Anvar Alikhan interviews Sven Hoffmeyer, General Manager of the new Park Hyatt, about what it takes to create a great hotel.
There’s a lot of buzz happening in town about the newly opened Park Hyatt. I met Sven Hoffmeyer, its GM, over lunch at his Italian restaurant, Tre-Forni — which he seems especially proud of. The restaurant’s name, he explained to me, means “three ovens.” As we sat down, I asked him:
What are your insights about Hyderabad? It’s always useful to see ourselves through somebody else’s eyes.
I find it a very exciting city. Right from the time I landed at your wonderful airport and took that very impressive flyover into town. The infrastructure is excellent, and that’s going to be a great growth-driver for the city as we go forward. Everybody knows about the importance of the IT industry, but I believe the new airport and international convention centre are very important strategic nodes for the city’s growth. Also, the Falaknuma Palace, for example — it plays a great role in bringing the eyes of the world upon Hyderabad.
There’s a belief that there are too many hotels in Hyderabad already.
I don’t agree, and that is also the Hyatt Group’s corporate view. We believe this city has enormous growth potential in the future. In fact, apart from the Park Hyatt, we’re currently setting up three other projects in Hyderabad.
Three more hotels? Wow! What are they going to be?
There are two new Hyatt hotels coming up, in Gachibowli and Banjara Hills. And there’s a Hyatt Place, which is our brand of service apartments.
It was time to order lunch. Sven suggested that we leave the menu to his Italian chef, Matteo Grande, which sounded like a great idea. Matteo recommended a traditional Italian meal: starting with an antipasti platter of cold cuts, served with artichokes, parmesan cheese and grilled vegetables.
This would be followed by pizza, pasta, main course and dolce. It was interestingly different from the way I’d have usually ordered, myself. The cold cuts, which arrived almost immediately, were superb and delicate, with the unique fragrance of northern Italy.
Tell me about the different brands under the Hyatt umbrella. How exactly are they positioned, I asked Sven.
They’re positioned to address different market segments. Our flagship brand is the 5-star Hyatt Regency brand. Then there’s Grand Hyatt, which is positioned more for the corporate and conference segment. But our top-of-the-line brand is Park Hyatt, which is a slightly more Europeanised, more refined concept, with fewer rooms, larger rooms, and a more personalised experience.
And you decided that for the Hyderabad market, the most relevant brand was the Park Hyatt?
It’s unusual to launch with a Park Hyatt in a new city but, yes, we felt it was the most appropriate in this case. However, as I told you, we’re going to follow up with two Hyatt Regency hotels and a Hyatt Place, as well.
The next course arrived. Chef Matteo’s special Pizza Bufala, hot from the wood-fired oven — which, let me simply say, was enough to stop me from ever again ordering from Pizza Hut.
What would you say is the difference between a good hotel and a great hotel? I asked.
Well, a good hotel has great design; but in a great hotel, the design goes beyond. Having said that, a great design is just a dead shell if it doesn’t have the right people doing the right things for the guests, at all times.
OK, so what is the difference between a good hotelier and a great hotelier?
It’s a very tough job. You have to be able to multi-task. You have to know about everything: about interior design, the art package, uniforms and the way they make you feel, Information Technology and its possibilities to create the guest experience. You have to keep learning, the process never stops. And then, ultimately, you develop a sixth sense that something is, or isn’t, right. It’s something they can’t teach you in any management school.
Which would you say are the world’s best hotels?
In my experience, the Frankfurterhof in Frankfurt, a 125-year-old hotel with a very rich history. The Dorchester in London and the Raffles in Singapore are very impressive. The Burj al Arab has been a wonderful icon for Dubai, although the hotel itself is disappointing. And then, of course, there’s the Andaz in Manhattan, on 5th Avenue.
There’s this theory that the best hotel groups are the Asian ones — just as the Asian airlines are the best. What’s your take?
Yes, there’s a grain of truth in that, because Asia celebrates hospitality in a way that’s very different from the West. But a classic case is the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok, which was
legendary for its service. The secret, I believe, was its German General Manager, who was a legend in his own right, and who brought about the combination of Asian hospitality with
German precision. That is what we try for at the Park Hyatt, in a way: the blend of a superb guest experience with the technology that enables efficiency.
Our Spaghetti Chitara was very well presented, and very good, accompanied by an amatriciana sauce, which was new to me, but the piece de resistance was the Duck Breast with Orange Sauce that followed, which simply melted in the mouth.
Which are your favourite restaurants in Hyderabad — outside of your own hotel? I asked.
What I like about Hyderabad is its culture of free-standing restaurants. Restaurants like N Grill, for example. I’ve been to the Italian restaurants, like Prego, to get a sense of how their menus are designed for Hyderabadi tastes. I’ve been to the Hyderabadi restaurants, like the one at the Golkonda, and Paradise.
So, to ask a cliched question, what did you think of Paradise biryani?
I was very impressed by the restaurant. In fact, I had teams from Hyatt in Dubai and Chicago who were visiting Hyderabad, and I made it a point to take them to eat at Paradise.
What, you took the Hyatt people from Chicago to Paradise?
Sure. The logistics of that restaurant are excellent. The way they’re able to serve that quantity, and that quality, at one time. The people from Hyatt Chicago have seen hundreds of international hotels, but this was a new kind of inspiration for them. OK, people may have different views on the quality of the biryani, but there’s something very special about that restaurant.
We ended our meal with a good, authentic Tiramisu, accompanied by a delicately flaky Mille Feuille. And, finally, a little demitasse of espresso, which, to my surprise, Chef Matteo insisted on making for us himself.
One thought I took away from my chat with Sven was this: “Being a hotelier becomes a bit of a problem sometimes. Like if I go to someone else’s restaurant, I need to consciously switch off and let go. Because otherwise I’m constantly going through my subconscious drill of watching all the tiny things that are going wrong, and that can really ruin one’s meal.”
Photographs by Sharath Reddy