CEO, Lebua Hotels & Resorts- Deepak Ohri
Mr. Deepak Ohri is the CEO and man behind the success of one of Bangkok’s biggest names in luxury and hospitality, Lebua Hotels and Resorts. He joined Lebua in 2003, at its inception, and has been successful in executing
Mr. Deepak Ohri is the CEO and man behind the success of one of Bangkok’s biggest names in luxury and hospitality, Lebua Hotels and Resorts. He joined Lebua in 2003, at its inception, and has been successful in executing on Lebua’s vision. Not only has he expanded the brand across multiple continents, but he has also made the Lebua name synonymous with premier hospitality and fine dining. Currently, Lebua boasts a growing collection of hotels, restaurants, and bars in Thailand, New Zealand and India.
The commitment and innovation that Mr. Ohri has brought to the hospitality industry have been recognized worldwide. He is credited as the brains behind the current trend of open-air bars and restaurants, beginning with Sirocco, the highest open-air restaurant in the world and one of Bangkok’s preeminent culinary destinations, and Sky Bar, the open-air bar made famous by the movie The Hangover 2.
Mr. Ohri and Lebua are definitely owed congratulations!
HospiBuz: Sir, you have been a part of Lebua Hotels and Resorts since its inception and currently serves as CEO. Can you walk us through the launch of the Lebua brand and the journey of creating one of the best culinary destinations in the world? Is your mindset today different than it was when Lebua first launched?
Mr. Deepak Ohri: While the Lebua brand only came about in 2006, we launched our restaurants in 2003 under the brand The Dome. My mindset today and the ideas behind it are not any different than when we launched in 2003, as there is still no rooftop restaurant that has been built that can beat what we created 14 years ago. What we created is something very classic, and I believe that the only comparable rooftop restaurant in the world is The Shard in London. There is nothing like it in New York, the Middle East or China. There are companies that have tried to copy us, tried to recreate our destination and experience, and failed. At the end of the day, we have created a luxury and lifestyle destination, which also happens to serve food and alcohol. If you only have one night in Bangkok, you need to be at our place to see how the city behaves, how people dress up and what the fashion sense is. Any global designer who visits us can see in one glance what the art and fashion scene of Bangkok is like.
HospiBuz: You are a firm believer of the fact that, “Luxury is about experience and rarity, not necessarily the ‘excess.’” How do you implement this idea at all of Lebua’s properties? Has your opinion on this changed being amidst a recession? If so, how?
Mr. Deepak Ohri: No, my opinion hasn’t changed and I still point to that fact. Our Lebua property in Lucknow is a great example of how we’ve implemented this. It was recently featured in Condé Nast Traveller as one of the top new openings. Like all of our properties, it is easily recognizable and the food is always talked about. People go to this property and ask for Lucknow’s best bread. We added a twist to the Lucknow culture, which is centered on Indian food, with our Italian restaurant. Lebua Lucknow is a heritage hotel and while we have been careful to maintain the Lucknow heritage, we also added twists of luxury and modernism. And that’s what Lebua specializes in.
Luxury can be compared to a perfect cocktail. To make that perfect cocktail, each and every bartender has to be perfect. And that’s what luxury is all about. Many of the biggest luxury brands in the world have failed over a period of time because, as globalization took place, they expanded into too many markets. Suddenly, these companies lost the some of the value they had before because they became known as mass brands rather than being about luxury. If I had to compare the Lebua brand to another company, it would be the jewelry house Buccellati. Buccellati has 100 years of tradition and has been the same since then. Despite changes in leadership, the company has retained artists and kept the same traditions throughout its history, and that is why we compare Lebua to them.
HospiBuz: Lebua is known for creating unique ‘experiences’ for its guests. With that said, can you provide examples of how Lebua enriches the experience of the each and every one of its customers visiting a Lebua property?
Mr. Deepak Ohri: We don’t think about it as creating unique experiences for our guests. We have unique guests coming from all over the world and what we give them is the ‘Lebua experience’. While some people call it a unique experience, we simply try to understand and cater to the lifestyles of our guests, who often know more about life than us.
HospiBuz: As you know, delegation and teamwork play essential roles in the hospitality industry as the customer mostly judges his or her experience by the services provided to him or her. How does Lebua use delegation and teamwork? How do you ensure that Lebua’s high-quality standards are implemented all the way down the chain of command?
Mr. Deepak Ohri: At Lebua each senior manager stays close and is monitored by me for the first 90 days of their employment. That’s when we create a bond. We will sometimes disagree but this amount of time allows me to give them the best possible training and show each senior manager the way we do things at Lebua. After 90 days they have a free reign because then they understand what the brand is all about.
HospiBuz: Please tell us about the unique approach that Lebua has adopted, which aspires to tap into a deeper level of exchange with guests to create emotional connections. In addition to this approach, what else would you say makes Lebua’s properties so special? What do you think keeps guests coming back?
Mr. Deepak Ohri: We don’t do what other people do. For example, we are soon going to launch our new truffle menu, and it will be something to be seen and talked about. It will be another timeless classic. Unlike other hotels, it won’t just be simply adding truffles to each dish. We are going to select the right wines, create food specifically to be paired with the truffles, and explain the journey our chefs took to decide why certain dishes are enriched with truffles and why others aren’t. We are going to enhance the experience just like our chefs enhance the taste of their food. That’s what we do.
Another example is our partnership with Chivas Regal, who has created an exclusive whiskey for Lebua. This is the first time in its long history that the company has created a special blend for anyone. Unlike others who do whiskey promotions, we take the experience to the next level. Just like a piece of fine jewelry, each of our projects requires a long and careful preparation process. The whiskey bar that people see today, it took 18 months of hard work, planning, and thinking. Another example is the Tokaji sweet wine we serve by the spoon, which took 16 months of planning. Imagine you go to the best hotel in New York or London and you cannot find a Tokaji wine. But then you come to Lebua in Bangkok, probably thinking it’s a developing country, and see Tokaji on the wine list or an exclusive Chivas whiskey blend created for the hotel. As a well-to-do customer or a gourmand from New York or Europe, what would you think? We are inclined to think these luxury and one-of-a-kind offers to keep guests coming back.
HospiBuz: After the success of The Dome, you brought the Meritus hotel, an all-suite luxury hotel, into the family of Lebua properties in 2006. Please tell us about the process of transitioning the Meritus hotel into a Lebua one. Was there a particular philosophy you kept in mind during this time?
Mr. Deepak Ohri: We carried The Dome philosophy forward, so it was a seamless transition. We took each guest and each experience one at a time, not taking on too many things too quickly, and ensured we executed everything to perfection. When you have a good team in place, nothing is too much to handle.
HospiBuz: We know that you firmly believe in never resting on your laurels and always keeping an eye out for the next venue to acquire. Do you always maintain this philosophy, even during times of intensified competition and unstable conditions like demonization, change in taxation etc.?
Mr. Deepak Ohri: It’s too early to say what exactly we are going to create, but Bangkok will continue to serve as Lebua’s hub. We will continue acquiring properties that we feel are the right fit in India and Sri Lanka and other locations. Our goal will be to create bespoke experiences for guests who will be traveling to India and Sri Lanka. I would say to keep an eye out for new destinations from us very soon.
HospiBuz: You have proven that you are a leader in not only creating magnificent restaurants and bars but also in providing a completely luxurious experience for your guests. What challenges have you faced throughout your career in achieving these things?
Mr. Deepak Ohri: Before joining Lebua, nobody would understand my vision or listen to what I was saying. Now, with the success of Lebua, people pay to listen to me speak although I am saying the same things. The only thing that has changed is people’s perception of me.
HospiBuz: You’ve won a number of accolades, both for Lebua and for your own personal accomplishments as an entrepreneur. But in your opinion, what is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
Mr. Deepak Ohri: My greatest accomplishment in life is realizing that other people and other companies look to me and Lebua to learn and to grow. I love when people like you ask me questions and try to dig out more information about how we’ve grown the brand. I love passing on what I’ve learned. I also love seeing and learning from our competitors or new entrants to create better experiences for our own guests.
HospiBuz: What’s new at Lebua Bangkok and Lebua New Zealand? Can you describe some of their best and most unique attributes for our readers who might not be familiar with these properties?
Mr. Deepak Ohri: Right now at Lebua Bangkok, the biggest buzz is surrounding our Champagne bar, Flute – A Perrier-Jouët Bar, and our whiskey bar, Alfresco 64 – A Chivas Bar. If you haven’t had our Blanc de Blanc and the Belle Epoque Rosé, I believe that you have yet to start drinking champagne. As for whiskey, my recommendation is to try a shot of our Exclusive Chivas Regal Lebua Blend. Our stunning property in New Zealand is a private haven. It’s the perfect location for anything from a secluded getaway to making a perfect movie set.
HospiBuz: As an extremely successful entrepreneur in the hospitality industry, you have motivated and mentored huge numbers of individuals. Who has been your biggest inspiration and what keeps you motivated?
Mr. Deepak Ohri: My motivation is to always do and provide the best in life. My biggest inspiration comes from our customers who teach us how to do better every single day but over the course of my life, I’ve been fortunate enough to have come across individuals who have helped me along the way.
HospiBuz: Please share your ‘Success Mantra’ to inspire future leaders?
Mr. Deepak Ohri: Belief in yourself. Even if people don’t believe in you, still believe in yourself.
HospiBuz: HospiBuz is functioning on its vision to be the foremost informative journalism portal wherever industry professionals can showcase their abilities, skills and success stories. Drawing on your experience and knowledge within the industry, what topics would you recommend that HospiBuz cover as it relates to the hospitality industry? Is there anything that you feel is currently lacking from hospitality industry journalism?
Mr. Deepak Ohri: For our next interview I think it would nice to have a few of our customers and suppliers answer questions along with us so your readers get a complete, 360-degree perspective. This will allow readers to grasp the full circle of what the guest is actually getting, what goes on behind the scenes and how we are delivering it.
Thanks for your precious time!!