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From a humble beginning of a small 47-room hotel in Gurgaon in 2004, to 18 operative hotels and a couple more high-profile projects in the pipeline, Lemon Tree Hotels has come a long way in a short time. We had a long chat with Mr. R Hari – GM (HR) about some of the chain’s CSR initiatives, including their flagship disability employment programme.

Card offered by the speech and hearing-impaired GSA

The Chairman and Managing Director of Lemon Tree Hotels, Mr. Patanjali “Patu” Keswani’s vision and innovative thinking has driven the group’s fortunes forward, carving their own special niche, balanced between the premiere 5 star properties and the economy hotels. One of the interesting initiatives (which rapidly seems to be becoming standard for the hotel industry) is that all of Lemon Tree’s existing and upcoming hotels are designed and constructed to qualify for the L.E.E.D Gold Standard. Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (L.E.E.D) is the internationally recognized eco-friendly building certification standard awarded by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) and the Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) to buildings designed for energy savings, efficient use of water, reduction of CO2 emission and overall improvement in environmental quality.

The other area in which lemon Tree Hotels has exhibited outstanding leadership is  in the area of employment of people with disabilities, for which they were honoured with the NCPEDP Shell Helen Keller Award by the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP). Additionally, in 2011, the chain was also awarded the NCPEDP MphasiS Universal Design Award by NCPEDP. This award recognizes and acknowledges organizations who are playing a pivotal role in making life more accessible for people with disabilities.

The current strength of PWDs in Lemon Tree Hotels is 120 people (across each and every property), a whopping 8% of the total workforce. As an equal opportunity

Card for the customer to write the menu on

employer, the company intends to employ at least 300 people with disabilities by 2012. This initiative kicked off in June 2007 with a few PWDs being inducted in the kitchen stewarding area, where the guest interaction was non-existent. With the success of the pilot, more and more PWDs were hired, not only in kitchen stewarding but also in F&B service and housekeeping roles. For example, when we visited the Lemon Tree Hotel in Gurgaon, we found that they had 11 people with disabilities on their rolls, across these 3 departments. We had a wonderful interaction with one of the Guest Service Associates (GSA), Mr. Anurag, who impressed us with his cheerfulness, positivity and ambition. His interaction with his manager, the F&B executive, was through sign language at which both were equally proficient.

Lemon Tree’s recruits come from NGOs like Noida Deaf Society as well as institutes like  the IHM’s (Institutes of Hospitality Management). Recently the chain selected a couple of students from IHM Faridabadafter they had undergone a 6-week crash course on F&B service and housekeeping. The training and induction module for all new recruits includes sensitization and awareness towards PWDs and this obviously is an ongoing process and not a standalone activity.

Anurag talking to his manager, Gayatri, through sign language

What is interesting and heartening is how employment of PWDs seems to be a common refrain and initiative across many hotel chains, be it ITC or the Taj or Lemon Tree. Clearly there is a business case for ever larger numbers of disabled recruits finding their niche for a dignified life, in this sector.