We chat to Roshan Koonja, CIO at Constance Hotels and Resorts, about the group’s technological strategy.
When we called Roshan Koonja, he had just touched down in Mauritius. He was back home from San Francisco after participating at IBM Connect 2017, a prestigious gathering of CIOs hosted annually by IBM. This was one of a series of recent international conferences that Roshan had been invited to as a guest speaker. Roshan feels privileged to be in these high-profile forums where he passionately shares his experiences with cutting-edge technologies that he has successfully implemented at Constance Hotels. Regular invitations to these international platforms are encouraging signs for Roshan who feels that his organization is respected in the international arena with its successes in embracing change through a people-first digitization model.
To say that Roshan likes technology would be an understatement. Over the last 20 years, he has built an impressive track record in the information and communications technology sector in the hospitality space through the design and development of practical, innovative business solutions. Roshan has established himself as a results-driven no-nonsense player within his company, reaching the upper echelon of management in the process. It is no surprise that he is a well-respected and often sought after to speak at global hotel technology conferences.
The information technology industry of the 90s in Mauritius was still in its infancy stages when Roshan joined Constance Hotels. While his first assignment was to implement an IT system for his organization, Roshan actually ended up delivering more than just a technical solution. His astute understanding of leading trends in the global hotel industry led him to be very strategic in the use of information and supporting technologies to deliver an innovative end-to-end solution that would help his company operate efficiently, effectively and competitively.
Maintaining growth is central to Constance Hotels’ overall goals. Even though the company has been around for merely 46 years, it continues to gain international recognition with CNN recently naming two of its hotels (Constance Moofushi Maldives and Constance Prince Maurice Mauritius) in its list of the world’s top 25. Constance’s success is partly due to the group finding its niche market. Based across four Indian Ocean islands, Constance Hotels prides itself on a human-scale, luxury vibe. The group comprises of seven hotels: two in Seychelles, two in Maldives, two in Mauritius and one in Madagascar. The Constance guest experience aligns with these local cultures, rather than entertaining the generic touristy practices. The hotel group also wants technology to be a large part of guest experience. That’s where Roshan comes in.
Based out of Mauritius, Roshan oversees global IT operations across all four islands and leads a team of 20 people. Roshan acknowledges that technology should be treated as a strategic tool rather than just a set of tactical methods. Together with his CEO, Mr Jean-Jacques Vallet, he advises the board on the strategic direction of where technology can be used and how technology can be an enabler.
Roshan is currently looking into innovative solutions ranging from Internet of Things (IoT), Business Intelligence, Social Collaborative solution and most lately Cognitive Solutions. They are now in a new era of I.T moving from a principally back office function to more of an integrated value creation enterprise.
Roshan is constantly seeking new ways of using technology to increase revenue and tap into unforeseen opportunities. While doing so, he is never veering away from the overarching ultimate goal of always improving the total guest experience. “Our motto at Constance Hotels is to convert our guests’ expectations into emotional experiences. We try to enable these in the most secured way in order to safeguard our shareholders’ interests, protect guests’ data and of course our brand name.”
We ask Roshan how he and his team boost guests’ experience via technology. “The diffusion of the system of information technologies in the hotel industry has increased the efficiency, quality and flexibility with which guest services are supplied. It has already led to the generation of new services and has infiltrated many areas of our group. From marketing to back office, IT is everywhere. And we have created wealth across the whole system. One simple example of how we enhanced guests’ experience is through a complete revamp of the room entertainment system. All our rooms are equipped with a Mac system which is used for enabling IPTV technology including features like Miracast, Airplay, Connection to multiple devices, charging of mobile devices, PC mode etc all connected to full HDTV. Our guests have the comfort of their home at their disposal. We lay a lot of emphasis on WIFI and as a matter of fact we have this concept of FREE WIFI Everywhere. We also have a wide variety of latest movies and music where our guest can choose from while also providing FREE access to all major newspapers and magazines across the globe through our online system.
This “comfort zone” also includes the ability for guests to communicate with our team members. Through devices in their rooms, guests can use mobile messaging service WhatsApp to make any requests. It actually works as an e-concierge service “We ensure that the requests are recorded, and that we can actually service that request in the minimum amount of time, in accordance with the service level agreement implemented internally,” says Roshan. He emphasizes that communication via WhatsApp is just one “arm of the cycle”. Constance Hotels has a holistic approach where we try our best to “WOW” guests by making sure that we know our guests throughout the whole lifecycle with us so that we can make their stay as enjoyable and memorable.
Roshan’s tech strategy expands beyond the hotel room, and onto the golf course also. Constance Hotels owns and manages two 18-hole golf courses in Mauritius and one in the Seychelles. The group pioneered the Indian Ocean golf scene – it was the first to build a championship golf course (home of the Senior European Tour) in Mauritius and also to build an 18-hole championship course in the Seychelles. Constance invests heavily in its golf facilities, and needless to say, Roshan is involved in this too. “We have to make sure that we have the right reservation system as well as an appropriate tournament system for golf,” he tells us. All our golf carts have a GPS system, so we can give the players the luxury of knowing the distance and layout of the holes as they are playing.” Roshan’s technological input extends to Constance Golf Academy, which allows guests to train with professional, qualified golf instructors. Roshan has implemented software, which enables the golfers to analyse their swing in a bid to figure out how to improve.
With experiences such as golf training, Constance has established itself as a small luxury brand and as a matter of fact has been nominated for three consecutive years as Top Luxury brand by ReviewPro. “Although we have reached a very high position in the luxury brand echelon it is important for us to stay vigilant to ensure that Constance’s technological development does not stagnate”. Roshan strongly declares “I'm always on the search for new technologies and as a matter of fact I was recently nominated as the finalist at the SuperNova Awards by Constellation Research in San Francisco for having implemented innovative technologies across the islands. I will take any kind of new technology that can add value and create wealth across the whole system with the ultimate goal of enhancing the guest experience”.
Identifying technology that fits Constance hotels is just one part of Roshan’s job. He has to make sure that his team is well versed in any new type of technology that he brings along. “Being in an insular environment, it is very hard to find the right competencies in the local market. Very often competencies have to be outsourced from abroad. However, all my projects are accompanied by a transfer of technology and know-how to the local resources. This makes sure that they grow and at the same time providing the best of services to the guests and staffs. I also make sure that the staffs are certified on the latest technologies.” Roshan gives us an example: When we had Apple Mac Minis installed in the rooms, we partnered with Apple, trained our people on the platform of Apple and did a transfer of knowledge.
Roshan also tells us what he looks for when hiring people. “For me, what is most important when I hire for the team, is that the person has a good team spirit. Attitude is very important.” he explains. If someone has the right mind-set and willingness to grow within the existing team, they will draw his attention. Of course, technical expertise is important to him, but “it’s not critical”.
Roshan is confident that his recruitment and wider technological strategies have been successful. “I’ve gained respect from my team members and the board. The team is growing fast, and I think we’re geared up with the right infrastructure, the right people and resources to be able to reach yet another hallmark.” Gourmet food and customer service are still the fundamental pillars of the hotel industry, but technology can make it easier to consistently deliver a memorable experience to the guests. And Constance Hotels understands that critical tenet.