Faletti’s is the oldest colonial period hotel in the historic city of Lahore. When it started operating in 1880 it was the finest the city had ever seen. The ‘Civil & Military Gazette’ newspaper of 1887 in an advertisement claimed that it was fit for “a maharajah”. Today it remains among the very best, with more tradition, history and class than any of its modern competitors.
We talk to Faletti’s Director Operations, Irshad B. Anjum – a veteran of the hospitality industry about the future and challenges facing the hotel industry in Pakistan.
Safety and Security Today (S&ST): Please dilate upon your early career and growth in this industry?
Irshad B. Anjum: I started my career as a young trainee in the early 1970s with the Intercontinental Hotel in Lahore. A few years later in 1975, I moved to the United Arab Emirates and worked at the Carlton Hotel, Sharjah. The next step in my career was a move to West Germany, during my early days in Germany I studied at the Hotelfachschule, Heidelberg and used to do the dishes in the evening to make both ends meet.
After spending three and a half years in West Germany, I found myself on the move again in 1979 as I travelled across the Atlantic to fulfill my dream of studying in the United States. In the United States, I enrolled at the Holiday Inn University Memphis and did a course in Food and Beverage. During my stay in the U.S., I also worked at the Holiday Inn Los Angeles LAX as the Director of Food and Beverage. I was declared the Food and Beverage Director of the Year in California in 1985. Then in 1988, after over a decade in foreign lands, I returned to my motherland and took the position of Director Food and Beverage at Pearl Continental Hotel, Karachi.
From Karachi I moved to Pearl Continental, Lahore, the move had immense sentimental value for me as it was at the latter place that I started my career as a trainee and in under two decades, I was back at the same place as the Assistant General Manager. After that I moved to Pearl Continental, Bhurban as the General Manager, the hotel had become almost impossible to manage as the property had seen four different General Managers in eight months. However, with the Grace of God Almighty, I turned things around at the hotel in no time. I was so successful that during my five and a half years stay at the hotel I was declared as the General Manager of the Year twice which gave immense satisfaction to me.
In the following years, I held the position of General Manager at Pearl Continental, Karachi and then at Pearl Continental, Lahore, I was the first Pakistani General Manager at the property. All General Manager’s before my appointment were foreigners. I then went on to work in London, Dubai and finally at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul. Fast forward to 2014, I joined the Faletti’s Hotel, Lahore as the Director Operations.
S&ST: How has your experience of working at Faletti’s been?
Faletti’s Lahore has immense historical significance. It is a 150 years old property where giants of subcontinent’s history from Jawaharlal Nehru, Lord Louis Mountbatten, India’s last viceroy, Allama Muhammad Iqbal to Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan and Pakistan’s first Governor-General used to stay. I feel privileged to work at such a prestigious hotel. What has made my experience even better is the excellent team I am leading.
S&ST: Hospitality management and hoteling revolve around customer satisfaction; how do you ensure this?
What I am going to say may surprise you, I think maintaining clients and customer satisfaction is rather straightforward. All you need to do is keep your staff happy, happy members of staff will, in turn, keep the customers happy and when the customers are happy you will always be their first choice. Other than that, you obviously have to provide customers the quality service, good food, and a comfortable environment. The two factors also rely on how well your staff is trained, and we take staff training very seriously. Moreover, we ensure that every single appointment is on merit. Another important aspect in this regard is customer feedback, only loyal customers will offer their feedback. We take customer feedback very seriously and ensure that their feedback is incorporated into our future planning. My aim has always been to provide a welcoming and family-like environment to the customers, addressing a customer by his name, greeting them with a smile are some small steps that go a long way in making a customer happy and satisfied.
S&ST: HR is the key factor in your profession, what is your philosophy of best HR management which you have followed in your career?
As I said, I firmly believe in keeping my employees happy. I provide my staff with handsome salary packages and top-notch perks and benefits and expect nothing but exceptional service and work ethic in return. There is one golden principal I have always followed and that has proved successful, that is to keep employee turnover at the minimum. Many managers fire staff when they take over a new property, but I am against this practice. I believe in retaining staff and keeping them motivated. On the contrary, high employee turnover will result in inferior service. Keeping the staff happy has always been my key to success.
S&ST: Does the hotel has any expansion plans?
Yes, we do have expansion plans, we are adding two towers at the back of the current building next year. Each tower will have a capacity of 200 beds. We are also launching a hotel in Multan by the name of Faletti’s Express and another by the same name in Lahore soon. Plans are also in the pipeline for a hotel in the Gulberg area in Lahore by the name of Faletti’s Grand. There is a great deal of interest in Faletti’s name and many businessmen and investors want a franchise of the hotel, this is a testament to the success of the hotel.
S&ST: How important is the safety and security aspect in the hotel industry?
The safety and security of the customers are of paramount importance in the hotel industry. We have to ensure the safety and security of all our customers, that is why all top hotels in the country have stringent security checks and safety guidelines.
S&ST: Are you satisfied with the current security situation in the country and the hotel industry?
I will take you back to mid-2000 here. That was a period when Pakistan was plagued with terror incidents. In those days there was a steep decline in foreign visitors. However, in the last few years, the security situation in the country has improved by leaps and bounds thanks to the efforts and sacrifices of our Armed Forces and other law enforcement agencies. The improved security situation has seen foreign visitors flock to the country. The increasing number of foreign visitors proves that they not only believe Pakistan to be a secure country but are also confident in the security arrangements at the various hotels across the country. A lot of foreign visitors when they arrive in Pakistan harbor doubts about the security situation in the country. But after spending time in Pakistan they go with a changed mindset after they see first-hand the security situation in the country and the many opportunities it offers in terms of tourism, investment, business, and hospitality.
S&ST: Was the Islamabad Marriott Hotel bombing a turning point in terms of security arrangements at hotels?
The security arrangements at hotels were comprehensive even before the attack. The fact that the explosive-laden truck was stopped by the hotel guards at the front barrier shows that the security personnel were well prepared for such an eventuality. The security personnel did not let the truck pass and it exploded at the front barrier if the security personnel were not vigilant or the security was lax the loss of lives would have been much higher. I would say that the bombing was a lapse on part of the local administration and local police, it was a major security failure on part of them that let a truck carrying 600 kg of RDX enter such a high-security zone. However, the hotel industry did further increase their security arrangements in the aftermath of the unfortunate incident.
S&ST: How important is training of security personnel?
Training of security personnel is very important, therefore most of our security personnel are ex-military. The reason is that men who have served in the military are not only well disciplined but are well acquainted with the nature of threats and ways to counter them. So, in essence, the men responsible for defending our country’s frontiers are also responsible for the security of our hotels, which means that the security of our hotels is in safe hands.
S&ST: How do you see the future of the hotel industry in Pakistan?
I am very positive about the future outlook, there is a great potential for growth in the hotel industry in Pakistan. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor project if successful has the potential to transform our hotel industry. The newly formed Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government is also keen to promote tourism in Pakistan which will further help the hotel industry. Pakistan has so much to offer to tourists, our northern areas are comparable to any place in the world. If the government invests in tourism infrastructure and the security situation remains under control, I have no doubt that the coming years will see a boom in the hotel industry.
S&ST: What would be your advice to the government to promote hotel industry in Pakistan?
Like I said, northern areas of Pakistan are like heaven on earth and have great tourism potential. I would request and urge the government to develop the area and include the private sector in the process. Apart from improving infrastructure in the northern areas, the government should also focus on highlighting and improving the facilities at the various historical places in the country. Lahore alone has many historical sites, but there is a need to effectively highlight them. Moreover, I would urge the government to establish a university that provides education in the field of Hospitality and Hotel Management. Basic level courses are offered at various institutes in the country, but we are in need of a top-class university where people who are looking for a career in the industry can receive a quality education.
S&ST: Any advice for youngsters who want to join the hotel industry?
I have simple advice for all youngsters apart from attaining a good education if you want to achieve something in life, respect your parents and look after them. No challenge will be insurmountable if you have the prayers of your parents with you. I owe my success to the prayers of my parents too, my father struggled a lot with finances, but he made sure that we receive a good education, similarly, it would not have been possible if the prayers of my mother weren’t with me.