People often say career aspirations are rooted from childhood memories—from looking up to parents or older relatives, watching their favorites on the tube or reading books.
But for Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn General Manager Gaurav Rai, his aspiration to work in the hospitality business was rooted from happy memories of visiting and hosting relatives.
“I used to love the great feeling of visiting friends and family as well as hosting them at home for lunch or maybe dinner. I get to eat good food, lots of ice cream and have treats. But the greatest of which is meeting new people,” the GM happily recalled during a one-on-one interview with The Manila Times.
The Indian-born and Australian-raised hotelier recalled that growing up with frequent visit to hotels cemented his decision to pursue a career in the industry.
“Growing up, we used to go to hotels and I was there thinking, ‘This is so nice; everybody seems to be coming here on a daily basis and or arriving to stay.’ Those memories made me choose that I was going to be in this industry,” Rai intimated.
Showing strong commitment for decisions he would be taking early on, Rai has taken Hospitality Management as his college course and dove headfirst in the business when he took a hotel job while still studying. He related that the experience gave him the opportunity to relate what he’s learning in the university and putting it into practice.
Started from the bottom, now he’s on top
As comfortable as he is with his position as leader in one of the busiest hotels in Ortigas, Rai unabashedly divulged that his first job in the hotel involved cleaning dishes.
“That was my first assignment but I had a strict chief who told me why is it important to clean things properly, tidy and orderly. I got that training straightaway which, I later found out, is very important in a hotel because—like the dishes I used to clean—you have to keep it clean, tidy and orderly,” Rai stated matter-of-factly.
Ever dedicated to the career he has always loved, Rai tried his hands in almost all departments in the hotel industry—he has headed the Food and Beverage, Rooms Department, Housekeeping, Front Office, Restaurants, Catering and Sales.
“Yes I did a lot but it was done mainly to end up getting a GM’s job. I wanted to know the business, somebody who really knows inside out and not just a figure head,” Rai explained.
Along the way, Rai met mentors he thought molded him to be the leader that he is today.
“I was lucky to have good leaders. At that time, I used to think they may be a little too hard but I know they always had the best intention for me. Eventually it led to promotion after promotion and here I am,” Rai said with a smile.
Today, Rai believes it’s time to return the favor.
Fostering hospitality, training future CEOs
After taking the reins of Holiday Inn at Clark—where he developed a deep love for the Kampampangan culture and its dishes—Rai is now managing Crowne Plaza Ortigas Manila and its sister hotel Holiday Inn with the same enthusiasm and firm leadership.
“Because I enjoyed this concept of guest service, I kind of understood that the basic, the core of this business is looking after the guests and making them happy and that’s what I tell them. It doesn’t matter what your boss says, if the guest goes away happy and says he had a great time, that means you are doing your job right,” the 41-year-old leader said.
He said he would always advise his team not to worry what he would say, just take the business of “looking after them” to heart—the way he does—and the GM would surely be their best friend.
“It’s really making everybody help understand that just like there are great cities and there are cities that are trying to get up, there are great hotels and some hotels that need to get up, too. Some hotels may have already good hardware—new rooms, new F&B—but if they don’t have the right culture of looking after the guests, it’s nothing. If everybody—including engineering, the housekeeping, the front office, the driver, the doorman and the sales team—is geared towards that, then you are a great hotel,” Rai summarized when asked for his leadership style.
Now that he is working alongside Filipinos, whose trademark quality is hospitality, Rai indulged The Manila Times with traits that make this race a great fit for the industry he has long loved.
“Filipinos have a natural smile and that’s what you need in this industry first and foremost. You should be able to smile even if there is a problem, just to calm people down. Filipinos are very humble and humility runs through their veins. They have really good family values and they look up to their family. All of these things naturally make them good for hospitality,” Rai enumerated
“Filipinos have many strengths. That’s why they are the ideal candidates for hospitality. They really do a good job, you just need to lead them and they will just follow,” the executive added.
“My goal would be for them to all retire as CEOs so I can live a free life,” he laughed, “but basically whatever they want to achieve career-wise. They are giving me the time so I want to make sure that when I’m gone, they would also develop to a level where they feel fulfilled, otherwise, I just wasted their time,” Rai concluded.