Saira Hospitality: Interview with Harsha Chanrai
During my nineteen months rotating through different hotels in three different markets in the United States - Washington DC, Atlanta and Nashville – I realized there were some common challenges no matter where I was: hiring talent and avoiding turnover.
Now think about new markets, small islands, far-flung places – new hotels not only want to hire people that have the hospitality gene, but also develop and cultivate a relationship with the local communities. The hospitality gene is a term used by Harsha Chanrai, CEO and founder of Saira Hospitality, to describe people’s passion for service. I had the pleasure of speaking to Harsha and learning more about her company - Saira Hospitality - a non-profit enterprise that creates temporary and permanent hospitality schools to develop local talent.
Ms. Harsha Chanrai has more than ten years of experience working with hotels and resorts and a Master’s degree from Cornell’s Hotel School. When her business idea – Saira Hospitality – won first place at Cornell’s business plan competition, Harsha knew that she had created something special.
Saira Hospitality partners with luxury and lifestyle hotels to provide 8-week hospitality training to local communities. The hotel owners and operators cover the costs of the programs. The Saira team, then, identifies, interviews and hires local trainers, runs a “train the trainer” program and simulataneously promotes the course to locals. Saira Hospitality has a four-step application process, where candidates fill in online applications, submit a 15 second video, attend Saira Information Sessions and finally complete a 1-1 interview. Saira finally selects the candidates that will join the program and recommends top graduates to be hired by the hotel partner. Hotel partners, in return, have a potential group of future employees trained and ready to fill open positions.
The holistic curriculum combines Harsha’s experience working in luxury and lifestyle hospitality, the learnings from her master’s program at Cornell and the skills and knowledge required by future hospitality employers. The training aims to provide knowledge and life skills to students, who will then be set up for a great start in their hospitality career. Some of the modules are: emotional and cultural intelligence, leadership mindset, building your brand and the eCornell module, Service Excellence, a partnership with Cornell’s online learning platform. Four days a week, four hours a day, students are exposed to both experiential and theoretical learning. On Fridays, students are offered optional but encouraged out of the classroom learning, learning about the importance of health, wellness and nutrition, to prepare them both mentally and physically for the workplace.
To this date, Saira has trained more than 100 students, in Los Angeles and Mexico, in partnership with Bunkhouse Hotels, and Costa Palmas, a development featuring both an Aman Resort and Four Seasons Hotel. The success stories? Many to share:
Job offer - 86% of the students who applied for jobs with Bunkhouse Hotels in Mexico were employed by the brand partner
Turnover rate – only 5-8%, thereby reducing the cost to source, hire and train new employees
Positive impact on the local community
Great feedback from the hotel owners and operators who look forward to partnering again on new projects.
And what’s next for Saira? Saira is now organizing its training program in the British Virgin Island, in partnership with properties under brands such as Virgin Limited Edition, Rosewood and the Autograph Collection. The BVI were one of the areas affected during the Hurricane season of 2017, and a lot of hotels had to close for a period of time – that opened up a great chance for them to partner with Saira to develop the community and offer opportunities for locals to work in the hotel industry once they reopen.
Harsha also talked about her big dream: to have her own brand of hotels linked to Saira Schools all over the world, in which students could learn while they practice. What I can say is that I will be watching Saira’s footsteps, and I will be standing up applauding Ms. Chanrai’s next successful projects.
More about Harsha Chanrai
WHAT INSPIRES YOU MOST? Travel
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUNG HOTELIERS? Don’t looks for instant gratification, the fun part is the journey
WHO DO YOU ADMIRE MOST IN THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY? Ian Schrager, Liz Lambert, Sonu Shivdasani, Adrian Zecha
WHERE ARE YOU TRAVELLING NEXT? Portugal
Thank you, Harsha!