The Heart of Hospitality: Insights from Barun Jolly, GM of Robinsons Hotels & Resorts

From the essentials to true luxury, uncover the drivers behind RHR’s award-winning portfolio

In the dynamic and thriving realm of Philippine hospitality, one hotel group stands out as a paragon of excellence, commanding a portfolio that currently spans 30 hotels and over 5,000 keys, spread across 19 municipalities: Robinsons Hotels and Resorts (RHR).

At its helm is Barun Jolly, a 25-year veteran of the industry whose insights into the intricacies of catering to a diverse spectrum of guests provide a captivating glimpse into the world of effective hospitality leadership.

We join Barun, the Senior Vice President of Robinsons Land and Business Unit General Manager of RHR, at the impressive guest lounge of the freshly renovated Holiday Inn Manila Galleria in Ortigas, where he delves into the unique challenges and opportunities inherent in overseeing a broad range of successful hotel chains.

Finding Strength in Reach and Diversity

A paramount challenge he highlights is the imperative of maintaining brand integrity across RHR’s diverse lineup, which was recognized as the Best Operational Hospitality Portfolio at the 2023 PropertyGuru Philippines Property Awards.

Each RHR hotel carries a distinct promise to guests, whether it's the accessible essentials of Go Hotels or the opulent offerings of the Fili hotel brand. Ensuring that each property remains faithful to its brand ethos while meeting guest expectations requires meticulous attention to detail.

“While Go Hotels is an essentials hotel brand, we have to provide certain non-negotiables which must be given to all guests. One, that means clean, hygienic spaces. Two, internet that is stable and fast for you to work. And third, a sense of security and privacy when you are in the hotel,” says Barun. 

He adds, “Will those elements be in a luxury brand? Yes, because that's the basic minimum brand promise for a hotel. But as you keep scaling up, things will differ. So, from Go Hotels, when you move up to the Summit Hotels brand, your range of services will change. You will have a pool at the hotel, you will have an all-day dining restaurant at the hotel, because you're already into a full-service hotel. The guest profile changes.

“Then of course, as you move towards luxury, the expectation becomes even higher.” And with that introduction, Barun talks about RHR’s first foray into the upper tiers of hospitality management without an international partner. “Fili is our pride, because it is the first and the only authentic homegrown five-star hotel in the country that actually reflects the true Filipino ethos of hospitality. Luxury is a whole lot of things, but in a nutshell, luxury is first of all, a sense of space. So, everything in Fili is grand, from your lobby, to your bedroom, your bathroom. They are all bigger. The second part of luxury is the multitude of experiences. You have a dining experience which is not limited to an all-day dining outlet, you have specialty restaurants. You have a full-service spa, and so on. Your level of experiences keeps going higher and higher.”

First Impressions

Barun, the son of a high-ranking armed forces officer in India, first fell in love with the hotel industry in his childhood. “My Dad would move cities every couple of years, and whenever we would move, we would stay at a hotel for a few weeks or a few days before moving to a house. So, since childhood, I loved the glamor of going into hotels, I was enamored with their polished lobbies and grand ceilings. At the time, hotels were all about grand ceilings and glitzy interiors. This had a big impression on me as an impressionable preteen kid.”

His first-hand experience also revealed how two seemingly dissimilar industries had commonalities. “I always jokingly tell people that you might just think they are chalk and cheese, the army and hotels, but they’re the same: You need to turn up in a good uniform every single day. You’ve got to show up on the front. And third is that many people rely on you. In one, it's very dramatic. They will rely on you for independence and territorial protection, but in the hotel industry, people depend on you for creating their memorable experiences.” 

Putting Guests at the Center of It All

The analogy that Barun shared is central to the culture of Robinsons Hotels and Resorts, which has an unwavering commitment to prioritizing guest satisfaction. What links all of RHR’s various properties together, says Barun, is that every aspect of hotel operations is viewed from the perspective of the guest, from product offerings to pricing strategies. “We put our guests at the center of every decision we make. We look at everything from a guest lens.”

In addition, service infused with care and empathy forms the bedrock of the hotel group's ethos, ensuring that every interaction leaves a lasting impression of warmth and hospitality. “Those two things are true in all our brands and we are very proud of it.”

That being said, maintaining consistency in service quality across different market segments is a formidable task, one which Barun considers the most important part of his job. To ensure adherence to brand standards, Barun takes a multi-level approach. Clear brand standards, standardized procedures, and rigorous training and monitoring protocols are instituted to deliver a seamless guest experience at every touchpoint.

Adhering to universally recognized benchmarks is highly important, it forms part of what Barun says are the key drivers for RHR’s growth in 2024: Standards, Synergy, and System, or simply S.S.S.

Underpinning this strategic framework is a relentless pursuit of excellence in standards, ensuring that each property upholds the brand promise with unwavering dedication. “I told our entire team, make sure that you comply with our standards and that you deliver on your brand promise. You need consistency and that's why standards are important.”

I’ve worked with three of the largest hotel groups, and what I learned from them is for you to grow and to grow fast, you’ve got to have strength in your systems. I define that in three components: the Robinsons Hotels website, the Robinsons Hotels and Resorts app, and the Go Rewards program. All three give us an advantage.

Synergy among the different hotel brands and across the Gokongwei Group enables Robinsons Hotels and Resorts to leverage collective strengths, whether in sharing best practices or extending benefits to employees and guests. “For example, if one of our hotels is doing very well, we have to learn what are the things or promotions that make them successful and how do we keep it consistent. That’s the synergy within the RHR framework.”

Jolly says that being within the Gokongwei Group brings many advantages for RHR, not least of which are the partnerships it has established with Cebu Pacific and the Go Rewards loyalty program. Direct access to the group’s large workforce is another benefit. “The Gokongwei Group has around 70,000 employees. With an average family size of four, that’s 280,000 people who are linked to us directly. Do they need a place to stay? Give them offers which are both beneficial to them and gives them the pride to stay in a Gokongwei hotel, a Robinsons Land hotel.”

Completing the triumvirate is the S for systems. “I’ve worked with three of the largest hotel groups, and what I learned from them is for you to grow and to grow fast, you’ve got to have strength in your systems. I define that in three components: the Robinsons Hotels website, the Robinsons Hotels and Resorts app, and the Go Rewards program. All three give us an advantage.”

Barun makes sure that the website and app are easily navigable and contribute to the overall guest experience. He is especially proud of the app, which recently posted 50% growth in terms of revenue generated year-on-year. For its part, the Go Rewards program is both part of synergy and systems, underlining its importance in RHR’s growth.

“With its 9.5 million members, it’s a massive loyalty program. We have to make sure that we use that scale of the loyalty program to reach out to our members. Make sure that the guests see the value of using Go Rewards to earn their points when they stay at a Robinsons hotel.”

According to Barun, as it is now integrated into the entire Go Rewards system, RHR is now “at par with any international hotel company loyalty program when it comes to benefits and ease of earning and redemption of points.”

In the greater scheme of things, synergy with the Gokongwei Group means sharing its values – Entrepreneurial mindset, Integrity, and Stewardship – as well. “I love to talk about this to my team all the time,” confesses Barun. “Entrepreneurship, by mere definition, means you run the business as if it's your own. I tell all my GMs and hotel managers, when you make a decision, look at it with three lenses: Will it improve the guest experience or staff experience? Will it improve the top line? Will it improve profitability? At the very least, hit one of these three parameters whenever you make a key decision.” 

On Stewardship, Barun offers: “Our hotels are spread across the region. You have to have stewardship by ensuring that you maintain the quality of your asset. You are the custodian, so we want to ensure stewardship in making sure your hotel is well-maintained.”

I'm very proud to say that in Iligan, 100% of our staff is local. 100%. Not a single manager or staff is from outside the city. That's a way of giving back to the community, by operating with local human resources as much as we can.

As for Integrity, he says, “Hotels have so many moments of truth with guests and have so many interactions which are financial. You have to have a very high level of personal integrity to make sure that it's not your personal benefit but the benefit of the organization that's foremost. Second point of integrity is to do the right thing even when no one's watching. In a hotel, often there will be no one watching. What do you do as a housekeeping attendant when you go to a room and no one's watching? What do you do as a hotel GM when no one's watching? You have to do the right thing. Integrity is also about making the right decision, not the popular decision, making sure you live the basic human values of honesty to the core. The three values are very important. I love this framework.”  

Sustainable Practices: Nurturing Communities and Preserving the Planet

Beyond hospitality, Robinsons Hotels and Resorts is deeply committed to sustainability and eco-friendly practices. By reducing plastic waste and embracing renewable energy, RHR aims to make a tangible difference in preserving the planet for future generations.

Barun reveals that this year, RHR is launching its first onsite water bottling plant at the Holiday Inn Manila Galleria, which will cover the water needs of five hotels in Metro Manila, which also include the Crowne Plaza, the Westin Manila, Summit Greenhills, and Summit Magnolia. “We will be eliminating 8.1 tons of plastic bottle waste [nearly 800,000 500ml bottles] in one year by launching this. It’s huge!” beams Barun. Apart from keeping the waste generated in check, the glass water bottles also contribute toward the reduction of each hotel’s carbon footprint. “You won’t need to transport water from the bottling factories to your site anymore,” he explains simply.

Another big green initiative is the push for clean energy. “Two of our hotels will be on solar energy this year,” says Barun, adding that solar power will be a major consideration in all RHR’s new builds and renovations, hoping to cut down RHR’s reliance on non-renewable energy. 

As a responsible corporate citizen, Robinsons Hotels and Resorts places a strong emphasis on giving back to the communities in which it operates. Through partnerships with local schools and a focus on employing local talent, the hotel group seeks to empower individuals and foster economic growth at the grassroots level. “Last year, we were able to employ almost 50 people into our hotels after training them. I think that's a great way of giving back. Why? It goes back to the saying, ‘If you give the man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach him how to fish, he eats for a lifetime.’ That's what we're trying to do, empower people with training opportunities.”

He goes on to say that anywhere RHR has a hotel in the Philippines, around 80-85% of the staff will usually be local hires from that specific province. “Actually, I'm very proud to say that in Iligan, 100% of our staff is local. 100%. Not a single manager or staff is from outside the city. That's a way of giving back to the community, by operating with local human resources as much as we can.”

Embracing the “Bleisure” Trend

In the wake of the pandemic, new travel trends emerged, reshaping the landscape of hospitality. One of these is the growing demand for “Bleisure” travel. “Today, business and leisure overlap for every single adult traveler. You could be saying, I'm traveling for leisure, but you also have to work. Wherever you are, you will have the odd email that you will have to answer,” says Barun.

By offering a blend of work-friendly amenities and leisure experiences, Robinsons Hotels and Resorts caters to the evolving needs of modern travelers, ensuring that every stay is a harmonious balance of productivity and relaxation.  To ensure the needs of digital nomads are met, Barun says all RHR hotels have great internet that’s stable and fast, and work zones have been set up in guest rooms and public spaces.

Interestingly, Barun notes that after the pandemic, the average length of guest stays has increased. “Earlier, people would turn around within one and a half days. Now, this is going anywhere from 2.5, three, and often four days. People realized that once they came, they might as well extend.”

Looking Ahead: A Vision for the Future

On the topic of the pandemic, during the recent Hotel Investment Asia Pacific (HICAP) conference in Hong Kong where Barun was a guest speaker, he intimated that RHR has already fully recovered, having surpassed its 2019 revenue numbers by December 2022; it's now well into its growth phase. At the same conference, he spoke about the huge growth opportunity for hotels in the Philippines outside of Metro Manila, Boracay, and Cebu. There are several cities and municipalities with populations of over 100,000 residents but with few branded or professionally managed hotels, making these locations a prime market for mid-scale hotels.

In light of these opportunities, Barun shared that RHR’s already formidable lineup of hotel brands will soon be expanding. In the  near future, RHR plans two more hotel brands for guest to choose from, apart from RHR’s existing portfolio of Go Hotels, Summit Hotels, Grand Summit, Fili, Dusit Thani Mactan Cebu, Holiday Inn Manila Galleria, Crowne Plaza Manila Galleria, and the Westin Manila. In addition, the four-star Grand Summit brand will enter the Cebu market at the Nustar Resort within the next couple of years

With these exciting developments, RHR is bolstering its enviable position as the largest industry player with the widest network of brands. “Hopefully,” says Barun, “RHR will be able to double its footprint by 2030.”

“Growing from 30 to 60 hotels?” we ask, to which Barun responds with a knowing smile: “Or maybe 10,000 hotel keys.”    

With a steadfast commitment to excellence, sustainability, and guest satisfaction, Barun Jolly and the Robinsons Hotels and Resorts team are shaping the future of Philippine hospitality. Demonstrating their unwavering dedication to service and a passion for innovation, RHR warmly welcomes guests from here and around the world, unveiling at every opportunity the heart of true Filipino hospitality.

To learn more about Robinsons Hotels and Resorts, visit