‘Things will be more flexible in 2021’: Piyush Tyagi of Marriott International

“We decided to stick to Level Two at the moment, and ensure that we take care of our guests coming here to celebrate special occasions”  Marriott International GM Piyush Tyagi

Weligama Bay Marriott Resort & Spa is a beach resort with a local touch in terms of cuisines and offerings. During the pandemic, Marriott had to close their doors for about two-and-a-half months through April and May, until the middle of June. They are currently welcoming guests with all safety precautions in place, while offering a heightened experience.

Speaking to Marriott International General Manager (GM) Piyush Tyagi, he commented that they used that time to prepare the entire team to align with the new norm. “We focused on a lot of initiatives which involved educating our guests. As we’ve always been a premium luxury hotel, there’s always been a focus on hygiene, but because of the pandemic and the new normal, we actually elevated our hygiene levels.” Talking about the safety measures put in place, he said: “We were the first hotel to introduce an electrostatic sprayer which we used to ensure that all public areas could be immediately sanitised including the elevators. In fact, that has become our standard operating procedure now.” 

Marriott introduced a global programme to the hotel by the name of “Commitment To Clean (CTC)”. Tyagi explained that the CTC concept was introduced in order to increase confidence among the guests: “When someone enters a hotel, they want to be assured it is safe, so the vehicles and baggage are sanitised, and there are ample signages across the hotel promoting social distancing and masks.” He also added that there were a lot of efforts in terms of digitalisation, where they moved away from physical menus at restaurants, and offered QR codes that guests may scan and access all the information they need. 

Talking about their reopening post lockdown, he added: “When we started having our first domestic leisure guests walking into the hotel, they could actually see the level of seriousness adopted by the hosts at the hotel at all levels. So that helped us because we could actually increase confidence, and we see great responses coming in.”  

Tyagi also informed us that they have never catered to so many domestic tourists from the time they launched, so, in spite of the pandemic, it has actually made way for a much higher engagement with the local community.

Marriott is currently certified as a Level Two hotel, where both local and foreigners who have completed the required quarantine period can lodge. Speaking about why they wish to remain a Level Two hotel, Tyagi explained: “The Marriott has seen a very strong demand when it comes to local weddings, homecomings, and other social events. In January this year, we’ve had over 20 social events, which is a great start for 2021. We’ve never had so many social events from the local community ever from the time we opened in 2017.” He noted that Sri Lanka is seeing a strong market for destination weddings, which is a factor that Marriott focuses on. “This is one of the main reasons why we decided to stick to Level Two at the moment, and ensure that we take care of our guests coming here to celebrate special occasions.”

Out of the 190 rooms Marriott houses, he observed that even during weekdays, they manage to acquire a double-digit occupancy with 18% of the hotel booked. This number increases significantly over the weekend to about 50% occupancy. 

Tyagi added that as a hotel, they made a conscious decision not to lay off a single employee during the pandemic. “We still have all our employees who were employed pre-Covid and we take care of our employees as a family.” 

Marriott worked very closely with the sales and marketing team. “There was a lot of engagement, which we did on social media like Facebook, Instagram, and various other platforms. When we enhanced the engagement with the domestic market, we were fortunate to have seen a strong demand coming from this market.” They had many guests who would come back, and stay over a weekend, which they found motivating. Tyagi added that the reason why this happens is because of the view from their rooms: “All our rooms face the ocean and you can get a great view of the entire bay from each and every room. The levels of comfort we offer are also unmatched, and guests are provided with everything they could need to obtain a refreshing stay away from all their burdens.” He added that their other key strength is their food: “Our cuisine is a factor that we take great pride in. We offer a large variety of food, catering both to an international and local market with a flavoursome twist.”  

In terms of local offerings, they tweaked their buffet, which used to be focused on international cuisines pre-Covid, and made it more localised. “We focused a lot on seafood offerings and engagement activities, especially with kids. These small things made our guests quite happy, and helped them cope with the toll that the pandemic took.”

Over the weekend, guests could sit on the rooftop and enjoy the pop-up bar and the band that would keep them entertained. “Our rooftop has a 360-degree view of the whole of Weligama Bay, which is something our guests really love. We even offer sessions like aqua yoga in the pool for the ultimate relaxation experience.” 

Tyagi plans to spend 2021 making a complete business recovery, and providing their guests with a heightened experience, with their safety promised. “We hope the whole Covid situation in the country becomes controlled. I’m sure vaccines are just around the corner. I’m sure things will be more flexible in 2021.”