Leisure, Lifestyle & Wellness
Life Exclusive
Settling down at the Sheraton Suites

Whether one was in the morning or afternoon shift, the main purpose was in making the guests “feel at home”. The 37th part of a series describing the unknown triumphs and travails of doing international business

Our hotel was situated in the “old town” of Alexandria, where, some two hundred years earlier the first lot of settlers had come in to live. It was on the Potomac river and trading was brisk. In fact, there are some very old buildings and hotels in the area that can trace back the history, and are declared ‘national’ heritage and monument sights.
Besides, Alexandria, being part of Virginia state, was the gateway to Washington DC, the capital, and because of the space limitations, thousands of government employees always lived in the area. The town, therefore, was always buzzing with activity; it had a great variety of restaurants, sight-seeing historical sites, and the connecting link to cross over to Maryland state over the bridge on Potomac. Route No. 1 passed through the town!
One of prime jobs as the supervisor was to know the town itself; I did this best by walking around the area, road by road, after my shift was over during day time, making notes of restaurants, landmarks, etc. The hotel was one of the few that was all ‘suites’ and generally occupied by business travellers visiting DC and meeting the IT companies in Virginia. So, we catered to their breakfast and supper (dinner) needs and did not have regular lunch at our restaurant.  The general practice, in business has been, all over the world that most have a “work-through-lunch”, having a quick sandwich, and a leisurely dinner!  Of course, our restaurant catered to group lunches upon order, which is why, it was in the evenings when guests would come for booking tables, seek recommendations after mentioning the choice of food that they wanted to eat, and have our complimentary vans drop and collect them!  Not only I went on these trips regularly, but drove the coach myself, to experience the work involved.
We had some 22 suites on the ninth floor, catering to Platinum members who were served complimentary breakfasts; there were times when we had run out of rooms on this floor because of high traffic of Platinum guests. We had to assign them to different floors, but yet they had access keys to the elevators that would take them to the Club floor so that they could enjoy the benefit for breakfast in the mornings and snacks in the evenings. Of course, there were days when the assigned in charge of the Club room failed to turn up and the front desk had to cover up this lapse, by taking over that additional responsibility too. In case we had a staff problem ourselves, we had to issue complimentary breakfast at our restaurant, by giving away the coupons! In the first couple of months, I had to undergo training of running the Club room as well in case of emergencies.
Attached to the front desk was a little kiosk that contained various items of sale for the guests. Essential items like toothbrush, paste, shampoo, soap (all kinds of toiletries) were in the suites on a complimentary basis. But the shop had all other items, including snacks, soft drinks, cameras, films, shoe polish, etc. Since I was a regular visitor to Wal-Mart, I found many items, such as umbrellas and eatables that were cheap, and we introduced them in our shop.  We had cigarettes on sale also, but, because of government regulations and strict enforcements, we did not make a sale until we demanded and inspected a photo ID of the buyer that he/she was old enough to make the purchase! By keeping a strict control on the sales, and cash register, I was able to bring in a good turnover, soon after I took over.
Unlike the Courtyard, at the Sheraton Suites, all the associates at the front desk had their own little ‘banks’ for their operations. At the end of the day, i.e. their shift, they had to record the dealings and drop in the collection in the safety box, which was in the control of the accounts.  There were surprise checks at regular intervals to ensure that the banks were not misused by the associate. In case of misappropriation, the person concerned was relieved of the duty.
When I joined the Suites, we did have an exclusive floor, designed for ‘smokers’ only.  On some days, when we were sold out, we had no choice, but to allocate the rooms to non-smokers, who did not accept them, but when bookings were made, our sales operators were trained to clarify the position of this possibility on such days. We did our best to have the housekeeping do the special cleaning and spraying, but we did have trouble with guests, who were compensated in many ways for this unfortunate situation, arising out of total sell-out.
On the second floor, we had a gym, which was open always (accessible by the room key for the guest), but the swimming pool had its operating times, as, due to the Alexandria County regulations only a lifeguard, certified by them, must be present, when it is open to the guests.  We could not, therefore, employ even the Olympic gold medallist, if he/she was not certified as a lifeguard by the county. This was the general regulations in most other places, as well.
The gym had a great number of items for the guest to use; but the selection and type of equipment was uniform for all the Sheratons of the same category, but only the number of units may increase, in relation to the size of the rooms in each location. It had nice and pleasant warm water during cold wintery months, while it was cold water for summer. In either case, however, in case of first thunderstorm, due to the possibility of lightening, we had to clear all the users out of the pool immediately.

There were emergency phones available at all important locations, such as above, in order to meet any contingency. Children were not permitted to use the gym unless they were accompanied by a responsible adult member of their family. As a matter of courtesy to the guests, we delivered USA Today every morning to all the occupants; the (Platinum) guests, staying in the Club level had the Wall Street Journal additionally.  If someone wanted the Washington Post, they had to get it from the shopee at the lounge.
Whether one was in the morning or afternoon shift, the main purpose was in keeping the guests happy, comfortable and to make them “feel at home”.  Every complaint was promptly attended to by the associate concerned and if the guest made difficult demands, the supervisor and/or manager took over the situation and resolved the issue. Guest commentary cards were not only collected, but serious follow up action taken so that such mistakes, if any, did not recur. We were repeatedly told that one unhappy customer is likely to talk about his/her experience to ten other prospective guests, which was detrimental to our interests. We had to remember that an unhappy guest would voluntarily talk about his/her bad experience, as against a happy one, who would only make a good recommendation, when he/she is asked for opinion!
All the front desk associates had to go through the first aid training programs and take part in other customer-related workshops that were regularly conducted by the Human Resources director. Krista and John from Courtyard had become part of the Suites, much to my liking, and Jodie Chang also joined us a little later to take over the sales manager.
I was getting well acquainted with the Geac System and as new associates joined, it became my responsibility to train them as well and take care of their needs until they were able to handle the work independently.
The rush for check-out would become very high just after breakfast in the mornings, as guests would be in a hurry to leave, catch their flights and so on. Yet, in the process of doing this job, we had to keep a good conversation with them and seek their comments on the Guests Commentary Cards; if they had confronted any small issues, they may have overlooked them. If this was not take care of during the check out process, they may be rightly tempted to write this down when they get a questionnaire about their stay, which was sent by emails. If we did not enquire about their stay and how they enjoyed it will also be considered as an affront. So, not only we learnt to remember the names of our guests, but also their likes and dislikes, particularly if they were becoming a regular visitor.
The guest commentary card was analysed at the national level and the corporate office would evaluate the reports, by a team of experts, and place the hotel ratings suitably. We had to remember that we were in competition with other Sheraton Suites, nation-wide, and we had to stand out as the best. Not an easy task, we were in good wicket.
We learnt to create a sense of belonging for the guests and we all went the extra mile to accomplish this feat, as far as possible.

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].)




5 years ago

Very interesting & well written piece. Gives a lot of info on what goes in making a Sheraton one of the best Hotels in the world.

Economy & Nation Exclusive
Dredging and deepening Indian ports: What ails Kochi?

The reduced drafts available due to lack of dredging in the Hooghly River Port system there for all to see, and the recent mishandling of the growth of ports and dredging on the Malabar coast is making matters worse

The recent face-off between Cochin Port Trust and Mercator bringing all channel and related deepening dredging in Kochi Harbour to a grinding halt drives yet another nail into the economic security of India with far-reaching consequences well beyond just the Arabian Sea that land-bound policy makers in Delhi do not seem to want to understand.

Last Friday, the Union government-controlled Cochin Port served a notice to Mercator giving the Mumbai-based firm 14 days to resume work. If Cochin Port Trust terminates Mercator’s contract, it will have to find another contractor to complete the rest of the work. While Cochin Port said that Mercator could not complete half of the targeted work even a year after it started. On the other hand, Mercator claimed that it has already done three to four times that quantity (of 2 million cubic metres) and spent more than the contract value already.

What is the real reason behind this specific episode as well as the larger issue on a national basis is what this short essay tries to bring out.

1) Specifically in context with Kochi Harbour, the realities, issues, difficulties and problems in trying to deepen the channel as well as waters around the berths have long been known, and the lack of tangible benefits render this an exercise in futility. This has been known for over two decades, and not just because of the report from Cochin Refineries/Kochi Refineries/BPCL, either.

2) Globally, for more than a few very sensible reasons, operational cargo ports now move away from the traditional habitats which supported their evolution in the first case. Those who do not learn from this simple truth are destined to see their cities collapse in due course. The expansion or formation of a new deep-water port in Kerala should have been at any other location—not Kochi. The reasons are—environmental as far as the existing habitats are concerned, deeper natural options available, easier rail and road connectivity, total fresh start and better accountability without going into legacy problems.

3) Further specifically in context with the way dredging is being done at Kochi Harbour—and I have first-hand knowledge on this—the issue here is more to do with faulty procedures followed down the line and total lack of operational supervision by the Cochin Port Trust. I could write a book on the subject—but very briefly, the same sub-contractors, the same dredgers and the same people on those dredgers do a wonderful job at some other locations in India (both private and public sector) but here off Kochi, the odds are stacked against anybody succeeding. Could it be because the existing powers that be don't want dredging to succeed off Kochi?

3) So why would some vested interests not want Kochi to grow, or even retain existing levels, as a major port? Good question—and to understand that, one has to also understand the politics behind why said vested interests are more keen to see UAE and Sri Lankan ports go from strength to strength. Look deeper behind the private player involved, look at the way politics in Kerala moves, and the answers on why the odds are stacked against Kochi being a major player as a port are clear to see—but it is the people of India who keep footing the bill.

4) On the larger issue of national importance—Kochi is home to some extremely important Indian Navy, Indian Coast Guard, satellite monitoring, as well as other national security assets. Their access to the open sea is being hindered due to the existing situation being worsened. The shipyard and now the new terminals have created problems for the naval airbase near the harbour. Placing a private terminal right in the middle of all this, where security clearance has been and continues to be an issue, is like placing the consular office of an enemy country in the middle of a military ops room.

What could be a possible solution in the present scenario, given that so much has already been spent?

To answer that, a basic understanding of dredging would help, as well as going back to the point already raised—the same dredging assets perform brilliantly elsewhere.

In this particular case, the Cochin Port Trust sub-contracted dredging on the basis of a target depth to be achieved and also provided a time-line. In an ideal world, a sub-contractor does a due diligence, re-checks the data provided to agree on a starting point (datum), bids for the work, the winner/winners reach an agreement with the authorities, and then completes the task. Surveys are conducted with all relevant parties present, along with independent third-party surveyors, and the payments are made.

Till a few years ago, the reality of this depended on the checks and balances as well as personal integrities of the people from the ports. Of course, in some cases, there was blatant cheating. Siltation will happen. Nature will be the easiest entity to blame, and there will always be a convenient storm, typhoon, cyclone or tsunami, after which the whole cycle starts again.But some interesting changes have taken place:

1) The typical dredging scams could not be carried out with private ports, which is one reason you do not read about dredging or channel depth problems with private ports in India. They know how to get their money’s worth.
2) Scientific methods to perform independent surveys using fairly low-cost sonar equipment mounted on simple boats or even satellite information on real depths dredged is now easily available—especially to third parties tasked with re-confirming work done.
3) Some public sector ports have honest managements. Some don’t. Kochi’s maritime authorities and Cochin Port Trust have shown their true colours in the Enrica Lexie episode—do you expect anything better in dredging?

At the end of the day, however, it is the tax-payer who suffers. Seaports in other states like Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh continue to race ahead, Tamil Nadu is not far behind.

In the specific case of Kochi, however, it is the importance of the maritime defence aspect which needs to be re-considered. The earlier dredging in Kochi is brought under the Indian Navy, the better—after all, the same dredgers and same people onboard have done a wonderful job at Seabird-I, Karwar.

(Veeresh Malik had a long career in the Merchant Navy, which he left in 1983. He has qualifications in ship-broking and chartering, loves to travel, and has been in print and electronic media for over two decades. After starting and selling a couple of companies, is now back to his first love-writing.)




5 years ago

Looking at your reference to Hoogly River Port and various conspiracy theories, I presume that you have spent too much time with Mamata Di at Kolkata.

Dredging is just digging a hole is sea/river bed. It is different from digging hole on shore, which has to be physically filled back. But in sea/river/harbour, the hole gradually gets filled on its own which is called siltation or sedimentation. Depending on the studies and planning, the hole may get filled in fully or partly in 2 years, 3 years or more. If the above not done properly, the hole may be filled in no time. The same is happening in Vallarpadam.

I had mentioned 8 months before in your another article on D P World alleged scam that the dredging problem is purely technical and result of shoddy planning and ignorance. I am repeating the same below for other's benefit:

As a avid watcher of major dredging and port projects in India, I can assure you that more than any financial scam, Vallarpadam ICTT mess is due to shoddy planning and no foresight.

"There were many study reports available on the silting pattern in the Kochi harbour. Difficulties in maintaining deeper dredged levels could have been easily identified at the planning stage itself. Now after the ICTT is inagurated, Kochi Port has formed a team to study this aspect. SInce Maintenance Dredging is in the scope of the Port, they will never be able to make any net profit from this PPP project. Moreover, DP World will also claim for idling charges on account of delay in maintenance dredging. Anyway, completion of the ongoing Capital Dredging is itself doubtful".

I have mentioned in "Skyscapercity" forum a short term and long term solution as below:

No dredging company (including DCI) will be able to complete the dredging in ICTT basin upto 16 m as the silting is continuous and heavy during the SW monsoon up to end of September.

"Best short term option for CoPT is to maintain the draft as per the shipping schedule at ICTT. It is alleged that unless Cabotage rules are changed mother ships will anyway not call at ICTT. The ships calling at ICTT hardly requires 10 m. Then what is the point in dredging to 16 m!!!

The long term option is construction of a breakwater or similar structure to prevent siltation in the basin. Since this will have adverse impact elsewhere, the work shall be carried out only after proper investigations and modelling studies."

Regarding Vizhinjam, I have strong doubts on the viability due to its proximity to Colombo. The OD points of India's EXIM is mostly from north western and NCR regions on the west coast. They are almost at equal distance from Vizhinjam & Colombo.

VK Bhavadasan

5 years ago

The Vallarpadam Paradox
Some 8 years back I had written to Cochin Port Trust, DPA and IPA stating that Cochin is not at all suitable port for developing an ICTT. While planing our own ports in Gujarat I had studied all ports in India and some ports abroad. The reason I shall explain.
Shipping Trend:
The first generation ships were small in size and gradually grown in size and the different generation ships are as below.
Container Ships
1st Generation 1,700 TEU 8.5m
2nd Generation 2,305
3rd Generation 3,220
4th Generation 4,848 13.5m
5th Generation 7,598 14.5m
6th Generation 10,000 to 15,000
How many ports in India can take the following ships?
The dimensions of some container ships.
Draught (m) - 17.00
Draught + 10% clearance (m) - 18.74
TEU. - 11,989
DT. - 212,194
Sovereign Maersk
Draught (m) - 14.00
Draught + 10% clearance (m) - 15.40
TEU. - 8,400.
DT. - 142,500
Draught (m) - 21.00
Draught + 10% clearance - (m) 23.10
TEU. - 18,154
DT - 313,371
Feature of Cochin Port:
Approach Channel (Outer channel)
Length: 10000 mtrs. Depth: 11.7 mtrs. Width: 200 mtrs.
Inner channels (Ernakulam channel)
Length: 4720 mtrs. Depth: 10.7 mtrs. Width: 244 mtrs
Mattancherry channel
Length: 4080 mtrs. Depth: 9.14 mtrs Width: 244 mtrs

Cochin (Vallarpadam), perhaps, has no comparison with any of the ports in India. Cochin is a confluent of 6 rivers (about 30% of freshet discharge being from Periyar only). During the monsoon, the influx of freshet discharge from the Muvattupuzha, the Pampa, the Manimala, the Meenachil and the Achenkovil rivers from the south and Periyar from the north bring substantial quantities of sediments into the estuarine system in addition to the littoral drift runnig acrose the mouth . During the lean months, the tidal current controls the sedimentation processes in the estuarine system. This leads to the sedimentation problem in the entrance channel becoming critical. The Cochin Port, though it is called a natural port due to its position in the sheltered backwaters, has to adopt artificial means to develop shipping channel. Hence for small ships it is an all weather port and for larger ships it is not so.

A typical phenomenon of any estuary is that the salt-water wedge would move upstream and velocities in the outer channel would drop particularly at the bed as a result of deepening the channel. This would result in increasing the rate of siltation in the outer channel by about 100% from the existing value.

The siltation in inner channel and turning circle and harbour area will be more.
During southwest monsoon, the estuary is virtually converted into a freshwater basin. This may need an additional depth of 2% for shipping channel and basin.

‘At Cochin the wave climate is governed by the southwest monsoon when wave action can be strong with prevailing wave directions from northwest to southwest. Deep water (15m) wave observations in the past indicate the significant wave heights of 4m, 2m, and 1m at the water depths of 10m, 5m and 2m respectively, the predominant wave direction being west and wave period 9 secs’. When the significant wave height (Hs) is 4mts at the mouth, the maximum wave height (Hm) will be 7.12 mts, so what is the depth of water required for a ship drawing a draught of 14.5mts, while cruising considering Squatting, heaving and pitching?

The influx of freshet discharge from the Muvattupuzha, the Pampa, the Manimala, the Meenachil and the Achenkovil Rivers from the south and Periyar from the north bring substantial quantities of sediments into the estuarine system. During the lean months, the tidal forcing controls the sedimentation processes in the estuarine system. This leads to the sedimentation problem in the entrance channel becoming critical.
The channel is, about 450 m wide at Cochin. The depth of the estuary varies considerably. While the shipping channels are maintained at a depth of 10–13 m, the major portion of the estuary has a depth range of 2–7 m. Water from two major rivers viz., Periyar and Muvattupuzha drain into this estuary. During southwest monsoon, the estuary is virtually converted into a freshwater basin.

Committee on Tidal Hydraulics, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Washington, DC. Conducted Case studies of Cochin Port 1960 ies. The finding is reproduced which is gathered from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Web. Page. (The report must available with CPT.)
“Experiments conducted in a saline water model indicated that the salt-water wedge would move upstream and velocities in the outer channel would drop particularly at the bed as a result of deepening the channel from 9.7 to 13.7 m (32 to 45 ft). This would result in increasing the rate of siltation in the outer channel from the existing value of 1.5 million cu m (2 million cu yd) to an anticipated value of 3.8 million cu m (5 million cu yd) per annum.”

The success and failure of dredging depends greatly on the location, the geological, bathymetrical, geographical and marine / river / estuary condition. There are location where one succeed in dredging there are location where you fail. All locations are not similar and each location has different condition. One cannot generalize it quoting another elsewhere in Europe and USA. Hooghly with its shifting course, sandbar formation and silting is not comparable with Rhine, Elbe, Scheldt, or Yangtze. Perhaps Cochin is the only port in the world, which is a confluent point of 6 rivers. In some document I have seen Cochin being described as ‘LAGOON’ port but it is not so. It is not a lagoon port like New Mangalore; you know It. You know also why New Mangalore was developed instead of Karwar. Cochin is an estuarine port. In the earlier years when constructed, 60 years back, the problem was not severely affected because the ship size were small about 10,000 DWT and 15,000 DWT (second generation) i.e. less than the present handy size.
For argument’s sake let us immagin that the depth at berth is dredged to 18 mts. Does anyone expect that 14 km channel can be maintained for taking a 4th genration container ship?
So gentleman Cochin can never be a ICTT. You can just keep a board and work like any other feeder port calling small ships. It would have been wise to develop Vizhinjam instead.

VK Bhavadasan,
Retired Chief Engineer (Civil) Gujarat Maritime Board, Ahmedabad, Gujarat.



In Reply to VK Bhavadasan 5 years ago

Brilliantly placed here, Mr. Bhavadasan, and thank you. Really grateful to you for adding value to this article, and I shall forward it to some people who will, hopefully, be able to act on this even now.

Two more points, if you could add your views - what would the ideal dumping grounds be, even for maintenance dredging, and would the existing damage due to dredging which has already caused the beach to vanish near the chinese nets as well as the island opposite, be reversible?



5 years ago

Veeteshji, highly useful article. Will provide you with more information on this soon



In Reply to Mohandas 5 years ago




Guptan Veemboor

5 years ago

Sir, My brother was working with Gujarat Maritime Board ( I think it is called so) looking after small ports and has retired as chief Engineer of GMB. We used to discuss these general things of interest. He has told me that Kochi port cannot be dredged as the silt deposit coming annually is very high and it is not economically viable to go on dredging. He has been recommending that Vizhinjam is the ideal place to be a deep sea port. He had gone through a lot of data for arguing in favour of Vizhinjam. I have sent this link to him and told him to put his comments.


5 years ago

This is what is called a paid article.

Some people can earn money like this for SOME time.

There are port projects which have no takers and the only thing the "verbal promoters" of such projects do is to pay "merchants" like the one above to write some nonsense like the one above.
Once the "promoter" runs out of money merchants stop writing too.
Till then such "projects" will "exist" much like the nonsense above - only on paper (or web) .



In Reply to Janarddan 5 years ago

Dear Janarddan, thank you for writing in, but I can not make out what you say or mean in your post.

It may be my fault, this lack of understanding, so could you please articulate this better, grateful, and humbly submitted.


Reebok fraud case: Two top ex-employees booked

The two top executives are booked for allegedly siphoning off Reebok's money by creating ghost distributors across the country and generating forged bills over the last five years

Gurgaon: The Gurgaon Police has formed a special investigation team to look into the alleged Rs870- crore fraud case filed by Reebok India Co against its former MD Subhinder Singh Prem and COO Vishnu Bhagat.

"We have constituted a special investigation team to be headed by Assistant Commissioner of Police Rajesh Phogat for the purpose," Maheshwar Dayal, DCP (East), Gurgaon, told PTI.

He also clarified that the company in its original complaint had stated that the hit due to alleged fraudulent practice of its two former top executives was "Rs870 crore" and the amount mentioned in the FIR was a typographical error.

As per the FIR filed yesterday, Reebok India alleged Prem and Bhagat had indulged in "criminal conspiracy" and "fraudulent" practices over a period of time that resulted in Adidas group taking a "total hit of approximately Rs8,700 crore in the books".

Reebok India is a part of the Adidas group.

In the FIR, Reebok India 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.

Asked about the progress of the case, Dayal said: "Now, we have asked the complainant to give us documents and other evidence to prove that a scam of this magnitude has happened in the company."

When contacted, Adidas Group said: "We are given to understand that our criminal complaint has been registered for investigation by the Indian law enforcement authorities...We shall continue to cooperate with the authorities in their investigation of the matter.



a v moorthi besides TIHAR

5 years ago

What were the auditors of Reebok doing during last 5 years ( ML should write about them also by giving them a chance - after all they would be collecting a fat fee for their assignment). This also shows very poorly about the caliber of Top Management of Reebok in US who never knew the happening in Reebok India for over 5 years and icing of the cake was Reebok reported in FIR initially as Rs 8,700 crores instead of Rs 870 crores as per latest FIR, hope tomorrow they don't claim it is just Rs 870/- . This also shows the caliber of the investment Bankers who could palm of a dud like this Reebok to Adidas

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