The writer narrates some anecdotes during his stint at the Sheraton Suites. The 38th part of a series describing the unknown triumphs and travails of doing international business
In the hospitality industry, competition was severe and all the managers running these units must have regularly had nightmares on the occupancy factor and revenue. I had just joined the Suites in the early 2001, after my almost three-year educative experience at the Courtyard. The computer systems in both hotels were different, and learning Geac was no easy matter.
Very similar to the DGS&D rates for products in India, the government here had also fixed the maximum per day allowance for the government officials moving about and visiting out on “stations of duty”. If the booking was made “at government rates”, it was mandatory for the front office staff to ensure that all steps were taken to identify the person and then check them in.
We do not know how it happened, but, apparently, a lot of government contractors and their representatives were making the booking, on the phone, for their rooms “at government rates”. While the front desk associate may have checked the ID of the person, it was not a practice to see other forms of government ID. We began to enforce this rule, and many of our regular clients resented this in the beginning. It took sometime before they were able to accept our regular rates, as no longer the benefit of government rate would apply for their stay.
During the summer months, most schools conducted “summer camps”; this meant a large number of students, both boys and girls from the same school, would be on sight-seeing trips, which necessarily included a visit to the capital, Washington DC. Relatively speaking, hotels in the capital were more expensive and parking space for large luxury buses was also a constraint. With the result, across the Potomac river, it was Virginia, which hosted these large groups, and our hotel was one of the few that catered to this need for many years.
In most cases, the trips were well organized and chaperoned by qualified staff. We had to block one floor each for boys and girls separately; in addition to the school’s own security systems, there were also floor guards so that we do not have any untoward incidents, as the students were young boys and girls. By and large, they were disciplined; they would march in punctually for breakfast, after which, they would move to the buses outside, and were gone for the whole day. They were back in time for supper, have it quietly, stop over the shopee for buying up their midnight snacks, cameras, films, etc, and move over to their rooms. If a late swim was arranged, the life guard would be on duty, after which, they would all march to their respective floors. After the given curfew time, they were locked in, and not allowed to leave their rooms.
We had excellent dealings with both the students and their group leaders. Our sales in the shopee would pick up tremendously during their visits, and we did not, fortunately, encounter any problem whatsoever.
We had a large ballroom, which could be divided into small sections, depending upon the number of seats (occupancy) required. A smaller conference room, with access to the main dining hall was also available. The catering service was handled by Hassan who had several years experience in the field, and had made bookings for almost the whole year. And the wedding dinners took place on Saturdays, when generally most hotels were not fully occupied!
Like all other hotels, we kept in close touch with the police force, for which we had an emergency switch to press in the front desk; and in less than three minutes we had the police vehicles at our door step. In fact, very often, due to children playing with the phones in their rooms, we have had urgent “security check calls” from the police, when the operator would ask “what kind of assistance do you need, as we have a 911 call from the hotel?” “Is everything ok?” The efficiency of the police force cannot be described. They were excellent.
All the rooms in the hotel had automatic water sprayers, in case of fire. These were small knobs on the walls; also, in case of emergencies, automatic sirens would blaze through all the floors, and the staff was trained to handle different and difficult situations before para-medics can come to the rescue.
On one such occasion, I was not on duty, and we had a wedding reception planned in our hotel. The bridal and hospitality suites were allotted for the family, and one of the guests, apparently by mistake, had simply hung up a dress on the nozzle of the water sprayer, and gone out to get something! Oh, what a mess this created! Because of the weight of the clothes, I suppose, the nozzle was pulled down, triggering the alert signal to the fire station and water spraying started in the entire floor. I believe it took some three hours before this could be set back to normalcy! Needless to say, it did spoil the person's clothes, unfortunately, but, at the end of the day, everybody had a great laugh!
The restaurant catered to the needs of the guests and offered both continental and American full breakfast. They would also set tables separately for the groups, in line with their own approved menus.
Likewise, the bar opened only in the afternoon, and picked up business late in the evenings. They had to strictly follow the rules and law relating to serving of alcohol to adults only; in case of even the slightest doubt, it was mandatory for the person serving to ask for the age proof. Only the senior-most of the bartenders took over this responsibility with great care and diligence. We had surprise checks from police force, who came incognito, and any mistake was immediate suspension of the person and HR department would take care of the removal procedures for such violations.
Almost all the hotels were keen to introduce and apply Six Sigma programs in their day-to-day activities. There were two that drew our management’s attention. One was the handling of transportation work, which was given a contractor, for managing this responsibility. It was our own vehicles; we were maintaining them and incurring all the expenses; the drivers were getting free lunches and dinners, while the only job outsourced to this contractor was to execute rosters and in ensuring vehicle runs efficiently. Like many of my own colleagues, I raised this issue with the management, as to why we needed to outsource this and why it could not be done by us? A few months after this was raised, the front office took over the transportation, reduced our expenses and became more flexible to meet guest requirements, to their entire satisfaction.
The second related to the complimentary copies of USA Today. I was given this assignment. First was to establish a consumption (or requirement) pattern for the newspaper, Monday to Friday, based on bookings made and anticipated variation in additions and cancellations. I stopped the booking for the full house for all days of the week and brought it down to realistic levels; made changes, week after week; eliminated the student groups, as they did not want delivery of the newspaper. On several occasions, I came to the office by 4am to ensure that paper delivery was in order. Very rarely, we had a shortage, but this was more than offset by our offering the copy of Washington Post in lieu from the shopee.
In the month of August, we had the annual outing for the staff, when, for the first time, I had to opportunity to play baseball, though, unconsciously, I held the bat very much like a cricket bat, which was corrected by someone who had come from England!
I felt more and more I was feeling at home, and a sense of belonging was overwhelming.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts. From being the advisor to exporters, he took over the mantle of a trader, travelled far and wide, and switched over to setting up garment factories and then worked in the US. He can be contacted at [email protected].)
The I-T department issued notices to Reebok India executives for producing documents, personal transactions and I-T returns for the last four years
Delhi/Gurgaon: In more trouble for Reebok India, the Income Tax (I-T) department has launched a probe into its finances and has begun issuing notices to its executives after an alleged Rs870-crore fraud case was detected by the company against two of its top officials, reports PTI.
The Gurgaon police has already constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the case.
The Income Tax department, which had earlier this month conducted a survey at the Gurgaon office of the sportswear manufacturer, has recently collected additional financial documents including from some of those of the firm based in the country.
The I-T officials are also looking at the corporate structuring and financing of the company.
Notices for production of documents, personal transactions and I-T returns for the last four years have been sought by the authorities from the India-based executives of the firm for the I-T probe for checking possible financial wrongdoing in the company and subsequent tax evasion, sources said.
The I-T investigations directorate has also alerted its intelligence wing in this regard to supply it with necessary inputs after Adidas, owner of Reebok, recently claimed commercial irregularities in its India operations.
As per the FIR filed yesterday, by the company with the Gurgaon police, against its former MD Subhinder Singh Prem and COO Vishnu Bhagat, Reebok India alleged that the duo had indulged in "criminal conspiracy" and "fraudulent" practises over a period of time that resulted in Adidas group taking a "total hit of approximately Rs 870 crore in the books."
Reebok India is a part of the Adidas group.
In the FIR, Reebok India had further said it will also incur a restructuring cost of Rs 487 crore to remedy the consequences of the "criminal and fraudulent" acts of its formers top executives.
The I-T department, according to sources, has also asked the Gurgaon tax assessment range to dig out past returns filed by the firm and the TDS payment receipts which would be tallied with the documents seized by the sleuths during their survey.
The taxmen had collected documents related to sales and purchase made by the firm during the last financial year and few others, including trade receipts processed by the company during the survey operation.
Earlier this month, Adidas group had announced that it had uncovered commercial irregularities to the tune of 125 million euros in its subsidiary Reebok India, and that Prem and Bhagat were sacked.
It had also announced plans to close one-third of around 900 Reebok stores as part of a restructuring strategy.
Reacting to the development, Prem had initiated legal action against the global giant for defamation and unfair termination of his services.
The Interlocutors have called for a review of all Central Acts and all Articles of the Constitution of India extended to Jammu and Kashmir after the 1952 Delhi agreement
New Delhi: Ruling out a return to the pre-1953 position, Centre's interlocutors on Thursday recommended setting up of a Constitutional Committee to review all Acts and Articles of the Constitution of India extended to Jammu and Kashmir and upholding of Article 370, reports PTI.
The report of the interlocutors--Dileep Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and MM Ansari-- underlined that "the clock cannot be set back" but felt that the 'erosion' of Article 370 over decades needed to be "re-appraised" to give it more powers.
In their 176-page report, made public today, they have called for a review of all Central Acts and all Articles of the Constitution of India extended to the state after the 1952 Delhi agreement which also gave special status to the state under Article 370.
"This does not mean a pure and simple return to the pre-1953 situation. The clock cannot be set back. Instead, the group wants such a review to take into full account the changes that have taken place in the last six decades," the report said.
In the pre-1953 era, the Centre's jurisdiction was mainly restricted to Defence, External Affairs, Communication and Finance. The 1952 agreement between the Centre and Sheikh Abdullah enabled extension of all the central acts, Articles of Constitution of India including Supreme Court and hoisting of Indian tri-colour along with the state flag.
Significantly, the state assembly passed a resolution in 2000 demanding among other things rescinding of all central legislation except Defence, Finance, Telecom and External Affairs, which was rejected by the Union Government.
In a move aimed at strengthening of Article 370, the interlocutors report demanded deletion of the word 'temporary' from its heading in the Constitution and replacing it with 'special' as has been used in Article 371 in the case of some states.
A similar recommendation was made in the autonomy resolution of the state Assembly.
Padgaonkar later said that interlocutors have not recommended abolition of Article 370. "What we have said is that we are not inventing something. Under article 371 there are several states of the Union which have been designated as special category states.
"We have just said that you remove the word temporary as regards J and K and use the word special as it is being done in the case of several states. We have listed the state which come under the category of special states. Instead of temporary, we wanted to put the word special in line with what is being done with the other states."
The interlocutors have recommended status quo in the use of nomenclatures in English of Governor and Chief Minister and equivalent nomenclatures in Urdu may be used.
In an earlier era until 1965, the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir was addressed as 'Wazir-e-Azam' (Prime Minister) and the Governor as 'Sadar-e-Riyasat' (President).