How did The Westin become so popular within a year?
Back in 2007, The Westin was a risky venture for our investor. He invested a lot as the first private investor in [Bangladesh's] hospitality industry. Our brand strength and Starwood PG Guest Loyalty Programmes also helped a lot with tapping into the business quickly. Our marketing strategy was very aggressive.
Also, we were service-oriented from the very beginning and our guests were our priority.
Besides, our location gave us an added advantage. All corporate segments of Bangladesh, all the multinational brands, international brands, local brands, and the diplomatic enclave are all in our immediate vicinity.
What stage are we at as a country in the hospitality industry?
The hospitality industry is in a very good shape even though we are in the growing stage. Many followed in our footsteps and set up hotels in Gulshan. They are doing pretty well although not all are star hotels.
The Westin was the benchmark for them. Many entrepreneurs were motivated by our success and service standards. In the next five years, eight to 10 five-star hotels will be established. The industry will expand and generate employment.
Do you think prices of hotel rooms are too high compared to tourist destinations in other countries?
If you consider international hotel chains, we need more hotels. We have many boutique hotels in the capital, but international hotel chains have specific standards to maintain.
In Bangladesh, investment is too high compared to Thailand and India, and investors always want a return. In most cases, senior management are from foreign countries. This raises their expenses. Food ingredients and beverages are mostly imported. Duties play a vital role in fixing prices. At present, the number of five-star hotels is low. Prices of rooms will go down when more hotels open.
What are the challenges in Bangladesh's hospitality industry?
Skill development is one. We are mainly dependent on Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation and National Hotel and Tourism Training Institute. We have a few private institutes but they are not enough. The government should provide more training faclilities for this industry.
Also, we are dependent on foreigners for some key positions at hotels, like general manager. If we make a pipeline, it will be easier for us to get eligible people for running five-star hotels from among locals.
How can we increase tourists in Dhaka?
Most of those travelling to Dhaka are business travellers. They are not here for sightseeing. The government should take an initiative to increase the number of tourists. We need preparation in this regard.
What is your plan in drawing new business?
Our mother company Unique Hotel and Resorts is very passionate about the hospitality industry. Two hotels are in the pipeline. One is Sheraton at Banani, and the other is Element in Uttara.
Besides, it is also planning to set up six-star standard hotels St Regis, Holiday Inn Express and Hyatt Regency in the Gulshan area.
The company has established a training school to help the industry to grow. They have some students enrolling as interns. In future, the school could be turned into a college or university.
What is your advice for the youths?
Some join this profession after failing to start a career in other sectors. Anyone working in a profession he or she is not passionate about will be unable to generate the best output. So, the right people should take the right positions. Those already in the industry need more training to increase their skills.