- Chaaya Wild Yala becomes Cinnamon Wild Yala from today
John Keells Hotels’ world-class game lodge in Yala will be re-launched as a Cinnamon property today, 1 May. Located on the periphery of the Yala Wildlife Sanctuary, the property spreads across 10 acres and features 68 chalets. The former iconic Yala Village was refurbished in 2011 with a Rs. 400 million investment and launched as Chaaya Wild. Having met all standard operations and processes required of a Cinnamon property, Chaaya Wild Yala has now been transformed as Cinnamon Wild Yala, with a special emphasis on environmentally friendly and socially responsible experiences.
In an interview with the Daily FT, John Keells Group Head of Brand Marketing – Cinnamon Hotel and Resorts and Vice President Dileep Mudadeniya said that with Cinnamon, the group is targeting “new Asia,” since power has already shifted to India and other Asian countries. “We are looking at the emerging traveller who comes for short breaks and we are focusing on people. That’s the difference. We are looking at people seeking to enjoy quality time with friends. Cinnamon is about modern, iconic and vibrant spaces designed around you. Cinnamon redefines the best contemporary Sri Lankan culture, entertainment and hospitality. It’s about the coolest places to enjoy life, that’s how we look at it.”
Following are excerpts of the interview with Mudadeniya on the group’s consolidation of the Cinnamon brand as it looks global:
By Marianne David
Q: Why did the group decide to rebrand Chaaya properties as Cinnamon?
A: It’s not about rebranding; it’s about enhancing the brand. Cinnamon always had a set of standards – Minimum Quality Standards (MQSs) and Standard Operational Practices (SOPs). It’s been a few years since both brands came to life – Cinnamon and Chaaya – and as a trendsetter in the leisure sector we constantly look at ourselves – what has gone right, what has gone wrong, where we can improve, etc. After a lot of research we found out that the equity in the Cinnamon brand is larger and better from a local perspective as well as from our foreign stakeholders’ perspective. It’s always better to then transform these standards into a perception and brand that is already accepted by a certain set of people – our target audience. We had more equity in Cinnamon and we are basically concentrating on developing on that. It’s important to build one brand and focus on taking it global rather than trying to create several brands and manage them.
Q: When your existing Chaaya brands become Cinnamon, what are the changes guests will experience? Is it only a name change or something more?
A: No. if you take Cinnamon Wild as an example, if it was only a name change, this change would have happened in 2011 when the whole hotel was refurbished. Why we didn’t do so at that time is because we believe only a change in infrastructure does not make a change in the hotel. When I ask people the best experiences they have ever had at hotels, no one talks about infrastructure or hard aspects of the hotel. Every time they had a pleasant or memorable experience, it was to do with the soft aspects. Therefore, we worked on training and introducing those standards and making sure the standards were accepted here. For this hotel to become Cinnamon Wild from 1 May, it has gone through MQSs and SOPs required for Cinnamon. That is also reflected in Trip Advisor if you look at the rankings. Therefore, it’s very important to translate that requirement or knowhow of Cinnamon into this and this hotel fulfils everything that is required to become a full Cinnamon hotel.
Q: When will the group complete this exercise across all the Chaaya properties?
A: This is an emerging exercise. Unless and until a property is ready, we will not look at it immediately. This is the hotel that was ready. It’s not only about the hotel and its rooms; it’s also about what the hotel is doing actively. If you look at the projects that have been undertaken at Wild, the massive role they have undertaken in order to establish sustainability in the park – the very reason that people come here – is what put Wild on this platform. If you look at all our Cinnamon properties, they have a very strong sustainability approach and very strong community engagement. Those are the parameters we look at.
This exercise will continue and we will continue to reinvent ourselves and you will hear some exciting news in the near future which I cannot divulge immediately. It’s all about the brand and how Cinnamon is becoming the leisure brand of Sri Lanka, which also includes so many other areas – we have Nature Trails, we have Cinnamon Air coming in… and so much more. Cinnamon is about more than hotels; it’s a lifestyle.
Q: What was the JKH Group’s investment in transforming Chaaya Wild into a Cinnamon brand?
A: The difficult aspect of the investment has already been done with the refurbishments – in financial terms, basically the Rs. 400 million that was spent in 2011 to bring it to that level. Now what is important is what you are going to spend in terms of the resources you are going to allocate for training and making people believe in this, engaging our staff into this whole concept and making them true Cinnamon citizens, and also making sure that the rest of the activities link into this whole process. Those are the challenges – not only in terms of resources and financials but also in terms of time and commitment.
Our intention is to build a true international brand. It’s a time when many international brands are coming into Sri Lanka and we truly believe that Cinnamon can really give a fight to those brands. We are a true local brand that understands how it works in Sri Lanka and can create and meet expectations of different segments.
Q: With the transformation as a Cinnamon hotel from 1 May, what changes can guests expect?
A: Many environmental elements have been introduced as part and parcel of Cinnamon. They are projects that you cannot start on a certain day – they have been worked out over the last few months.
Q: Most of these projects have been ongoing at Chaaya Wild. What’s really new?
A: All these are new in the Cinnamon context. What prompted us to do all these things is because we had decided this was going to become a Cinnamon hotel. In that process, these are the new projects that came in. For example, if you take Project Leopard, it is not something you can start overnight. It needs a lot of planning. We took nearly one-and-a-half years to build the process of becoming a true Cinnamon brand.
Q: So was the Chaaya branding a mistake, given that the change comes so soon after the Chaaya Wild launch?
A: No, it’s not a mistake. Both brands are equally accepted and doing well – this hotel under Chaaya had 80 to 90% occupancy, so it’s not a mistake. When you are managing a portfolio of brands, your focus is shifted. Our focus is now going to be on one particular brand.
The conditions we were working under at that time were slightly different. A brand is something that evolves on a daily basis. Take Sheraton for example or the Hilton Group. The brands that they have formed under each umbrella did not happen overnight. There is one brand and then there is a consolidation or addition of brands under it. Here we are working on consolidating Cinnamon and then we are diversifying into a relevant area. That’s where Cinnamon Air comes in, for example, or where Cinnamon Nature Trails comes in.
Chaaya will remain. For example, Chaaya Blu will remain as Chaaya. At Wild, basically the hotel has become a full Cinnamon. It’s not only about star category; what is important is that Cinnamon has a higher standard and Wild is ready to implement these standards.
The Cinnamon brand has an equity that can differentiate from others. Chaaya equity is somewhat similar to others. We want to position our brand at another level where we can compete locally as well as globally. In that context, it is better to consolidate all our efforts on the Cinnamon brand and further enhance it and take it to another level.
Having said that, if a Chaaya property does not fulfil the requirement, it will never become a Cinnamon – it will remain as Chaaya. We have three Chaaya properties in Maldives and one each in Trinco and Hikkaduwa. All these properties will remain as Chaaya. It’s the same family. The Chaaya product appeals to a certain segment. However when you go global, we are talking about a lifestyle brand, which is how we are positioning Cinnamon.
Pix by Sameera Wijesinghe