20 Minutes with Suresh Subramaniam – U Hotel Group

Suresh Subramaniam 20 Minutes With Banner

Suresh Subramaniam is the founder and CEO of the U Hotel Group. Despite the title, Subramaniam insists the job isn’t all sunshine and roses.

“It’s not as glamorous as people think. It’s a lot of hard work,” said Subramaniam.

“As a business owner and entrepreneur, it never stops. You are all the departments rolled into one, and I’m involved with all parts of the operations.”

Subramaniam began his hotel career working at the Duxton Hotel Wellington. After working in the country for over a decade he moved to India, where he spent time working as a general manager at ibis Gurgaon. It was on the way back from India where he got the idea to start his own company. He wanted to do something for himself, and he knew Wellington was the place to do it. From there he decided to launch a new hotel brand focussing on smaller hotels between 25 and 30 rooms.

U Hotel Group currently operates four properties in Wellington including the U Boutique Hotel, U Residence Hotel, U Suites and U Studios, with U Hostels just around the horizon. In the future, the brand is looking at growing outside of the capital city and expanding further across the country.

While it’s a great time to be operating a hotel business in New Zealand, considering the country’s tourism boom and consistently high occupancy rates, the New Zealand industry also has its shortcomings. Convincing youth to consider hospitality as a career - rather than just as a temporary part-time job is a big problem for employers in the New Zealand hospitality industry. As owner and founder of U Hotel Group, Subramaniam knows that all too well.

“When you’re in school there’s very little information about the tourism industry. They look at it as a stepping stone for something else.”

Unfortunately, hospitality jobs still have a stigma where students think ‘I’ll just a be a bartender for a couple of years’ before moving onto what they consider their ‘real career’.

This is most evident to Subramaniam in the job applications he receives, 80 percent of which he said come from foreigners and only 20 percent from locals. He said that as his company gets bigger and hires more people, the problem becomes more noticeable. In his mind, the other big deterrent for youngsters in the industry is burn-out from working shifts, public holidays, and across summer.

However, of the Kiwis who do stick it out, a lot of them – especially at U Hotel Group – find themselves in managerial roles.

His solution to the local staff shortage is for tourism operators to be included in lots of different initiatives at a school level, helping students understand that you can make money in the hotel and tourism industry.

Tourism operators need to convince the youth that there are a lot of opportunities in the industry, outside of the typical jobs. Modern hotel companies offer all sorts of career paths outside of being a traditional hotelier, such as opportunities for marketing, creatives, and human resources professionals.

Another topic on the tip of all hotelier’s tongues is sustainability and ensuring a property’s impact on the planet isn’t detrimental. All U Hotel Group’s properties have banned single-use plastics, and in the cafes everything is biodegradable. Coffee, tea, jam and butter are now stored in glass jars rather than single-use plastic options. Subramaniam said that while guests may not choose a hotel only because of its sustainability practices, guests are always delighted to hear about how the property they’re staying at is helping the environment.

A change he’s seen in the industry is the need to invest in relevant refurbishments and technology more often. Refurbing used to be done every five or ten years, but now Subramaniam thinks it needs to be done every three years to keep products fresh and relevant.

An example of this is with the hotels’ entertainment option. Subramaniam found that his guests weren’t watching satellite television anymore, so he’s invested in Smart TV’s where guests can watch whatever they want on Netflix.

Like most accommodation companies in New Zealand, the summer months are where U Hotel Group makes most of its money. However, with its newly refurbished properties and Wellington’s busy line-up of major events throughout the year like the Kapa Haka festival, Eminem concert, Homegrown, World of Wearable Arts and a variety of conferencing events, 2019 promises to be a good year for the company.