You know by now that we love a bit of luxury and we’re always so thankful to those front of house and behind the scenes who make our travelling experiences so incredible. To gain an insight into the, often crazy, world of delivering high end experiences, we were delighted to sit down with Priya Malhotra, the Head of VIP at Heathrow Airport.
HOC: So great to meet you, Priya, can you tell us about your role?
Priya: Heathrow is Europe’s biggest international airport. We fly to 190 destinations across the world and my role is to ensure that we give a world class service that exceeds our VIP customers’ expectations. The VIP service gives passengers a level of privacy they won’t receive anywhere else in an airport.
Our VIP team take care of everything; from security procedures to fine dining, we ensure the journey is effortlessly smooth. Customers are at the heart of everything we do and it’s my job to make sure we to deliver a luxurious and seamless airport experience. As well as making sure everything runs smoothly, my role also includes working behind the scenes to direct the vision of Heathrow VIP, strategic planning to enhance the service and building and nurturing internal and external partnerships.
HOC: What attracted you to this role and what steps have you taken in your career to get to this place?
Priya: I’ve worked in the luxury sector for over fifteen years and it’s an industry I’m extremely passionate about. Throughout my career I’ve always strived to have a good understanding of competitors and of clients’ needs to ensure I am always delivering the best possible service and quality in whatever I deliver.
Previously I worked in financial services, dealing with HNW (High Net Worth) stakeholders so I know high standards and what it takes to meet them. This helped me in my career change to Heathrow VIP and in my day to day role ensuring my team deliver bespoke experiences for each customer.
HOC: You must look around somedays and think ‘how on earth did I get into this?!’ Can you share any of your most surreal and amazing experiences?
Priya: I must admit I’ve had some memorable experiences however one of my most surreal (and proudest) moments was securing a partnership with Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton. I’d only been in the job one month and Heathrow VIP didn’t even have a kitchen at that point. Within eighteen months we were serving seasonal dishes from the menu of his restaurant, Pollen Street Social.
HOC: Providing such an exceptional experience for your clients must be hard work and exhausting! What top tips do you have for unwinding in the evenings and self-care?
Priya: I am definitely a fan of luxury living and for me that doesn’t come in the form of things! Some days can be more exhausting than others however I always take a minute for myself in the evenings to think and breath. For me it’s about finding balance in life so I try to switch off from technology as much as possible, eat well and spend quality time with my family. As I have such an early start in the mornings (yep, 4am!) at weekends I make sure I’m refreshed and well rested for the week ahead.
HOC: We know there’s probably no such thing as a typical day but can you give us an insight into what a day would entail for you?
Priya: A typical day for me starts with a 6.30am with a briefing on the clients will be joining us that day and making sure we have everything prepared for their journey. After that I’ll usually spend about an hour catching up on emails before heading into a variety of meetings with partners, stakeholders and potential guests.
I also attend internal meetings on our long term strategy and direction of Heathrow VIP to make sure we’re all aligned and working towards the same goals. I usually finish the working day at around 4pm and start the commute home if I am not out networking with stakeholders or tasting delicious food.
HOC: What’s the most rewarding element of your job?
Priya: My favourite part of the job getting to choose what luxury items are available through the service. Recently I was lucky enough to get to taste test 10 different cheesecakes and decide which one was best. I get the final say on everything from the flowers in the lounges to the interiors of our cars. I love to see our guests savouring their time with us in their comfortable and quiet haven before they embark on their onward journey – many see this as an incredibly important part of their lifestyle.
HOC: Are there any quirky trends you are seeing in what your clients ask for – food, treatments etc? Any predictions for the future of VIP?
Priya: The world of luxury travel is ever changing and will continue to evolve as we transform the way we interact and engage with our clients. As part of this, we’ve seen our clients really respond to the growth of personalised experiences tailored to each travellers’ needs. We ensure we provide customers with whatever they need – from offering them a chance to choose whether to board first or last on their flight or making sure their magazines of choice are ready for them as they arrive, to giving them the opportunity to select a meal of their choice from a seasonal menu from world renowned chef Jason Atherton – it’s about making sure every individual experience is unique and enjoyable.
HOC: If you weren’t in this field, what else would you be doing?
Priya: I’d still be in the financial services!
HOC: Any tips for anyone looking to get into this field?
Priya: The luxury travel industry is a complex one however it’s absolutely worth it! I love my job and would encourage anyone who is interested in pursuing a career in this industry to keep on working to achieve their goals.
HOC: What’s the most common false assumption about the work you do?
Priya: That the term luxury only refers to how expensive something is. Luxury is the time, peace, quiet and space our customers receive, helping them to relax and unwind during their journey. It’s all about delivering a high-quality experience for our customers which is much more important than a price tag.