Born and brought up in Jharkhand and having studied in Dhanbad, Ranchi, Surajit Chatterjee initially wanted to join the Indian Armed Forces. His destiny took him in another direction though and he’s now a part of the food & hospitality sector. Having unfortunately failed the competitive entrance exams to join the Armed Forces, he is now General Manager at the Holiday Inn in Candolim.
“I started my journey into the hospitality sector at Trident Hotel in Chennai where I learned a great deal. After completing my industrial exposure at Trident, I moved back to Kolkata to do my vocational training at the Taj Bengal and as I hopped from one property to another, my love for the food and beverages industry grew stronger and stronger.”
His introduction into the hospitality industry began in Hyderabad where he worked as a front office trainee as a college placement but that didn’t suit him so he quit and continued his studies until he got a job in Mumbai. “I started as a trainee supervisor in food & beverages at the Ambassador Hotel in Mumbai which has a rooftop restaurant. I was there for 2 ½ years then I joined a cruise liner for 4 ½. I saw the world this way and gained a lot of exposure by meeting people from over 54 countries. I then decided to come back to India to concentrate on my career, and that was the time I joined the Hyatt Regency in Bombay,” he said.
“My last stint in F&B was with Accor Hotels in Ahmadabad as director of Food & Beverages until I got the opportunity at the Radisson in Ludhiana as General Manager and just before Covid, I moved to Goa. I joined the IHG hotel in Goa as General Manager and I’ve been here for 2 ½ years. I must say that it is a great opportunity to work with the IHG as a brand. I faced lots of challenges due to covid because the opening had been delayed, there was a shortage of manpower, and no proper supplies and the whole project was delayed by almost 3 months, but all the hardship ended and we opened officially in August 2021 with 60 rooms.”
Surajit tells me that the bio-bubble of Netflix got them a booking for 100 rooms during October 2021 which enabled the business to stabilize and they could finish the pending project work. “We have two buildings and currently we have 104 rooms with one presidential suite, 2000 sqft. of banqueting, pool bar, a fully-fledged gymnasium and soon we are introducing a spa and kids play area which will be commissioned before Diwali,” said Mr Chatterjee.
Holiday Inn is a popular brand and this particular hotel, being the second one in Goa, has a real pull factor with its guests. “This property is very fresh and new and different from any other property in India. The uniforms we wear here, the rooms and décor, the interiors and facade – everything is unique and one of a kind,” he added.
Talking about his strengths and weaknesses, Mr Chatterjee said that being an F&B expert and having worked in the sector for decades, his major strength lies in F&B. “But now being a General Manager, I have to oversee every aspect of managing the hotel to ensure our guests are happy. I have very good exposure and maintain good public relations. I like to meet people and I use my creativity and innovations to make the guest experience a memorable one. Coming back to the weakness, everyone has some weaknesses for sure. In my case, I have yet to explore Goa and learn more about the people of Goa and this is the only weakness that I can see as of now,” said Mr Chatterjee.
When asked how he deals with bad days in the business Mr Chatterjee said, “Every business sees good and bad days and I don’t consider bad days as bad but a learning step. I see it as a means to improve, look for ways to face the challenge and come out as a winner. I make sure that my team remains motivated all the time and to do that we have different activities our focus always remains to create a good guest experience and the positive feedback that we get from them keeps on motivating our team. In fact, even during covid and pre-opening, we have never cut any salaries of our staff and still today, I ensure that they get the best of the facilities at this property. This has in turn meant that we’ve not lost a single member of staff.”
Mr Chatterjee said that the property’s location is their major USP. “We are situated in the centre of the most happening tourism destination. Our rooms are very spacious, our smallest room is 305 sqft and every room has a balcony so you can’t get better than this. Each room is very aesthetically designed and we have a trolley in each bathroom the entrance to the Presidential suite is a most unique experience which is unmatched. In fact, the Presidential suite is spread across a 2500 sqft area and once it’s ready, it will be the talk of the town. It has a total of 6 rooms with 3 bedrooms and each bedroom has a separate closet area, large living room and even a separate kitchen.”
Goa is the most popular tourism destination in the country and it can improve further if the roads and other infrastructures are upgraded as per requirement. “Transportation is a major challenge faced by tourists and locals alike but I am sure that the completion of the new Zuari bridge and the new airport at Mopa will improve tourism activities further. I also believe that Goa Tourism and other tourism bodies in Goa are working hard on improving the tourism business in Goa so soon something positive will come out of this. My only suggestion to them is to keep the greenery intact.”
When I asked which other brand he would like to name besides his property in Goa, Mr Chatterjee replied very politely saying that all the brands are very good and doing well and it is very difficult to name one. “I have been to lots of hotels in Goa and there are many international brands with a presence in the state. New brands keep coming up and hence I can’t differentiate or name one or two but would rather say that we are set apart from most other hotels in Goa and we fit into the ‘upscale hotels’ segment.”
Mr Chatterjee said that the season will start in October with lots of festivals coming up, such as Dussehra and Diwali. “We are planning to start our Navaratri Thali in October since we have a good Gujarati footfall. Our pool bar will be launched too with live music theme nights at the weekends. We will also be relaunching our “Drunch” which is a mix of drinks + lunch the concept behind this is the typical nature of Goans who eat breakfast late. We invite locals as well as the home guest to enjoy a day by the pool and indulge in specially crafted lunches with drinks. It starts at 12.30 pm and goes on until 4 pm.”
The hotel also has an electric buggy that drops people to the beach and Holiday Inn Candolim Goa is the only hotel that has an EV charging station. “It is available for in-house guests as well as for locals who can download the app, charge at the station, pay on the app and leave which is a very unique service that no other hotel has,” he added.
Speaking about the impact of social media and influencers on the business, Mr Chatterjee said, “North Goa is all about the young crowd, between the ages of 25 to 40, and according to me, they look at social media and influencers to choose their hotels, restaurants and nights out so they play a huge role in influencing the behaviour of the guests.”.
Mr Chatterjee said that in future, he wants to work with a bigger room inventory in the luxury hotel sector. “For me, the position is not as important as growth. I want to learn new things and explore different cities but all this will not happen for at least two years since I have plans of staying in Goa for a while still. After that, I will think of making plans to explore bigger properties and brands at a new leisure destination. I love Goa and I want to wake up in the morning to the fresh air that Goa has. I love driving to work and meeting the people I do.”