Here comes Vikram Khettry under a charismatic mop of greying hair, tall, and broad-shouldered. He is not a hard man to miss.
The Corporate General Manager of Tribe and Trademark hotels, with a combined capacity of 352 rooms, had a rubbish year. The pandemic dismantled his hospitality mantra, “happy employee equals a satisfied guest with memorable experience equals a happy balance sheet.”
There were not very few employees at the hotels, no guests, and certainly not a happy balance sheet. “But things are looking up this year,” he says.
With over 25 years in the hotel industry, Vikram previously worked at The Hilton and Four Points by Sheraton in Jaipur, India, The Radisson Whitesands Resort in Goa, amongst others before moving to Africa.
A big lover of wildlife and the African safari, he talked to Jackson Biko about his passions, the pandemic, and his love for hyenas.
I like your hair. Is it your real hair?
[Laughs hard] It is. In our family, our hair turns grey quite early. When I was in my early 30s, my hair started turning grey and I coloured it. I then realised that dyes have chemicals that make your hair even greyer. By the time I was 40, I was completely grey. Then I decided to just leave it natural. I want to grow it to my shoulder.
You will look like a spiritual leader, or a dollar billionaire, not a hotelier.
[Chuckles] The last time I grew it to that length was last year when I pledged not to cut it until business comes back to at least between 60 and 70 percent. So this time I’m making a higher pledge that I will only cut my hair until we reach 80 percent of our normal business. It’s slowly getting there— business that is.
Do you make pledges using your hair?
No. Covid era has been difficult for all of us, especially for the travel and airline industries, and compromising our personal and work lives. We hit very low, almost 10 percent of our business potential. After that, it has been an upward journey over the last nine months. March was our best month before the lockdown was announced again.
What did you discover about yourself last year?
Not necessarily about myself but my environment. Empathy. It’s something that develops you as a person. Last year forced us to adjust our lifestyles. People showed compassion. My landlord said I could pay what I could.
Stress levels for people all over the world rose. We did a lot of outdoor activities as a family. I have two sons, 15 and 12. The moment the lockdown was lifted we took off to the Maasai Mara, one of my favourite places on earth. I grew up watching animals and the African savannah on TV. I have been following hyenas for a long time. I like their social structure and biology.
Hyenas. They are generally not very desirable animals, are they?
They are fascinating. We live in a male-dominated world. Hyenas live in a female-dominated world. Female hyenas are larger than the male, and so it is a matriarchal society.
The male is pretty much at the bottom of the social ladder. After a kill, they are the very last to eat.
To me, that’s quite interesting especially when I have grown up in a world where we have seen women not being allowed equal opportunity. So I connect to that.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Calcutta, a beautiful city, warm and hospitable. It’s not capitalistic because it was governed in a socialist environment for 40 years. It’s different from the rest of the country, in terms of the way they think, or behave.
I went to school there before leaving in 1992 for work. I have worked in India, Tanzania, and now Kenya.
Why do you have two rings on each hand?
One is a wedding ring and the other is just an iron ring that my dad gave me. He passed on in 1997. He was a very religious person. He was also studying astrology.
Do you believe in astrology?
I believe in energy. Each one of us is born with pure white energy. As we grow, karma changes the colour towards the darker side. Growing up we were taught that every single deed affects our energy, and we need to keep our energy closer to being white. This is a spiritual mantra, not a religious one. I grew up in a Hindu family, my wife is a Christian. Some of my best friends are Muslim. So I am not confined to one religion.
Was it challenging marrying a Christian wife, you being Hindu?
India has gone through a transition over the last 30 years. With education and globalisation, we became more liberal than the previous generation. I joined this hotel on the same day as my wife. We met at the HR office, became friends, and then knew we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. When I called her dad —a devoted Christian— asking for her hand in marriage, he said ‘just come and meet me.’ I met him and he was happy with me.
What have you learnt about Christianity from your wife?
Frankly speaking very little. My wife is not a devout Christian. She is like me, a spiritual person. So in our house, we have an altar where we have Jesus, Mother Mary and my goddess Durga from my religion. So we pray to Jesus, Mary, and Mother Durga.
At 47 years of age, what does your white energy look like; is it towards the white or dark?
I don’t know. You can’t tell the shade of your white energy. When you have darker energy around you, it brings sickness to your body. The healthier you are, it means that you have good energy around you. They say stress brings about lifestyle-related diseases.
What is stress?
Stress means your energy is low or it’s toward the dark. So when you do meditation or yoga, it calms your mind and also brings positive energy around you, which then heals you.
What’s the one thing you find yourself investing in a lot, at this stage of your life?
That’s a very good question. There are two things that I want to do before my active life comes to an end. First is there is a lot of work that needs to be done towards saving the planet.
I have tied up with a group of friends in different parts of the world that are working on a solution to have sustainable community-based projects.
The second thing; in seven years I want to bring a concept to Kenya that did very well in India. The Nature Cure Centre. It’s a cure that works with your energy, your body in a way that makes you much stronger both mentally and physically.
What’s your mantra on money?
Money is a result of knowledge and effort. The more you apply those two the more it grows.