‘Kerala is an ideal destination for promoting wellness and medical tourism’: Manoj Mathew

Kerala is an ideal destination for promoting wellness and medical tourism

 

Manoj Mathew VM, General Manager of Taj MG Road, Bengaluru hailing originally from Kozhencherry, Pathanamthitta district of Kerala, has spent 15 of his 32 year hospitality career with Taj group of Hotels in Kerala. He did his schooling and graduation from the steel town of Bhilai (Chhattisgarh State) where his father was employed, prior to doing his hotel management diploma from the Institute of Hotel Management, Catering Technology and Applied Nutrition, Mumbai. Having worked and travelled extensively in Kerala, the gravitational pull towards Kerala is palpable. During his occasional breaks, he dabbles in a bit of farming in his home town Kozhencherry and is passionate about Kerala cuisine. Even in Bengaluru, he experiments with kodampuli (cocum)for the Alleppey fish curry and select cuts of meat for the Irachi Ulartiathu. In a tete-a-tete with KTE Editor Deepak N Nair, he shares his rich experiences and invaluable insights.
 

You are now the General Manager of Taj MG Road, Bengaluru, from where you started your career 32 years ago. When you look back, how has been the experience? What made you chose a career in the hotel industry?
It was indeed a dream run. When I look back on how I started my career with Taj from this very hotel in Bangalore then known as “ Taj Residency”, from where I will retire next year. In my early days with Taj, this hotel was instrumental in inculcating the value of high standards in service excellence and customer engagement. I had great mentors who constantly guided and inspired me. I 
was encouraged to think out of the box and allowed to make mistakes without fear of reprimand. We worked hard but we enjoyed what we were doing. More importantly we worked as one big family celebrating success and sharing failures together.

Each property that I worked for had its own set of challenges, a fair share of triumphs and immense learnings. Along this journey I made some lifelong friends and visited many exotic destinations. Taj is indeed a preferred employer and I will always be proud to be part of the TATA Group. 

During my youth, hotel management was not the preferred choice as a career for many. My family had a  conservative approach towards career planning and initially I was discouraged from pursing this line of interest in hospitality. But my persistence paid off and my parents agreed to my joining a course in Hotel Management. The rest is history.

Your career has almost entirely been with the Taj group. What made you stay on with Taj? Where all have you worked in your long career? What have been your significant achievements at these places?
As I mentioned earlier, Taj is an aspirational brand for many pursuing this profession and I was no exception. As you continue to work for the Taj you start imbibing the value system of the TATA Group. This is pervasive and Taj Group of Hotels is an integral and important part of the TATA group of companies. Taj gives its General Managers the freedom to operate as entrepreneurs so there is a great sense of ownership and belonging. I was fortunate to work in Zambia and Sri Lanka apart from India. My assignments were varied and exciting, yet challenging. All achievements cannot be attributed to any single individual but is a consequence of the commitment and efforts of many dedicated teams. I was always fortunate to have a committed and pro-active team with a customer-centric approach. 

 

As far as tourism is concerned, there is a lot of awareness about Kerala and what it can offer. There is a tremendous goodwill generated due to sustained efforts by the government — both National and State, Tourism bodies, Hotel groups and individuals in promoting tourism

 

Which are the Taj Hotels you worked for in Kerala? How was the  experience?
 My experience in Kerala has been rich and varied! You also have to graduate from the “University of Hard Knocks!”. I started with the picturesque Taj Malabar Cochin, where I worked for 5 years. As you are aware, Taj Malabar is one of the most beautiful hotels of Taj in Kerala. In many ways, being the first Taj Hotel in Kerala — we were the trendsetters and generated tremendous awareness about the brand and destination all over the world. 

My first role as a General Manager was at Taj Kumarakom and it was “baptism by fire”. I was actively involved in developing and setting up of the Resort and it was also a period of huge learning. As this Resort was located next to the Bird Sanctuary, this assignment also brought me closer to nature and made me into a keen bird watcher. I also briefly worked in the Taj property in Varkala which is a unique destination with a lot of hidden treasures waiting to be explored. Another enriching assignment was setting up the first Taj Hotel in the Capital of Kerala - Thiruvanthapuram. I cherish the warmth and whole hearted support received from the government agencies, the guests and residents of Thiruvanthapuram who encouraged and patronised us when we opened our doors. 

What do you think needs to be done to further promote tourism to Kerala? 
As far as tourism is concerned, there is a lot of awareness about Kerala and what it can offer. There is a tremendous goodwill generated due to sustained efforts by the government — both National and State, Tourism bodies, Hotel groups and individuals in promoting tourism. 

The focus now should be in promoting ‘’Experiences” – those intangibles which will make the guests come back again and again. So the need of the hour is for different destinations, hotel groups, cultural groups, et al, to collaborate with each other and create those ‘unique experiences’ which will have an indelible impression in the hearts and minds of the guests coming to Kerala. The destination or the hotel should have a good story to tell, to entice the guests to come and experience it. This will increase referrals and consequently the footfalls. If Kerala can achieve this synergy consistently, it will truly take the tourism to a different level. 

Kerala is also an ideal destination for promoting wellness and medical tourism and should be looked at critically and fine-tuned so that their fair share can grow considerably. 

Are you happy with the standards of star category hotels in Kerala?
There is a great improvement in standards of hotels in all categories. Focus on hygiene, safety and security, clean environs are prerequisites and a must for all category of hotels. The visitors to Kerala will not necessarily seek out only star category hotels as their preferred choice of accommodation, as they are now seeking unique experiences and destinations which will make everlasting impressions. The need of the hour is to increase awareness amongst all hotels to maintain the highest level of hygiene and safety standards so that the guests perceive Kerala to be at par, if not better than destinations like Sri Lanka and Maldives. 

In your view what kind of hotels/ accommodation have the best scope in Kerala?  
Kerala has just come out of a very traumatic time, ravaged by the floods and has achieved remarkable progress in bouncing back in a reasonably short time. There are many lessons to be learnt after this calamity and entire focus on development should be relooked once again. Environmentally conscious activities which promote the development of tourism will have an upper hand in rebuilding the state infrastructure. The hotels will have a major share in such development and will have to be role-models in building eco-friendly habitats and adopting eco-friendly practices. We are blessed with an abundance of natural resources in Kerala and the guests have become very conscious of their role in preserving these resources. Hence the number of guests seeking such hotels which promote ecofriendly practices is increasing day by day.

From a business perspective, a hotel should be a complete destination where business and leisure can go hand in hand. Most of the guests’ even while on a holiday would like to stay connected and be able to conduct business, even if it is for a short while. Working under a high level of stress makes it imperative to have de-stress and wellness options while on a holiday. A glimpse of the local traditions, art, culture and cuisine will be great opportunity for the guests to announce to the outside world their ethnic connect! If any resort or hotel is able to package all this under one roof, they will have a winning combination. 

 

 

 

Each property that I worked for had its own set of challenges, a fair share of triumphs and immense learnings. Along this journey I made some lifelong friends and visited many exotic destinations. Taj is indeed a preferred employer and I will always be proud to be part of the TATA Group.

 

We are blessed with an abundance of natural resources in Kerala and the guests have become very conscious of their role in preserving these resources. Hence the number of guests seeking such hotels which promote ecofriendly practices is increasing day by day.

 

To generate great referrals about the destination and hotels, the guests should feel refreshed and rejuvenated while they experience a unique curated holiday in Kerala.

Kerala is blessed with everything that a tourist cherishes – beaches, back-waters, hills, temples, ancient churches, cuisines, art and culture. I have been fortunate to experience a bit of everything during my 15 years of working in Kerala. Each place has an emotional connect – the hidden unspoilt beaches of Varkala and the breath-taking view from the Varkala cliff; the expansive Vembanad Lake with flocks of migratory birds and local fishermen; the picturesque country boat cruise through Kumarakom giving you a glimpse of the village life; the famous House boat experience of gliding through the canals of Kuttanad and enjoying the local cuisine; the estates of Vandiperiyar rich in its flora and fauna; Fort Cochin where you travel back in time, the strategically located Taj Malabar, Cochin- offering one of the most mesmerising views of the sun set and the ships sailing by! If you are a foodie like me, you could go on an epicurean journey from one end of Kerala to the other end, which will startle your palate with the rich and delicate flavours of the native spices and condiments. Kerala has to be explored and experienced at leisure and each guest will have a very unique and personal story to regale. 

Tell us a bit about your family? 

We are a close-knit family comprising of my wife and two sons. In our early days, my wife was also working in the same group but once children started growing up, she focussed on bringing up and taking care of the them. My elder son Tushar is a post graduate in performing arts and is working in California and my younger son Nishant is pursuing his graduation in Economics from the University of Victoria in Canada. We are happy that children are following their passions. 

How do you spend your leisure time? 
I enjoy my profession and am passionate about my job so frankly do not consider it imperative to seek out too many breaks. My honorary assignment as SKAL President also extracts much of my leisure time. However, I do play Badminton every morning which is a great way to start the day. I love photography and experiment often. On my off days I like to relax and occasionally become a part-time Chef at home. We are also keen wildlife enthusiasts and love to travel and explore whenever time permits. 

Which are your favourite holiday destinations abroad? 

I have a bucket list waiting to be tackled. From my past sojourns - Africa and Sri Lanka are great places which warrants repeat visits especially for the wild-life, people and scenic beauty. Cambodia and Vietnam are unspoilt destinations which are great value for money and great place to indulge in seafood. Italy is mesmerising for the amazing architecture, art, culture and food (and of course wine!). We have great hotels in Maldives which is a lovely destination to relax and rejuvenate. Each place tells a story which is unique and we cherish those memories.

 

The focus now should be in promoting ‘’Experiences” – those intangibles which will make the guests come back again and again. So the need of the hour is for different destinations, hotel groups, cultural groups, et al, to collaborate with each other and create those ‘unique experiences’ which will have an indelible impression in the hearts and minds of the guests coming to Kerala. The destination or the hotel should have a good story to tell, to entice the guests to come and experience it. This will increase referrals and consequently the footfalls. If Kerala can achieve this synergy consistently, it will truly take the tourism to a different level.