As managing director of Premier Inn for South Asia, Aly Shariff has been based in New Delhi, India, for five years. He talks to Janet Harmer about the frustrations and excitement of being at the forefront of budget hotel development on the sub-continent
Can you describe your current role?
As well as establishing offices and a team of staff in New Delhi, I have been involved in the acquisition (leasehold and freehold), design, construction and opening of two hotels - in New Delhi and Bangalore. We currently have a further three hotels under construction in Pune, Goa and Chennai, and are on track to deliver about 10 more properties per year in the future.
Hotel development here takes a very long time as a result of poor land records, planning and licensing laws, as well as old-fashioned construction methodologies. The average build time for a hotel is two-and-a-half to three years. While my job covers India, Sri Lanka and Maldives, my primary focus has been India for the initial years.
How frequently are you travelling?
I travel regularly to Bangalore, Pune, Goa and Chennai, where we have other hotels or projects underway. I'm also travelling nearly every week looking for new sites and opportunities - during my five years here I have visited over 30 cities and towns in India. I also visit Sri Lanka and the Maldives to assess growth opportunities and regularly travel to Dubai and the UK to visit our Whitbread corporate hubs.
How did you get your current job?
Prior to arriving in India with my wife and three young children, I had worked for Whitbread for seven years in a number of senior roles. I was keen to return to operations/general management and was hugely excited to be given the opportunity of a role involving international development.
How many staff are employed in Premier Inns throughout India and are they all recruited locally?
All our team members are local apart from me. We have about 150 employees across our two operating hotels, corporate office and sales offices.
What are the plans for the expansion of Premier Inn in India?
Having invested in five owned properties, our strategy for development is to continue to consider strategically important and attractive opportunities for investment, but in the short and medium terms we intend to focus our efforts on growing our footprint through management agreements.
How well established is the budget hotel concept in India?
The segment is very under-developed. There are a handful of domestic brands which have made a good start and now international brands are breaking into the market, too.
What are the key challenges of working in India?
As with any developing economy, often the rapid growth means that things can be a little misaligned. Specifically in India, the lack of decent infrastructure and the slow pace of development are very frustrating. Apart from this, the level of bureaucracy surrounding approvals and licensing can be debilitating, for example, up to 100 individual licences are required to operate a hotel in India!
What do you like most about working in India?
The warmth of people, the optimism that working and living in a developing economy generates and the general can-do attitude that exists when people are not limited by what has gone before - most people are doing things for the first time and so they don't know what they can't do!
What do you dislike?
Poverty, homelessness, child abuse/labour and the fact that the rich-poor divide doesn't seem to improve in line with the improvements in development of the economy.
Where else in the world would you like to work?
Having worked in the UK, Singapore and India, I am conscious that there is so much to learn and experience by working and living in different and diverse cultures.
We have certainly become the classic "Third Culture" family and we have thrived on the ups, downs and adventures that this brings.
CV: Aly Shariff
2007-present Managing director, South Asia, Premier Inn, Whitbread
â- 2006-07 Human resources director, Premier Inn, Whitbread
â- 2004-06 Group compensation, benefits & policy director, Whitbread
â- 2002-03 Human resources shared services director (restaurants division), Whitbread
â- 2000-02 Group human resources manager for David Lloyd Leisure, Whitbread
â- 1994-00 Personnel & administration director, UK & Ireland, Singapore Airlines