The Princes Room at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower is empty when I arrive for the Leading Hotels of the World (LHW) media meet. LHW is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year and is releasing its updated hotel directory.
Besides getting a backgrounder on LHW, the meet is also an opportunity to see Mark Greedy, area vice-president (Asia/Pacific) speak to the assembled press. Sure, the Business Lounge feature is all about intimate conversations over single malts, cigars and similar material luxuries. But, there is merit in seeing a guy handle a crowd, work the podium and motor through those slides. Stellar one-on-ones are sometimes pathetic public speakers and vice versa. Public speaking can be a window to the soul, too, you know.
Greedy’s on time and proceeds to deliver a short, snappy and quite witty presentation. The slides are few and simple and he seems to have a little joke for each slide. In fact, he has this cheeky half-grin when he delivers his asides that indicates there is more where they came from.
Hotel expert: Greedy has stayed in nearly half of LHW’s worldwide properties. (Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint)
LHW’s activities are a curious mix of quality assurance, consulting, marketing and travel services. Hotels which apply to be a part of the Leading Hotels directory are subject to a stringent multistage evaluation process. This also includes anonymous inspections by LHW inspectors who measure performance across 1,500 metrics. During his presentation, Greedy touches upon one such metric: “When you ask for coffee, we expect the waiter to offer you a choice of varieties and brews.”
Once these hotels clear the evaluations, LHW helps them brand and market their services globally. Greedy mentions that LHW accounts for around 6% of all room nights sold by the nearly 450 hotels in the LHW fold.
There are 10 Indian properties on the list currently: nine Taj properties and the Uppal’s Orchid in New Delhi. Several Oberoi properties used to feature in the list till late 2006. In fact, during his presentation, Greedy talks about the role LHW played in making the Oberoi brand a success. However, the Oberoi group no longer subscribes to LHW (members can, and do, drop out. Later Greedy told me that hotels could get delisted if quality levels drop).
Someone offers us a table, but Greedy suggests we just pull chairs across each other and chill out. I tell him that he has a remarkably un-Australian accent. Was it the 20-plus years he’s lived and worked abroad?
“Oh, I was a small town kid. I grew up in a town called Maitland in New South Wales. Back then, we only saw the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on TV. The ABC was really all BBC. The Aussie accent became popular after local TV programming started.”
But, surely, he can turn it on when he wants to? “Of course I can, mate…” Greedy chirps up suddenly, all Aussie-like (If you’re wondering, I did ask him the mandatory cricket question. Patience, my reader).
Greedy oversees LHW activities in the Asia-Pacific, but is involved in marketing activities globally. I ask him if he still anonymously inspects hotels. “I can’t do that in Asia any more. Everybody knows me! But I do check out hotels once in a while outside the region.”
Maitland was, in Greedy’s childhood, a coal mining town. “Now they grow vineyards where there used to be mines,” he says. It was as a young boy in Maitland that he first picked up Rugby League. And pretty seriously at that.
Years later, he’d move to Sydney, two hours’ drive from Maitland, and begin playing Rugby League professionally. He would also, significantly in hindsight, sign up for a cadetship with the Trans Australian Airlines (TAA, later to become Qantas). “You applied for a cadetship after school. The company employed you and sponsored you through college. So, I worked for the airline during the week and played (Rugby) League on the weekend.”
The rugby explains his imposing physique. Greedy is broad shouldered and fills his navy blue suit jacket admirably. He’s wearing a crisp, classic white shirt with one of those collars that are buttoned down, but without visible buttons. He has a patterned tie in pale metallic green—a hint of whimsy.
Greedy has a strong jaw and wears his salt and pepper hair parted in the middle. He could easily be cast as one of those guys in the movies who stand emotionlessly behind the Russian mafia don, waiting for a command. “Vladimir…make him go away. Forever!”
His rugby career was cut short, though, by an injury. Someone’s elbow broke his skull. I wince when he tells me. Greedy decided he had had enough of rugby and concentrated more on his job. He would rotate across departments at TAA, learning the nuts and bolts of travel. Greedy then moved to Singapore and would eventually work at the Pan Pacific Hotel. Then after further stints in both advertising and travel, he joined LHW 12 years ago. He has been in Singapore for more than 22 years now.
Over the years, Greedy has developed a second sense, so to speak, for hotels. “I can walk into a hotel, spend five seconds in the lobby and tell you if it’s any good. I was a pretty obsessive manager at the Pan Pacific.” Which is why Greedy inspects fewer hotels than he did once. “I can’t be objective any more. A full inspection means ticking off hundreds of boxes in checklists. I’ve seen too many hotels to do that faithfully.”
Does the travelling take a toll on family? Greedy, who has stayed at almost 200 of the nearly 450 properties represented by LHW, disagrees. In fact, he says, the travelling helps his wife, Joy, who is a writer. “We meet so many people all the time on the road. Some of those oddball characters often find their way into her books. Sometimes I go ‘Oh boy! Was that guy something!’ and she’s already scribbling away in her notepad.”
Do not be surprised if you come across a witty Indian journalist in one of Joy Greedy’s coming books.
And, how high does India rank in his list of destinations? Greedy loves India and India’s hotels: “The service in the hotels here is brilliant. And that new Incredible India campaign is working. India hasn’t even begun to scratch the service when it comes to tourism. Singapore gets twice as many people. You guys have so much more here…”
Yet, Greedy is sceptical about seeing too many new Indian hotels on the LHW list. “The people investing here in hotels are real estate businessmen. They build it up and then hand it over to a management outfit. The people at Taj and Oberoi run it themselves with passion. Luxury hotels need that passion to work.”
Sadly, there isn’t enough time to buy him a drink, but I ask him what his tipple of choice is. “A fine New Zealand white wine. I am not one of those beer drinkers everyone thinks Aussies are. Maybe one after a game of rugby. Otherwise it’s wine for me.”
As we get up to go, I ask him what he thinks about the recent Indian cricket triumph over Australia. “Beat us in Test cricket. And then we’ll talk. Tell your readers that!” he laughs pointing at my dictaphone.
Born: 7 August 1953
Education: Tertiary, Sydney University
Work Profile: Entered the travel business in 1972 as management trainee with Trans Australia Airlines; worked with Singapore Airlines, Pan Pacific Hotels and Resorts and BBDO Advertising Asia before joining Tour East International as CEO; joined Leading Hotels of the World as vice-president in 1996
Favourite Hotel: Impossible to pick one. Has a list of favourites on each continent, including the Ritz in Paris, where he once shared a drink with Johnny Depp
Favourite Sports: Rugby and surfing
Hobbies: Photography and archiving portraits and pictures of the Greedy family
Favourite Book: ‘In the Shade of the Tembusu Tree’ by Joy Greedy