In Search of Hotel Excellence: Avari Towers, Karachi, Pakistan

When you think of Karachi, what image or emotion first comes to mind? For me, being in Toronto and inundated with the oftentimes hellfire and brimstone of American news media, this Pakistani metropolis doesn’t particularly evoke positive sentiment. I’m fairly geographically educated (I’m in the hotel business after all!) so I know that Karachi is a bustling port at the crossroads of Asia, Arabia and East Africa, and is a financial powerhouse now home to over 20 million people of numerous cultural and religious backgrounds.

Pakistan itself is a country to watch. It’s the sixth most populous country in the world and a burgeoning manufacturing center, falling right behind India in terms of socioeconomic progress. Although the government has been hit with a few military coups in the past, it nonetheless follows a democratic constitutional system that elects more women to parliament than any other Muslim-majority country.
But Karachi is also consistently ranked as one of the most dangerous cities in the world, suffering from trafficking, burglaries, rioting, extortion and ethnic clashes. Furthermore, many people in North America only know Pakistan as the country that harbored Osama Bin Laden and the immediate neighbor to the tragic warzone that is Afghanistan. It isn’t a stretch to say that Karachi doesn’t rank very high on Westerners’ bucket lists.
Despite this inherent stigma, it would be juvenile to assume that Karachi offers no lessons for the world abroad. And indeed, that’s exactly the case when discussing the Avari Towers and their commitment to good old-fashioned service with the General Manager, Gordon James Gorman.
For starters, the Avari Towers (www.avari.com/property/avari-towers), the flagship property for the Avari Hotel group, is a five-star hotel and rated the best accommodations in Karachi on TripAdvisor. Despite room rates far exceeding local competitors, the Avari Towers consistently outperforms even the major international brands in the city. It’s been family owned and operated since its inception, and Gorman attributes much of the hotel’s success to the earnest dedication to service from the chairman, Mr. Byram Avari.
Normally, the title ‘In Search of Hotel Excellence’ is reserved for properties to which I have recently visited and had a chance to parlay with a senior director. But Gorman is an avid reader of mine, and with over 40 years in the hotel business under his belt – five of which at the Avari Towers – he is proud to exclaim that he’s saved the best for last. So, after a dozen energetic emails detailing the Avari Towers’ unique service offerings, it’s undeniable that something special is happening here – an oasis of luxury amidst so much apparent turmoil.
What Gorman emphasizes is personal, physical service, and through many creative forms. As you’d have it, his recipe for success is to treat all guests with the same level of service and gratitude that he’d expect
from his closest friends. This commitment begins with a phone call to guests once they are in transit from the airport to the hotel in a designated limousine. Gorman frequently meets guests upon arrival in the lobby, welcome drink and key card at the ready.
Just take a minute and let that image simmer; arriving in Pakistan, escorted directly to your hotel and greeted without delay by the GM, a boisterous Scotsman no less. Talk about first impressions – very reassuring. I stress that face-to-face communication is the only way to build genuine rapport and this is a clear-cut example.
Along these lines, not only are staff members trained to be friendly and attentive – carrying the company’s mission statement on a laminated card in their breast pockets at all times – but also, they are habitually more appreciative of a warm handshake than a tip. In fact, tipping at the Avari Towers’ adheres to a rather unorthodox and altruistic custom. Their in-house Tips For Life Foundation ensures that whenever gratuities are to staff members from the guests, the money is shared with street kids and orphans.
This high caliber of introductions is carried forward to when guests first reach their rooms. Here, they are welcomed with an Avari Apple (grown onsite) and served with a crisp napkin, fruit knife, fork and handwritten card. If guests want more refreshments, they need call room service or head over to the fruit bar at the breakfast buffet, as you’d expect from a five-star locale.
But there are many other subtle and exceptional touches apart from the entrance. For instance, if you find yourself in the dining room, don’t be surprised if an adolescent staff member approaches you and asks if you want your shoes cleaned. Free of charge, you’ll be given a pair of comfy slippers for the five-minute duration that your footwear are polished and scented.
Gorman was also very excited to discuss the hotel’s new Sock and Shawl Butler Service. The day you’re scheduled to depart, a butler will visit your room with a letter from Gorman and a silver tray. On that tray is an Irish linen handkerchief carefully wrapped around a flower along with a selection of at least 10 different colors of socks and 10 different colors of soft Pashmina shawls for your choosing – keeping your feet snug and your neck warm. The silk shawls are purchased from boutique shops in Karachi and Lahore (the country’s second largest city with 11 million people), while Gorman himself selects the vibrant cotton socks during his regular trips to Bangkok and Edinburgh.
“During my five years of managing this fine hotel, I’ve yet to meet a guest who didn’t smile when presented with a brand new pair of socks or a luxurious, soft Pashmina shawl,” remarks Gorman. “Many of our regular guests often hoist their suited trouser legs to compare sock colors or shawls in the restaurant during breakfast. It’s a very communal experience, and one of the highly personalized services that delights international travelers to Pakistan; a small token of our sincere gratitude for their support.”
And I’m very thankful to Gorman for bringing this to my attention. Giving physical gifts is an excellent method towards developing healthy (and memorable) relationships with guests. In the end, the Avari Towers is yet another terrific illustration that upgrading your guest services doesn’t necessarily have to be a purely technology-centric enterprise. There’s a reason why this hotel is a shining star with a very loyal following in a city that may be troublesome to visit. Gorman, his staff and their unique expression of service no doubt play a key role.
Just a reminder that you must always be creative in your approach. Constantly look for ways to add the personal, face-to-face touch.
(Article published in eHotelier on September 20, 2012)

Larry MogelonskyIn Search of Hotel Excellence: Avari Towers, Karachi, Pakistan