It’s a long-distance lockdown for this Vegas GM

GOSTELOW REPORT—“I relocated from Conrad Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel this February and my wife stayed behind until our kids finished the school year, which is why I am quarantining in Florida and running my hotel from afar,” explains Chintan Dadhich, general manager of the Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas, adding that yes, the three hours’ difference does present some challenges but it is up to him to adjust his schedule to Las Vegas time.  

“I have always believed in 100% transparency. As we were winding down to our closure on March 18 I knew that my colleagues would be staying home and feeling anxious. I promised them I would keep them up to date, sharing information both from Hilton and from ownership.”

Chintan Dadhich at work in his lockdown office in Florida.
Chintan Dadhich at work in his lockdown office in Florida.

Part of Kam Sang’s extensive real estate portfolio, the 392-room hotel has 225 residences above and a total workforce of 600. Of those, 40, including 20 servicing the residences, are still on-site. Every 10 days or so Dadhich contacts everyone by email or calls, including all those who are furloughed.

“I share progress, and add in some personal details, how I am getting on quarantined with my family. We celebrate such special occasions as a child graduating, and birthdays and other milestone events,” he said. “I shared that, thanks to some of our loyal suppliers, we were able to organize a food drive in the Las Vegas area for 200 team members.”

As well as having a distant GM, the Las Vegas Waldorf Astoria does have other challenges that are unique in the portfolio. For one thing, the hotel is right on The Strip (“I hear from some of my managers who have driven along it that it is absolutely eerie right now”). There are the sometimes-anxious residents, many of whom live here full-time (“I am continually being congratulated how our people are helping residents with shopping and other errands”).

The day after the Super Bowl, Dadhich signed off in Fort Lauderdale and flew straight to Las Vegas, to start work immediately. On the flight he sketched out his orientation — he planned to stress the 100-year history of the Hilton name and share plans for the future.

“Now, when we re-open, there will be another orientation, which will include how the next six to eight months will look,” he said.

The hotel, which will not accept any reservations until the end of May, had not set a re-opening date as of May 10, Dadhich said. He had hoped that a pencilled re-opening date of May 30 could be inked, but so much depended on the immediate locale. “Roughly 70% of our hotel guests, 80% of whom have always been domestic, come for what Las Vegas offers as a destination, and we still need to see how The Strip responds to the ending of the lockdown.”

Meanwhile, handwritten in a spiral exercise book in Florida, he works on his next campaign as if it were a military exercise. Interestingly, he had planned to follow his father into the Indian army but, when he was vacationing in Berkeley, California, an aunt said she would pay for his sailing lessons if he helped out in her restaurant, and he became hooked. 

Today’s exercise book is a compilation of lists, not only things to do but, following a mentor’s guidance from years back, what not to do.

“There are many procedures that must not be the same. We have to instil more confidence for guests and for team members. Everything must be genuine, and come from the heart, with more than a hint of vulnerability. Hotels must be the industry that shows the world how to do it right.”

He admits there is no better time than now for preventative maintenance, or for minutely going through everything that has hitherto been taken for granted. He is also still trying to solve the traditional one-to-one of service. Post-COVID does not allow shaking hands.

“This is especially hard for me. I am renowned for actual contact, and for high-fiving my team members. How can we all show genuine empathy, make sure that a smile is somehow evident over a phone? We need to find a solution, and then impart it to the entire cast, again and again.”