In the world of hospitality, Hiren Prabhakar has seen it all. A globetrotting GM with an impressive resume of launching luxury properties in countries as diverse as Russia, Zambia, and Dubai, Mr. Prabhakar has built a storied career off a knack for motivating his teams to deliver on a cohesive vision. He credits his success – which defies borders and language – to a commitment towards immersion: immersion within the company culture, yes, but also a profound respect for the cultures in which his properties have earned guest loyalty.
When Mr. Prabhakar joined Marriott in 2014, he was tasked with applying every ounce of his guest-oriented philosophy and expertise to a completely novel challenge: managing the launch of the Toronto Marriott Markham, a new Marriott property with a cutting-edge concept that opened its doors in April of 2018. In the time since, the Marriott Markham has enjoyed significant success, with Mr. Prabhakar attributing its consistent traffic to “the vision & foresight of Marriott and the hotel ownership and to an outstanding team both on the property and above involved tirelessly to make the launch a huge success.”
As the General Manager of the Toronto Marriott Markham, what are some of the initiatives you’re hoping to put in place in the hospitality industry?
We have opened the first new-build Redesigned Marriott Hotel in Canada catering to the inventive class of guests. The Toronto Marriott Markham has set the benchmark for design and technology for Marriott in Canada. Giving opportunities to our associates is part of our CORE, and we have put together an outstanding team who were part of the hotel opening.
The property just opened its doors to the public over a year ago. What has the first year been like for the establishment?
We have had an excellent opening year and have been welcomed in the business community and have become the hub of Downtown Markham. A lot of thought and planning have gone into the Downtown Markham area, and we are excited to be part of this. We have seen good pace in capturing our market share and have created our niche in events and conference segment of the business
You’re no stranger to management. In fact, over the years you’ve managed several luxury properties around the world. How do you believe this experience has prepared you for your current role at the Marriott?
At the CORE we at Marriott take care of our associates and believe that if you take care of our associates they will take care of our guests who will keep coming back. We believe in giving opportunities in the community and to our transferable associates who share our vision and are part of our success.
Bill Marriott Jr.’s favorite word is “More”, and Arne Sorenson believes in “More, Faster.” To win the loyalty of our customers and become the best, we have to continually build a culture that embraces innovation and risk-taking while remaining true to who we are and taking care of our most valuable asset, our people.
The Marriott is obviously a popular well trusted and respected brand. How do you believe this new establishment will stand out all the while staying true to the Marriott brand?
The Toronto Marriott Markham is the first new-build Redesigned Marriott Hotel in Canada featuring the latest design concepts for the brand. With the Redesigned Marriott product, our Great Room Lobby and signature M Club Concierge Lounge blends form and function. Our room product features modern aesthetics and accommodates today’s technological savvy travelers with Mobile Check-In / keyless entry and Netflix integration in our in-room entertainment system. Lastly, our NextGen event space encourages collaboration, and satisfies today’s technological requirements with built-in audio visual technology. Combining our product with Marriott’s strong service culture makes the Toronto Marriott Markham stand out in today’s competitive landscape.
How do you see the Canadian hospitality industry and how do you believe your unique global perspective can help improve it?
Canada is one of our top 5 markets. We have a multi-cultural team that shares the Marriott culture which is our biggest differentiator. At the Toronto Marriott Markham, we have 18 countries represented by our Associates. Leading this multi-cultural team has been a fulfilling experience and several of our team have been nominated and won awards within Marriott.
With our diverse group of associates, we are able to understand and service the needs of our global travelers, be it welcoming them to our hotel in their own language or placing their cultural snack in the room prior to their arrival and providing a home away from home welcome.
For Marriott in Canada, we are looking to grow our luxury hotel portfolio with the first St. Regis Hotel in Canada that opened in Downtown Toronto last year. There is untapped potential in the luxury hotel segment in Canada, and our company is looking to expand its presence in this unique and important segment.
In your expert opinion, what area of the Canadian hospitality industry needs the most improvement?
Marriott has a healthy growth pipeline, and we are looking to fill positions in all our new openings. In the past 2 years, we have revitalized our Canadian University Relations team that has partnered with leading Canadian colleges and universities and placed more than 200 college and university hospitality students in our Managed hotels across Canada. We understand that with growth comes the need to fill our hotels with the right talent.
Having managed a wide range of luxury properties across the world, you’ve come across several different industry trends. What would you say is the most popular trend in the hospitality industry at the moment?
In my opinion, the most popular trend is the choice. Our guests have many preferences, and therefore, they desire options. With Marriott, there are 30 brands to choose from and each brand has its own unique characteristics, features, and values. Within our portfolio and 7,000 properties worldwide, there is truly something for every type of traveler. What is even better is now our guests can collect points and stay credits for all of our hotels worldwide with our Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program.
What is the biggest challenge you face as the General Manager of an up and coming establishment?
Opening a hotel is an experience in itself – the bond that you share with your team is everlasting. We at Marriott have an entire department that is deployed for hotel openings; this is a team of experts that travel from one hotel opening to another with a 28-day and 14-day schedule leading up to the hotel opening day. They make sure that the hotel is set up for success from the day we open. In addition, we have been very fortunate to have an excellent partner in the hotel ownership which has led to the phenomenal success of our hotel.
What are your predictions for the Canadian hospitality industry? Where do you see it heading in the future?
Looking at the trends in our industry, Marriott has entered into the home rental space with Homes & Villas by Marriott International. Guests now have access to book more than 2,000 premium and luxury homes and villas in over 100 destinations across the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and Latin America with each property offering the space and amenities of a home and supported by the reputable Marriott International brand.
In addition, as the company continues to analyze trends and traveler preferences, the company has launched the Redesigned Marriott and is working towards a significant transformation with the iconic Sheraton brand.
On a final note, what has been the biggest accomplishment of your professional career? What are you most proud of?
The integration of 2 of big hotel brands (Starwood and Marriott) and being able to participate in the journey has been a very satisfying accomplishment. The launch of our new loyalty program Marriott Bonvoy earlier this year and seeing the positive impact it has made in our business has been a fantastic and rewarding experience.