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February 25, 2020 43 mins

A luxury resort hotel moves into a destination that has never had one before. Hey now, great! So exciting!! But hang on — who will run this place, from bar orders at the pool to the reservations for spring break? And ensure that locals embrace the joint and its impact on their home turf? Harsha Chanrai’s innovative hospitality company Saira finds and trains the talent that ensures that luxury hotels in beautiful spots make headlines around the world and keep the travelers coming. Find more info about this episode at Fathomaway.com

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:05):
A lot of people have said, why don't you just
become a for profit company, but that's not the point
of what we do. We're not trying to make profit.
We're trying to have impact. The more impact we can
have at the lowest cost to hotels than the more
people that we can kind of transform and awaken to
the potential of the industry. Welcome to A Way to Go,

(00:26):
a production of I Heart Radio and Fathom. I'm Jaral
and Gerba and I'm Pavio Rosatti. Today on the podcast,
we want to talk about the people who are too
often overlooked at our vacations at fancy hotels and resorts
and tropical and lovely destinations around the world. The support staff.
I'm talking about the entry level workers, the waiters, the housekeepers,

(00:46):
the front office, the bartenders, the chefs, the whole team
who are essential to making the hotel and the resort run.
And because Gerln and I are in the industry, we
usually get to know the general managers and the big
name chefs at the hotels we visit, but everyone else,
I'm sorry to admit, I rarely get to know beyond
a passing hello or a quick chat, which brings us

(01:09):
to our guests today. Harsha chen Ray, who has built
a business around that support staff and specifically recruiting, training
and placing them in their jobs. She grew up in
London and learned the industry through jobs at luxury hotels
like Six Senses and a Mom. Philanthropy was a strong
theme in her life, something she learned from her father,
who did healthcare work around the world. As a student

(01:31):
in the graduate program at Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration,
she developed the plan for her business, Syrah Hospitality, which
merges the world of hospitality and philanthropy. It's such a simple,
powerful and wonderful idea. Syrah partners with luxury and lifestyle hotels,
creating custom pop up schools where she and her team

(01:53):
educate and empower the local communities, many of whom don't
have a strong foundation and experi oriants in the hospitality business,
and the end result is long term employment at the
hotels and the companies that sponsor the schools for her students. Harsha,
we are so glad to have you here to be here.
Thank you for listeners who are unfamiliar with the way

(02:15):
the industry works. Can you tell us what luxury hotels
usually do when they need a staff and say a
remote tropical location, right, So, typically hotels will either poach
entry level staff, whether it's the bellman or the bartend
or the housekeepers from nearby hotels, or they will bring
in from overseas, but that's more at the management level.

(02:37):
At the very basic level, they'll do a hiring fair
where they meet and the the staff that actually interact
with the guests the most, and they'll meet them for
about twenty or thirty minutes and assume that they're fine
to then be the kind of front facing staff at
the hotels. And does that not work? I think I

(02:58):
think it can work short term. I think that typically
hotels will be much more focused on the location and
have they got the right design and the right teams
and the right architects and all the materials and all
the permits that they need, And they often will think
of the people right at the very end and scramble
to find them, and they'll find them and they'll fill

(03:21):
the hotels, but they won't stay because you're taking people
who have left another nearby hotel, and maybe you're coaxing
them worth another dollar or two dollars and they're hourly.
They're hourly staff, but they won't stay because I'll often
go to the next hotel that will do that. You're
not building any brand loyalty when you're going to poach
from the next hotel that opens. So it's a very

(03:42):
short term way of thinking about staffing. It is a
very short term way of thinking. I think hotels recognize
that the industry levels of turnover are and when you
go to these conferences, everyone's talking about the huge lack
of labor, especially at that level. But I don't believe
that they're really trying to think of innovative ways to

(04:05):
to challenge an ancient way of hiring. Which brings us
to Syrah Hospitality. Yes, it does. So tell us about
your model for doing things and the way that you
help hotels think about hiring. Sure, So we have a
philosophy at Syrah about giving before you take. So before

(04:26):
you take these resources, before you build your hotels, what
can you give to the community. So what we do
is we partner with lifestyle and luxury hotels before they open,
often at least six months before they open, and we
set up pop up hotel schools to partner with the
hotels and we train the local community, giving them knowledge
and skills, but most importantly the confidence that they need

(04:49):
to be able to then gain access into the hotel
and gain these entry level positions. It's kind of surprising
that this hasn't existed before because you can imagine that
as a hotel having to bring in people who are
not from that place one, it doesn't feel very sustainable. Too,

(05:09):
is not a really good way to make a first
impression in that community. So you're not from the location either,
what kind of groundwork do you have to do to
put the school into place? Right? So we ask for
about ten weeks before the school launchers, and the school
can be anywhere from two weeks to eight weeks, two

(05:30):
four or six or eight weeks long, and that really
depends on the level of training the hotels are looking
for our students or graduates to have at the end
of the program. So in those ten weeks before the
school launches, we will recruit a project manager and then
we will train local trainers. So we have a content
director and a project manager that comes from Cyrus team,

(05:51):
and then we look forward in the community trainers who
aren't necessarily teachers but they're often educators or cultural advisors,
or they have some experience in teaching. But it could
be yoga, it could be meditation, it could be something
foreign to necessarily hotels, but they all have worked in hospitality.

(06:11):
So we spend about a month doing a train the trainer,
and then we recruit the students and we would put
flyers up, or we would use word of mouth or
go into second like community colleges or nonprofits or youth
empowerment centers, and we will pitch and we'll try and
raise awareness both of the brand that's coming into that

(06:33):
location as well as what we're offering, which is free
of charge, high quality education that often people will think
is a scam or something that they just don't quite
believe that they're getting access to. What they'll learn about
will eventually be Coinell's recognition of service excellence as well
as a certificate. And that's all free of charge by

(06:54):
the hotel that's coming in. So already we try and
establish this brand presence and this positive buying from the
community that otherwise often isn't there when a hotel simply
just opens without giving anything before they take I love
that people think that it's a scamp. What are what
are the markets that you've been to, what are the
places that you've created schools? So we started. The first

(07:17):
school we did was with Lis Lambert in Toto, Santos
with bunk House Crystal in Mexico, Yes, in Mexico, and
then we opened on the other side of Carbo with
the Costa Palmas development that encompassed the four seasons and
a moan. And then after that we did two in
the British Virgin Islands, and that was the first time

(07:38):
we partnered with a handful of hotels, including the bigger
names such as virgins Neck and Mosquito Island, Scrub which
is owned by Autograph and Marriott, and Rosewood and bitter End.
And after we finished in the British Virgin Islands, that
was two thousand and eighteen. We then went on to
Namibia last year and part and with Habitas there and

(08:01):
we'll be doing two more with Habitats in Mexico and
one coming up in Merced California. So the places that
you're going to are really popular destinations that travelers and
especially affluent travelers want to spend time and money visiting.
Let's talk about the number of students who go through

(08:21):
these programs. This is an incredible thing that you're setting up.
I mean, you're going you have to tell people this
is who we are. Yes, we're honest, and it really
does sound like it's too good to be true, right
because I'm guessing, you know, are you getting people who
are young and have never worked before. Are you getting
older people who maybe are cynical because they've had bad bosses,

(08:44):
or we are looking for students that have what we
call the hospitality gene, so they can be any age,
any age, as long as they're above the legal age
to work. Um. So we've had students from sixteen to sixty.
We've had classes where you have a mother and daughter
and this aim class in the British Virgin Islands, we
had about that happened to be women, female students who

(09:06):
are either single mothers, or they were orphans, or they
you know, they all had interesting, kind of painful stories.
But they will also the women who were the hustlers
in the community. They were the ones that were getting
everyone out of poverty. And so while we don't discriminate
between male and female, we do tend to have a

(09:26):
stronger following from females who see the potential and are
not afraid of something new in the community, especially when
they need something to be hopeful for, and they jump
at this kind of opportunity. But all ages or backgrounds
as long as they both want to work in the
industry but also need to work in the industry. We're

(09:48):
not interested in taking students who are interested in just
the certificate or something else to put on their resume,
or maybe they're already employed. We're not looking to encourage
this behavior poe and taking with someone from one hotel
to another. So if someone's got a job, we often
will will not take them into the program. And can

(10:18):
you talk a little bit about what kinds of programs
or classes you're hosting for for these people, I know,
I want to know what a day at school is like.
It's quite fun. So we do classes four hours a day,
four days a week, and the fifth day is often
for community building, so it might be sushi making, or

(10:38):
it might be a workout on the beach or something
to bring everyone together. And the other four days we
focus on our modules, and our modules are based on
the needs of the hotel managers and operators that we
speak to. So we all go to hotel school and
or we go to school and we don't know where
we're going to end up working, and so we don't

(10:59):
ness necessarily take the classes that are best for our
future employment or employers. Whereas here we go to the
partners and we say, what do you want them to learn?
And it's not just how to make a bed or
how to set the table, that stuff that often the
brand rightfully should be teaching them, which we can do
if we're asked too. But we focus on find me

(11:20):
someone who has attention to detail or a sense of
urgency or the ability to take initiative, or find me
someone with passion, or someone who smiles naturally. And I
guess the key to what we do is we find
people that the hotels wouldn't normally find. We find the
talent that doesn't really exist till we get there. So
often hotels will think to themselves and where we can

(11:41):
find these people? But you can't. You won't hire the
same people that we take into our programs because we
recognize that smile or that potential or that kind of
glint that we see could someone could be a general manager,
but they won't be taken because they don't have the
basic communication skills, they don't have the confidence to even apply.
So we find the talent that doesn't really exist when

(12:04):
when the hotels arrive, and we transform them so that
they're able to then have a really kind of fair
shot at the interview. So this means you're while you're
not teaching them how to make a bed, you are
teaching them, for instance, how to make a presentation or
how to even present themselves when they're introducing someone. Is
it that sort of So so you're right, So to

(12:26):
go back, what we do is first we have them
understand who they are as people, so an introduction to themselves,
understanding for the first time what their strengths maybe, which
is something that this demographic may never have even thought of,
and we'll do strength find as quizzes, we'll understand where
they see themselves in five years. Often they're just thinking
about where they're going to be the next day or

(12:46):
the next week. And then we introduce them to the industry,
which they often feel are just hotels, and we say no,
it's it's restaurants. It's that food truck, it's that hospital,
it's the taxis, it's it's the whole industry and seeing
where they where they feel they might end up in
the next five years, and showing them what the industry
is about. And then we get into kind of communication

(13:08):
and verbal and non verbal communication and body language and
emotional intelligence and cultural intelligence and life skills. And we
change the curriculum every time we go into a new
market depending on the brand and the culture around it.
So when we go to the British Virgin Islands, we
created a module specifically on nutrition, understanding from Mexico that

(13:29):
some of our students had access to three meals a
day instead of just the one meal a day. And
while that was that's a beautiful story and it sounds
like a beautiful story, they don't know about the nutritional
value in rice, in oil, and so they need to
understand what you know, what to eat to be able
to continue to work and continue to be able to

(13:51):
produce for their families. So we'll go into leadership in
another module towards the end, because we don't want our
graduates to stay at entry hole, and we want them
to think like entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs and leaders and have
that mindset to then be able to elevate themselves within
that hotel. I feel like this is a program that
we all could benefit from. I wish I could have

(14:13):
taken this in hi high school to determine who am I,
what do I want to be doing, what am I
good at? How do I eat well? So that I
can feel energized. But also in high school you need
to understand where you're going to end up. You need
to take I was lucky at Cornell because I knew
what I wanted to do. I took all the entrepreneurship classes,
but so many people didn't have the job lined up

(14:35):
from the start. And instead of these recruiting fairs coming
at the end, come at the beginning so that we
can match what we need to learn as opposed to
just kind of do the jobs we want to have
when we finish the program. But this is fascinating to
think about. I mean asking someone, are you the sort
of person who can juggle a million different things at
a time, or are you somebody who needs to do

(14:56):
one task and finish it to the very end. That
is a really small example that indicates two totally different
kinds of jobs and two totally different styles of working. Right,
areas of strength and areas of strength. Right, So if
I had to do one task and just see it
through to the very end, that's not as good for
me as if I have fifty two things that I
have to juggle, I end up doing more if I

(15:16):
have to be super nimble. But some people are a
lot better at just focusing on one thing. But the
beautiful part sorry to interrupt, but the beautiful part about
hospitality is that you can and the reason that I
was drawn to it is that you can fit everyone
in a certain space in the hotel to it, whatever
their character trait. So back of house, front of house,

(15:38):
it doesn't. It's not to say that that if you're
not if you're not a certain way you you know,
you can't work in a hotel. There's somewhere for everyone,
which is why I go to hospitality as the as
the connection between philanthropy and and kind of elevating someone
out of it. Is there a reason that you are

(16:00):
focused on the luxury hotels? Who you work with, You
work with Rosewood, you work with Autograph Collection, bunk House.
Is there a reason why the luxury as opposed to
the sort of lower tier hotels come down to budget
so often the smaller hotels, the smaller independent hotels won't
have the budget. So so unlike most nonprofits, SIRE is

(16:22):
funded entirely by our hotel partners. So we don't rely
on any donations. We welcome donations, but we don't rely
on them because I don't believe in nonprofits who where
often they'll suffer from downor fatigue, and that means I'll
work has to stop. So so that means you only
go into a market when the luxury hotel company has
hired you to come in, recruit and train their future

(16:48):
employees exactly. So it could be one hotel, it could
be a group of hotels like in the British Virgin Islands.
It could be the government coming in, which is what
we're seeing happen in the Bahamas and the British Virgin Islands. Again,
so it could be a range of different funding options.
But essentially we work also with luxury hotels because we
want to teach that level of luxury service to our students,

(17:10):
so that even if they did end up working at
a two star or three star hotel, they'll still bring
that high touch experience to the guests. Right. That benefits everyone? Right?
Why not? You had mentioned that earning the local community's
trust was a big challenge. What are some of the
logistical challenges that your pop up school has had to
deal with? Going from say, b v I to Namibia

(17:31):
right right, b v I was challenging for a lot
of reasons. We came in purposefully right after the hurricanes
hit in two thousand and seventeen, so that was the
reason that I reached out to a conduct at Virgin
to find out if we could do do two schools there.
But when we we actually had planned just to do

(17:52):
the one school. So logistically when we got there we
realized that there would if we had just chosen Tortola
or Virgin Gorda, we would have increased the political tension
that was already there between the two islands. One is
very much a larger island the government's on Tortola. Virgin
Gorda is closer to Neca and is very much a

(18:13):
home for more of the luxury resorts, so there is
already a rivalry, which I believe by doing two schools
on the islands and encouraging the students from both islands
to come together every Friday, we helped to dissipate a
little bit of that tension um. So logistically we had
a budget for one school, so we were really kind

(18:33):
of spreading that thin between running two schools at the
same time. And we also had a team for one school,
and we also had our students who were coming in,
especially in the British Virgin Islands, and they didn't necessarily
have roofs on their houses. The normal excuses that we
get where you missed the bus or you know you overslept,

(18:54):
or your child isn't feeling well, which a typical excuses
that we may hear sometimes in our part X or
that you and I may be used to are different
in the British Virgin Islands, and so you realize, for example,
I remember once one of my project managers received a
text with no warning, and it was a picture of
someone's uncle who had been stabbed in the bush. And

(19:16):
she opened that and and because we had said specifically,
not really thinking through what we might encounter, we had said,
you have to show us and give us proof because
we very much are quite strict with our policies during Syrah,
because we want because that then will impact how well
they perform at the hotel, because this is your way

(19:38):
of teaching accountability through action totally. So we look at
we judged them on aptitude, attitude, and attendance, and if
they don't show up to our classes and don't tell
us why they're not showing up or prove to us,
then they just can't graduate. And so we get pictures
of uncles who had been stabbed in the bush. So
these are kind of the logistical things that we didn't

(19:59):
think through, and really a whole other level of stress
and anxiety that you have to deal with or keep
in mind when you're working with this kind of these
kinds of communities, right right, And then there's that, and
you know, it's it's shocking to them. And I'm I'm
Indian and I'm notoriously bad with timing, and so I

(20:20):
have to go to the British Version Islands and tell
them that if they're one minute late, they're late, and
if they're late three times, they're absent, and if they're
absent three times, they're out. And I have to say
that with a straight face. It was ten minutes late.
But that's how strict you need to be in certain cultures,
whereas in Namibia, they we had no issue with punctuality.

(20:41):
We had no issue with attitude. Um, we had people
who were traveling eight or ten hours just to come
to our interview and show up early, and you know,
people who were putting their phones away without being asked,
who were so excited. And that's the first time where
we had heard that. People thought it was a scam
because they've been in a recession for eight years and

(21:02):
maybe at which I don't even know that people talk about.
You know, they've been without jobs, relying on fifty dollars
a month sometimes if that, and that's what they would
be happy with receiving. Some of our students was fifty
dollars a month. So so it's really really different I
think British Virgin Islands. We had to also challenge their mindset.
In the British Virgin Islands generationally, they were told that

(21:25):
we're working as a housekeeper so that you can get
an air conditioned job in the government. So we would
go into schools and pitch and you know, when we
arrived on the islands, we only had thirty applications and
it took us about six weeks to get two hundred applications.
Typical school I know, so so typically our sizes are

(21:46):
around seventy eight nineties students, I would say, but we
want to get applications of more than two hundred. We
want to interview at least two hundred. We have four
steps of our interview process, so we need to really
kind of round up interest and awareness and a buzz
about the opportunity that these students have, and then we

(22:06):
want to filter it down to only accept about seventy
five to graduate maybe sixty five or seventy, and then
to recommend probably around fifty to the brand partner. It
depends on how many how many employees the brand partners
always looking to hire, and we kind of judge our
numbers on that. That was interesting what you were saying

(22:35):
about the cultural differences in the places that you go into,
because this is something that you will need to deal
with as you go into different markets, the cultural attitudes
that you're finding. Can you talk a little bit more
about that? Sure? So culturally am going back to to
the British Regi Islands. When we were told that we
were going to do a school in the Caribbean, someone said, Wow,

(22:57):
if you can shift the mindset in the Caribbean and
then you can really work anywhere and I believe that
we can now work anywhere. After the British Regin Islands.
All four of those hotel partners plus two more signed
up to do the school again the following year. And
I think what we realized after being down there. So
for two months we were down there trying to generate

(23:17):
interest in the school, and then we had another two
months of the school. So after four months, we came
to realize we we become a We become fortunately like locals,
we have this local insider knowledge. They trust us. We're
almost like this third party like this, this aren't that
they can trust. We're not the parents, We're not going

(23:38):
to hire them. They don't need to be on their
best behavior, but we are kind of someone that they
confide in. And what we realized was that, you know,
we had to shift the mindset culturally that service was
the same as servitude, and you know, they were taught
year after year not to serve the white men. And
we had to suddenly shift that idea of where the

(24:00):
beauty of hospitality lies and where they could be. And
so when we went back into a college, we initially
went into a Seventh Day Adventist college, and I asked
if anyone was interested in hospitality and and maybe one
or two people were brave enough to raise their hands.
And then at the graduation, those particular students weren't allowed
to come to graduation because it was on a Friday.

(24:22):
So we went in on a Monday to give the
students who who had come, the one or two who
had come into the school their certificate, which is a
very big deal to to all of our students everywhere
we work. And we asked the same question as to
who would be interested in learning about hospitality and now
maybe raise Oh that's amazing, that's amazing. Yeah, So that

(24:44):
was a way that we could tell that we were
shifting the mindset about hospitality, whereas now maybe a they
already have that hospitality gene and for them, I think circumstantially,
it's just that much more difficult. You know, when I
first got there, I had the mindset very much Weston,
you know, what have you really done to try and
get a job? Have you walked into hotels? And then

(25:05):
I realized that it's been eight years that people have
been trying to walk into hotels and get jobs and
it just doesn't work like that. That's a country that's
emerging as a market that luxury hotel companies want to
go into. What do you credit that shift from two
people raising their hands to almost everybody in class raising
their hands. I think it's a lot of breaking down
barriers while we're there, and we're there for so long,

(25:26):
and in that case especially, we were there for four months.
So the first two months they're skeptical and they're not
signing up, and their parents often have a stronger leash
on them than we would like. And so often it's
us convincing the parents at the schools and and educating
them before we can actually get to the students, or

(25:46):
it's convincing the government often, so we'd have to in
the British Virgin Islands, we'd have to speak to various
numerous members of the government just to be able to
enter these schools and to talk about hospitality and what
a maze industry and potential it has for for these students.
So it was a mixture of of us breaking down

(26:07):
these barriers, it was a mixture of word of mouth,
and then they were watching, they were watching them go
to school, they were watching the changes that you can
see in our students throughout that period and they become
more confident, and they become more knowledgeable, and all we're
really doing I don't really see it as training or teaching.
I see it as just sharing education that we were

(26:29):
so lucky to have growing up and that they just
didn't have. And in turn, I'm guessing part of graduating
this class of seventies students, they will then go on
and share what they've learned and trained the people who
then they end up hiring, because you've given them a

(26:50):
framework and a foundation for how to think about work
and how to think about hiring and how to think
about being on a team. So I was originally going
to scoople. You have to go back to the b
v I s and keep doing this again and again,
but to a certain extent. Once you go to a
market and plant the seed and graduate a good class,
yes you may only graduate seventy people, but that will

(27:13):
ripple out and those seventy people. If each one of
those seventy people trains ten people over the course of
the next five years that they're working, you suddenly have
a graduating class of seven hundred people. Right. We hope, so,
we hope. So I think it's I think it's it's yes,
it's those seventy or or a t graduates. So far
we have two hundred and fifty in total. But I
think it's about them and their families. But we've also

(27:36):
had cases where in Mexico because we were lucky to
work maybe two hours drive from Toto Santos, and the
next year we had some of our graduates come in
and train as trainers and then go on and teach
the next round. And so I think that it's it's
a matter of yes, they could bring it to their hotels.
One of the challenges, to be honest, that we're having

(27:58):
is that our graduates will started a hotel and then
they will be known as Syrah graduates. And the problem
that we have there is that you may go to Lash,
and you may go to Lausanne, and I may go
to Cornell and we all maybe work for Hyatt and
Hyatt we're doing fabulous orientation or and make us all
feel like we're part of Hyatt. If the brand that

(28:18):
we're working with does not do that orientation and does
not make everyone in that hotel feel like that under
that same umbrella, our graduates will be Syah graduates, and
that's that's not something that we're trying to encourage. But
we are, going back to your point, teaching leadership and
teaching entrepreneurship so that they can hopefully become managers and

(28:39):
general managers. And it's like your branding is a little
too good, Like everybody wants no, wait, why why is
it bad to be known as a SYRA graduate because
they discriminate against SYRA graduates. So in a way because
it's not as prestigious as it's actually more actually more prestigious,
So how are they discriminated against? So they'll say, oh,
they were Syrah grad you it's because often what will

(29:01):
happen is that we'll start the program and people will
hear about it throughout the program, so they may not
have signed up initially, will try and be on the
ground at least, you know, a month or two or
two months before we start, but they may not have
signed up, so they didn't get a shot coming in.
So the amount of times we have people trying to
come into the program once we've already started happens all

(29:22):
the time, so that in a way, people want to
take the next course and the next course. So you know,
going back to what you said earlier, do we should
we be repeating the program in the same location. We should.
We've already got the buy in, you know, so it's
already did the groundwork. We already did the groundwork, We
already have the trainers, you know. So it's it's that

(29:43):
much easier. We're going back to Totro Santos this year,
I believe, in the next couple of months, and and
you know, it couldn't it couldn't be easier. And already
they've they've bought in, so our students already want to
come back and learn level two, even though we're not
at that stage yet. But the animosity kind of happens
when a brand doesn't really put everyone together, and so

(30:04):
they almost regarded as oh, well, they went to Sire
and they had that education, and so right, it's like
it's it's the brands, it's the hotel's responsibility to make
sure everybody feels like they're all playing on the same team, right,
I mean, just as Cornell graduate, it's kind of the
same animosity when you started a job, unless you're made
to feel part of that company. So the animosity isn't

(30:26):
coming from the hiring managers. The animosity is covering coming
from the other fellow employees who feel like you had
an unfair leg up because you got to go to
that very school and I didn't got it. They didn't
have the confidence, or they weren't or they simply weren't
around when we were hiring. So I have a question.
Is a little bit of a different track, But I
know that you travel a lot for work and enjoy

(30:49):
traveling a lot on your personal time. How is your
travel influencing the work that you do? Are you going
to places and looking at the staff everywhere you're going
and thinking, Oh, I'm to incorporate this thing or that thing.
I can imagine that it would be very hard to
kind of stop working when you're traveling. It is hard
to stop working when I'm traveling. I get more excited

(31:11):
than a normal person when service is fantastic, really really
just mind blown. When someone smiles at me in a
certain way, or they you can feel that they have
that gene. It's it kind of wakes me up. Similarly,
when we have a really terrible experience, you try and
understand why you're having a terrible experience. So I've always

(31:31):
wanted to study psychology. I haven't yet, but I really
want to understand what is it that's that's bothering that
person to have delivered that experience to me, and why
are they acting like that, and what's their motivation for
being here? And one of my trainers and constantly reminds
me that you have to understand the why, why are
people in this industry? What are they looking for? And

(31:51):
so that will often dictate why we're having such a
poor experience. But yes, when I travel, services obviously incredible
the important to me, but also is is going to
emerging markets. So recently we traveled around Mexico and explored
First we explored Hull Bush, which I think we were
a little late to that party and quickly left, and

(32:13):
then went to baccal Are, which I think we're still
a little late to that party. But we're always my
husband and I are always looking for where could we
build a hotel and obviously a school. So our dream
is to build a hotel where the profits will sustain
a Sirish school, where we hire from that school, and
where the rest of the community and the hotels can
hire from that school as well. So the hotel would

(32:35):
be part of the five oh one three c It
would be separate because I do want the profits to
be able to sustain the school, but obviously to also
sustain the team and and eventually to turn a profit.
I don't think there's anything wrong with profit, of course,
I do think that the school will always remain a
five oh one c three, which is something that a

(32:56):
lot of people have said, why don't you just become
a for profit company? But that's not the point of
what we do. We're not trying to make profit. We're
trying to have impact. So the more impact we can
have at the lowest cost to hotels, then the more
people that we can kind of transform and awaken to
the potential of the industry. Where is Syrah going next?

(33:17):
So sire is going to back to Tota Santos and
to San Migueldy and Day in Mexico, and then we're
going to Merced, California. Where's Merced, California? It is two
hours dry from San Francisco and one hour from Fresno.
I just found out. That's interesting. It's a very sleepy,

(33:37):
charming town that someone recently described to me as the
prettiest gull at the dance that doesn't know she just pretty.
It has the potential to be gorgeous and charming, but
right now needs a little the where would you like
to go? So for fun coming up, I'm going to
Portugal and I'm going land scouting and to try and

(34:01):
find some land where we could build the hotel in
the school of our own, hopefully in the next few years.
And I'm going to India to prepare for my wedding.
And I congratulations, where would you like Sarah to go
and open schools and your programs? Actually, I'm glad you
are so this year because we've had success with a

(34:21):
pop up model for the last I guess four five years.
We're looking at urban models, so urban partnerships, so we're
looking at New York. Finally we're looking at London, so
both places are a home to me and l A.
And we're looking to launch a membership model, so where
hotels will be able to access our graduates, where people

(34:43):
will be able to come and actually visit our schools
as opposed to them being in beautiful but remote locations.
And we feel that as instead of working with hotels
that are opening and where timelines are often very much
a moving target, we are going to work with hotels
that a face in constant turnover, which are often most
hotels and instead of where for example, our turnover rates

(35:06):
so far with our pop ups have been around ten percent.
So we feel that we's incredible. That's incredible, and well,
I think there's a lot of reasons. I don't think
we can take credit for that. I think the reasons
are that these students see themselves in these hotels. We
teach them about what a career path looks like, but
they also, going back to what I said at the beginning,
they need this opportunity, and they also have this um

(35:29):
buy in and this brand loyalty to this brand that's
given them this free of charge education. And then finally,
these students are going as a cohort from the school
to work kind of as this collective community of support
that will prevent them from the first will all kind
of slow them down when they're thinking, potentially, should I

(35:49):
move to this next new hotel that's opening that's offering
me a dular more? Hopefully they remember that at school
we teach them how to compute the cost of turnover
and why it costs five thousand, eight hundred and thirty
four dollars for every fund of house employee that leaves
a hotel. So there's a lot of reasons as to
why I think our turnover is ten percent, and it
will be more challenging, I think in urban markets, but

(36:11):
we're excited to be able to launch UM. I think
the next place, the first place of this model will
be in l A and there we hope to turn
out around a hundred and fifty students a year, where
hotels can constantly access our graduates for a small fee
to be able to then hire and fill their gaps

(36:31):
in the hotel. Would the urban schools be temporary or
permanent schools? Permanent, permanent, permanent? So I think it's only
fifty graduates in the course of a year. So we're
doing short term programs and we're graduating seventy in two
months in the b v I s. Why wouldn't it
be multiples of that in l A. Because we are
starting small, so it's a new model for us. So

(36:53):
we're going to start with two classes of around fifteen
students and it will because it also takes us. It
doesn't just take seven weeks to turn out eight weeks
to turn out seventy. It takes us four months or
six months to actually plan these pop ups, so we'll
take us two months on the ground before we actually
launched the pop up, which will then be two months.
So with the permanent, we're looking at models where we'll

(37:15):
have two classes going at the same time, so thirty
students in total, roughly thirty or forty, and we'll launch
them every four weeks, so four weeks and then four
weeks to work on the recruitment process, because just as
the training is important, it's important for all of our
students to be hired, so we want to make sure
everyone gets hired, and then we'll do it again. So

(37:36):
we think we can do it around four or five
times a year um, which is why we'll have about
five five times in thirty students, around a hundred and
fifty students in total, and it'll still be free to
the students, still free to the students. It's it's a terrific,
amazing it's we want to work with with in New York.
I want to work with nonprofit. I really want to

(37:57):
work with the nonprofits and organizations who are working with
people in prison so that when they get out they
get a much better chance. I think that's very powerful.
I want to work with refugees. I really want to
work with the homeless. I can't walk buy the homeless
where we live in New York and London anymore, and
so I think that it's time. While we've done fortunately

(38:18):
and I'm grateful for the work that we've been able
to do and will continue to do in markets like
the b v I it's just time to do something
right where we live on our doorstep. So inspiring. Gerald
and I spent a lot of time at industry events
and it's always it's been great over the last five
years to just watch how your profile has grown in

(38:39):
the industry and how you have become an absolute leader,
and you are now doing the keynotes, and you're the
one who is taking taking the center stage, and people
are really looking to you. As service becomes more and
more important, as the experience at the hotels becoming more
and more important, as sustainable everything becomes more and more important,
and as people want, as travelers want to feel that

(39:03):
they're spending their money with companies that are doing good work.
You're absolutely helping to make this happen on the foundational level,
and it's inspiring and it's wonderful. I hope I hope that.
I hope that it's not just me doing this, honestly,
and that's why we are a nonprofit because it's not competition.
We hope that all hotels have pop up hotel schools

(39:24):
when they open. We hope that other companies start doing
pop up hotel schools. We we'd love to help. I don't.
It has just been me challenging this industry who have,
like I said, this ancient model of hiring and who
are It's the largest and one of the most polluting
industries in the world, and I think this is a
way for them to create a responsible and sustainable future.

(39:47):
But the reason that that goes hand in hand, the
reason that it was at Cornell that I realized this link,
and the link is service, right, the two and the
two the two worlds of philanthropy and hospitality go together
because of service. The services to the guest in hospitality,
but the service is to humanity in philanthropy. So it

(40:07):
goes hand in hand. And I think people hopefully will
start catching on and see this as a way too
to hire and to end to communities and to give
before they take for the future. And if they do, however,
it will be also in no small part because you've
laid the foundation and you've shown that not only can
it be done, but that it can be done successfully,

(40:30):
and it can be done by companies like Rosewood and Marriott,
who are the companies who everyone else looks too to
see how are they doing and how are they getting
it done? So it should be done. And when I
started five years ago and I called up one of
these big names and I said, can I speak to
someone in your CSR department? Which back then I thought
that's who I should speak to. Now I realized it
needs to be the owners and the developers. They didn't

(40:53):
know what CSR was. So now I think, together with
the kind of consciousness movement that happening all over the world,
and together with the purpose economy that we're in, I
think the timing is finally right for Syra and for
other pop up hotel schools to start emerging. What does
Syrah mean? Sira means It has meanings in different languages,

(41:16):
so it means in in Hindi it means happiness. It
alludes to princess and traveler in different languages, but in
Arabic it means the change from one stage of life
to another and the becoming of a person from one
stage of life to another. And that meaning speaks to

(41:36):
me I think the most out of all the different
but beautiful meanings I think it has. It's also my
nieces name. On many levels, it works beautifully. People wanted
to get in touch with you or find out about
what you're doing. How could they find you? Sure where
on Syra hospitality dot com. Let's just spell that that's

(41:57):
s A I r A Hospitality dot com or Instagram. Harsha,
thank you so much for coming and sharing your story.
It's always great to see you. It's always great and
that's our show. Thanks for listening. If you like what
you heard, please subscribe and you know, leave us a
five store review. Oh Wait Ago is a production of

(42:20):
I Heart Radio and Fathom. You can find the details
we talked about in the show notes and on our
website fathom away dot com. Don't forget to sign up
for our newsletter when you're there. You can get in
touch with us anytime at podcast at fathom away dot
com and follow us on all social media at at
fathom Way to Go. Please tag your best travel photos
hashtag travel with Fathom If you want to really go

(42:41):
deep on the travel inspiration. Pick up a copy of
our book, Travel Anywhere and Avoid being a tourist. I'm
Jarrelyn Gerba and I'm Pavio Rosatti, and we'd like to
thank our producer, editor and mixer Marcy to Pena and
our executive producer Christopher Hasiotis. For more podcasts from I
Heart Radio, visit the I Heart Radio app, Apple podcast uskes,
or wherever you listen to your favorite shows. H m

(43:14):
hm
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