second, I would say is the food and beverage experience. Then our rooms, the size that they are and how beautifully they are put.

Fourth would be the Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program. Definitely brings an edge to us.

Finally, the weddings which is a huge part of our revenue.

I really want to thank the ownership for their constant support which is so critical, without that it would have been difficult to go through tough times. The support we got from Marriott, the area teams, regional teams and our headquarters in the US and from the ownership has been our biggest strength, that will help us go to the next level.

Last updated on 28.10.21, 12:14 AM

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