An Interview with Mr. Manoj Mehta, CEO of naked Group
With over 10 years of innovation and development achievements in high-end hospitality and the tourism industry, naked Group is famed for its ability to create high-quality customer experience, carry out systematic operation and management procedures and continuously promote the brand value. The group CEO Manoj Mehta joined naked in 2012, since when he has led several innovative change initiatives, and instituted numerous programs to strengthen and optimize naked operations. These include leading the growth of naked by setting up the strategic direction, recruiting a seasoned executive management team, restructuring the organization, expanding naked’s China footprint, incorporating technology to both enhance guest experiences and improve business processes, as well as anchoring the company’s culture to the core values of naked. Under the leadership of Manoj, naked Group has created a diverse lifestyle brand that covers travel – naked Retreats, work – naked Hub, now under the wework brand, and wellness etc. SpaChina interviewed Mr. Mehta on the current situation of the hospitality industry and measures needed to be taken during the post-covid-19 period.
Since May, China’s domestic tourism has been recovering, how about for the hotels of naked Group?
China has been an example to the world in terms of how quickly it has controlled the pandemic through effective control, contact tracing and through preventive measures. These efforts have allowed various industries to restart their operations and return slowly to the new normal.
naked has played its role in ensuring the health and safety of our guests and staff as the top priority and we only restarted our operations at the end of March / beginning of April. When we re-opened our resorts, we launched an industry first “contactless service” that provided peace of mind to our guests and our staff. Also, this innovative approach allowed us to build confidence with our guests and the business started to flourish rapidly. We are seeing a 10-20% increase in the business on our leisure sector – i.e. individual families, friends etc. However, the corporate sector is still in the process of recovering given the pressure on 2020 budgets and corporate restrictions on large events.
What kind of guests are visiting the naked hotels now?
The majority of our guests come from Shanghai and the Zhejiang area with a small fraction coming from Jiangsu and Beijing. Post covid-19 we are experiencing that a large majority of the guests are couples and families who want to spend time together in pure nature in a safe and healthy way. All of our rooms are detached units which not only provide privacy and intimacy for our guests but also added safety by not sharing close spaces with others. naked is a leader in creating experiences for our guests and now more than ever – guests enjoy simple natural activities like horse riding, hiking mountain trails, outdoor archery, yoga in nature, relaxing time in our heated swimming pools or in their private jacuzzies. And of course a relaxing body massage at the end of the day is always popular.
Has naked launched any health-related or wellness packages including outdoor activities, spa treatments or others in this post epidemic era?
Yes. Since the re-opening, we have launched three packages that focus on wellness, outdoor activities, whisky tastings, meals in our signature restaurants and of course a massage in our naked leaf spa. The current package “Splash Fun Summer Package” which is valid until end of August, focuses on many water activities and other summer outdoor activities and refreshing food. We also launched naked family summer camp package which allows parents to leave the kids with us for the whole day so we can teach them various fun activities – like calligraphy, painting, lawn bowling, archery competition , pottery, swimming lessons etc. while the parents can relax with a drink at the pool or get a treatment at the naked leaf spa!
What do you think of China’s domestic tourism consumption outlook?
We believe that the China’s domestic tourism consumption has returned to pre-pandemic levels at least for the leisure segment. Some of this demand is being fueled by the complete absence of international travel due to continued border closure. Additionally, friends and families may prefer short distance drive travel over destination tourism by flight/high-speed train. It may take a while for the corporate segment to return to pre-pandemic levels.
Do you think the pandemic will change people’s lifestyles?
We are already seeing changes in the people lifestyle with a significantly higher emphasis on safety, health and enjoying lifestyle with those you love. These changes are impacting the decisions these individuals are making – for example a detached villa or a unit is preferred vs choosing a room in a tall building as this allows increased peace of mind for health and safety in addition to privacy. These changes are very favorable for the product that naked has brought to market since its inception. Our emphasis has always been on friends and family spending time together in stunning natural environments, and our villas, bungalows, earth huts and suites which are all detached units that are well placed for guests to enjoy their city getaway vacations with total peace of mind.
These changes are also forcing hospitality management teams to deliver the service guests expect with minimum to no contact. naked’s innovative “contactless service” when we re-opened our resorts is an example of these new practices. We are incorporating what we learned during this period into our “new” normal process. Some example of this includes completing the check-in process prior to arrival at the resort including a QR code-based room key. These changes may make the “check-in counter” redundant in the future design of our resorts and the staff will spend their time interacting and serving the guests instead of wading through computer screens.
What challenges do you think the hotel industry will face in the last quarter of this year?
While no one knows if there will be a second wave of covid-19 in China or not, we are very confident in the capability of the Chinese government’s systems and compliance by the people, so we believe that the Covid-19 impact in Q4 will be minimal to none. We have learned some good lessons from the outbreak in the first quarter of 2020, and we will be prepared well to deal with these challenges.
What will you do next?
Specifically, for naked, we are planning to open at least one new resort (based on Tai Lake in west Suzhou) on Oct 1, 2020 and we expect to be busy with that. There may be another resort opening within Q4 2020, but I cannot share details yet other than the fact it will be in the north of China.
What do you think of the economic situation next year in China and worldwide?
We believe that by next year, a suitable vaccine will be in place and the economic situation in China and rest of the world will see a big boost, especially for rest of the world. That being said, emphasis on health and safety will remain strong and international travel / tourism will still be restricted. Domestic travel will continue to grow and corporate travel will start to grow in 2021. The lack of international travel and early stages of corporate travel recovery will hurt the city hotels world-wide. Sporadic outbreaks of the virus may happen in various places so the hospitality industry needs to be prepared for providing service in a manner that ensures health, safety and peace of mind for the guests.