Vijay Albuquerque: “Professionalism and dedication are the key to success.” [Archives:1998/47/Interview]
Vijay Albuquerque, General Manager of the Taj Sheba Hotel in Sanaa, is well known around town. His highly personalized and professional service-oriented approach in dealing with people has earned him an excellent standing among the Yemeni and the international community.
When he first arrived in Sanaa, conditions were already bad. The civil war of 1994, the numerous kidnapping of foreign tourists and oil people in the country, the economic break-down leading to major difficulties, and many other conditions all but wiped out the travel and hotel industries. It was clear that the people who work in the tourism industry had a tough job ahead of them.
But Vijay not only was able to …., but he is leaving behind a thriving Taj Sheba which continues to command a special place in the sector. He has maintained the leadership role in the business. The hotel, with almost US$ 8 million of new investments including phase 2, is gearing up to play an even more dominant role.
Mr. Albuquerque has been with the Indian Taj Group for almost 25 years. He finished high school at St. Stanislaus (Bombay), graduated from the Institute of Hotel Management (Bombay), did post- graduate studies in Business Administration at Xavier’s Institute of Management (Bombay), attended summer school at Cornell University Ithacca (New York).
VJ, as he is affectionately known to Taj Sheba patrons, served as General Manager in London, Muscat, Madras, Goa and Agra. He will leave Sanaa in a few weeks to take over as the GM of New Delhi’s Taj Palace Hotel. Yemen Times used the occasion of his approaching departure to talk to the man who has left his mark.
Q: How do you feel on leaving the Taj Sheba Hotel?
A: I leave with a tinge of sadness and a degree of satisfaction at seeing the first phase of the long overdue renovation almost to fruition. There is an element of disappointment at not being able to complete the entire renovation as planned for, but then duty calls.
Q: You speak of renovations. What are its major features?
A: The fact of the matter is that this is the first intensive renovation ever undertaken by any hotel in Yemen.
Leaving just the shell of the building, we have renovated the entire 80 rooms of one wing of the hotel. This includes the plumbing, electrical mechanical equipment, bathrooms, furniture, fixtures, joinery, upholstery and iron-mongery.
We have also introduced two Club Floors which should be on stream before the end of the year. In addition, the new Coffee Shop is due for a re-launch around the first week of next month.
The renovated rooms will incorporate state-of-the-art technology and several fire prevention and safety features, flame retardant fabrics and fire rated entrance doors. The interiors of the rooms and the facade of the building have design elements that reflect the unique feature of Yemeni architecture.
The new Bilquis Coffee Shop interiors have stucco wall finishes and Qamarias – intrinsically Yemeni in character – and a larger capacity to cater to the ever increasing demand. With this renovation, the Taj Sheba will further consolidate its reputation as the leading hotel in Yemen.
Q: This would consolidate the leading role of the Taj Sheba Hotel in the business?
A: The Taj Sheba has always been and, I am sure, will continue to be the first choice of the discerning traveler visiting Yemen. It is difficult being the market leader, as one has to constantly monitor quality standards to maintain that position.
Staying ahead of the competition is much more difficult than playing the catching up game. We have endeavored to pursue an aggressive marketing strategy. Innovative food and beverage promotions have helped us to be the No.1 venue in the city.
Various national cultural and food festivals organized at the hotel, backed by the respective embassies, have made our food and beverage outlets extremely popular with the local and expatriate communities.
It is a well known fact that the Taj Sheba continues to remain the in-place to visit and be seen in. The diplomatic community patronizes the hotel as ever before. It is their number one choice for national-day events and celebrations.
In a great measure, the success of Taj Sheba is due to the excellent and dedicated team of professionals, who have been instrumental in helping me in the day-to-day running of the Hotel. I have been privileged to lead a dynamic team of departmental heads and staff, who have worked tirelessly in ensuring that we maintain the highest standards of personalized service.
It is a tribute to all members of the Taj Sheba family that we were able to hold together our entire client base, during the crucial phases of the renovation of the hotel. Now that this renovation is nearly complete, it will cement our leadership role.
Q: How do you assess the Yemeni tourism market?
A: The Yemeni tourism market, like any other part of the world, depends on an all round conducive environment in which to relax and enjoy one’s holiday.
The key factor that often affects tourists inflow to move erratically in peaks and troughs is the kidnapping of tourists, which does no good to the image of Yemen as an exotic tourist destination. Yemen has a lot to offer, but has a long way to go before it can tap its full potential as a mystical tourist attraction. The first few steps have already been taken, which is indeed encouraging.
Q: What has Taj Sheba done to promote Yemen as a tourist destination?
A: Promotion of tourism to any country is an equilateral triangle of efforts from the hotels, airlines, and travel agents/ground handling operators to complete the trinity. Ever present around these is a responsive government, which needs to back all concerned to successfully attract and promote Yemen as a destination.
At the moment, quite a number of tourists view Yemen as an extension to their holiday programs in and around the region. Yemen needs to be promoted vigorously as destination tourism. For that, an even greater effort is called for to create an awareness of what Yemen is capable of offering to the touring public.
There are special interest groups keen on seeing ancient architectural sites. Adventure tourism is another distinct possibility. Water sport enthusiasts can be attracted to the Red Sea coast for diving, ornithologists and bird watchers could be induced to visit specific areas of the country that attract migrant and other bird life. The medievalality of the countryside and markets are symbolic of Yemen living in a time-capsule.
We have in a small measure contributed to the promotion of tourism in Yemen. It is heartening to note the efforts being put in, particularly in recent times by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, headed by H.E. Abdulmalik Mansoor, to further attract the up market tourists from Europe, the States and Japan. I am optimistic this trend will continue in the foreseeable future.
Q: What is your new post?
A: I have been assigned to take over the Taj Palace Hotel, New Delhi, which is India’s number one convention center-cum-hotel. In addition to 421 rooms and suites, it has a host of banqueting halls, specialty restaurants, state-of-the-art business facilities and a fitness center equipped with the latest equipment and gadgetry. It also happens to be the second largest property of the Taj Group, after our flagship hotel the Taj Mahal in Bombay.
Q: In your long tenure, which post would you say was the jewel in your crown?
A: After 28 long years, this is a difficult question to answer. But in hindsight there are a couple that come to mind either due to emotional attachment or due to the success the venture has achieved. The Taj View in Agra is one, since it was the very first hotel I managed India. It was a newly acquired property, totally revamping all the rooms and public areas in less than six months, and an operation that generated cash surpluses from year one.
The Bailey’s Hotel in London with the opening of the Bombay Brassiere, was another interesting and challenging assignment. Had I been in a position to complete in entirety the renovation of Taj Sheba, it would have no doubt been among the top two. Alas it was not destined to be, but then life must go on. I will look back at some memorable moments of my years in Sanaa, surely with a tear in my eye.
Q: What is the thing you will miss the most in Yemen?
A: I will miss the harmonious working conditions that exist between the Yemenis and Indians. It is quite a unique mix. It is gratifying to experience a congenial working environment, which is the main reason one can attribute to our premier status in the hospitality industry of Yemen. I will also miss my good Yemeni friends and the new developments that are due to take place in the city of Sanaa, albeit by a mere week or two in some instances.
Q: Any last comments?
A: My wife Blossom and daughter Venita would have been delighted to visit Yemen once more before our final departure. But due to circumstances beyond our control, we have not been able to, as a family, bid farewell to our good friends. Perhaps that gives us an opportunity to re-visit the country in the future, Insha-allah. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the owners of the Hotel, particularly Mr. Hayel Abdulhaq for his constant support and guidance during my tenure at the Taj Sheba. It is imperative for a successful organization to have good understanding and cooperation between its management team and the owning company. We have received this in abundant measure, may be more than we could have asked for.
I also thank the Government agencies such as the Ministries of Tourism and Culture, Labor, Health, Immigration and Customs departments, the Law Enforcement authorities, associated Governmental bodies, Yemenia, KLM, Emirates, Gulf Air, Lufthansa, other airlines, the various travel agents and tour operators and the local press, in particular “The Yemen Times”, that have helped in making my job a pleasurable and memorable experience.