ITC Grand Chola’s Learn Festival provided its staff an inside view of the different jobs required for the smooth running of a hotel. On a lighter note, there were bed-making, towel-art competitions and more!

“The tenets of hospitality have changed,” says Ranvir Bhandari, vice-president South and general manager for ITC Hotels, adding, “It’s not just inn-keeping anymore. We’re now ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”

This is why ITC Grand Chola’s two-week Learn Festival was not just about the nuts and bolts of hoteliering. Inside the bustling belly of the hotel where the staff offices and canteens are situated, there’s talk of beat-boxing performances, towel-art competitions and a fashion show.

While this is a world away from the lush carpets, tinkling music and perfumed air upstairs, there are constant reminders that luxury is at the core of this business: educational posters of opulent watches, a Pan-Asian counter offering samples of delicate wasabi oil and even a salon to ensure that employees are always suitably manicured.

With about 1,200 employees in this hotel alone, the Learn Festival, which included 14 ITC hotels across the country, was about simultaneously creating learning opportunities, as well as bringing people together.

Bringing people together

On his way to judge a ‘bed-making competition’, Rohit Mallick, regional manager of South, Learning Services, pauses to talk of how the Learn Festival has been designed to enable various departments of the hotel to not just interact, but also get an inside view of the many different jobs required for the smooth running of a hotel — from the security staff to the cocktail crew.

“We have an average of 500-plus guests coming to this hotel in a day,” says Bhandari, explaining why it’s so important to keep updating skills. “This business is 90 per cent attitude, which is why we hire for attitude, then train for skills.”

Discussing how well-travelled guests of today are better informed than ever before, he says Indian hotels such as the Grand Chola need to build on its natural strengths, as well as imbibe new skills to cater to contemporary business travellers. “In the West, everything is about numbers. Here we believe in ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ (The guest is god) and we learn that right from home.”

The focus now is to add entrepreneurship to that mix. For instance, the butler programme now not only requires staff who can neatly pack and unpack luggage, but also people who are tech-savvy so they can help guests with iPads, phones and computers.