Contingency measures have been adopted by hotels: Sachdev

Seeing demand drop to minimal occupancies during the lockdown within the first few months of opening has certainly been challenging for Fairfield by Marriott Kolkata. However, the resilient hoteliers are hopeful of a strong and buoyant recovery with contingency measures in place. In an interview, Abhishek Sachdev, Hotel Manager, Fairfield by Marriott Kolkata shares more.

Do you have some inspirational stories from the lockdown period that you would like to share with us?

On May 20, 2020, West Bengal and Odisha witnessed the powerful tropical cyclone, Amphan, causing widespread damage and devastation. Amphan left in its wake loss of lives as well as devastation of homes and livelihoods in several coastal villages including the Sunderban settlements which were in its direct path. While access to infrastructural aid is relatively easier in the urban areas at times of crisis, the hotel team members realised that due to the ongoing lockdown, it might take several days for the relief material to reach the suburban areas and villages. On May 21, 2020, the associates of our hotel got together with the Rotary Club Calcutta Visionaries Trust to organise a donation drive of essential items like food, clothes, and other supplies. Within two days of commencing this drive, the team was able to collect food staples and essential item kits for about 50 families and all the items collected were delivered to the families within a week of the Amphan cyclone. 

How have you implemented social distancing and the new protection, cleanliness & hygiene protocols?

The team has worked tirelessly over the past couple of months to ensure that our commitment to clean protocols are implemented and subsequently, all our services have been redesigned to facilitate safe distancing. Heightened levels of sanitation, QR code-based menus, contact less payment options are some of the measures taken at our hotel to ensure a hygienic environment for both, guests and associates alike. More specifically, while buffets have not reopened at our all-day diner, Kava, we have hosted a few intimate weddings at the hotel where the food spread was reimagined with live cooking, individual portions and buffet hosts.  These events were hosted under strict guidelines issued by state authorities with limited number of guests in attendance. Ensuring a safe work environment for our associates has been a priority from the day the hotel started to prepare for its reopening post the initial lockdown. It was imperative that each of us understand the importance of using masks and ensuring safe distancing not just while at work, but also in any public spaces.

The hotel opened to resounding response from our patrons in December last year and having to witness the demand drop to minimal occupancies within the first few months of the opening has certainly been the most challenging aspect for our property. However, we did make a strong come back in June & July wherein we hosted small-scale social events in a warm setting and received very encouraging feedback about our preparedness and initiatives to ensure safe environs for all guests. As we progress into unlocking other facilities of the hotel further, we are hopeful of a strong and buoyant recovery.

What marketing strategies are you employing to bring back business in the future?

I believe communication with the customer has never been more important than it is today in a time wherein most travel decisions will be based on the customer’s perception about the service provider’s ability to provide a safe and hygienic environment without compromising on the service experience. Furthermore, we have also reimagined our services in a way that the product is being taken to the customer with encompassing solutions. In addition to food deliveries via Marriott on Wheels and other delivery partners, we are also providing options for institutional catering in the form of options of packed boxes and on-site cooking for a more personalised experience for social events.

With a revenue dent that will go beyond a few months, what are the few cost control measures you are undertaking?

Contingency measures have been implemented at hotels in a manner never seen before. Cross training and operations support has been an integral part of this journey. For instance, we have utilised the available time to train our associates across operational areas and front-line team is now well equipped to provide a diverse array of services. Additionally, we renegotiated contracts with all our long-term suppliers taking into consideration the minimal revenue inflows and a few non-critical initiatives were deferred for the subsequent financial year. Last but not the least, several above property charges were also reduced significantly to support and strengthen the property’s contingency plans and support all our stakeholders. 

As the head of your hotel, how do you keep the employee morale up during these tough times?

Constant engagement with the associates has been the cornerstone of our initiatives to keep everyone motivated and charged. During the lockdown, the team continued to innovate and shared their home recipes, yoga challenges etc. and we are carrying on with the tradition by encouraging everyone to eat healthy and practice a regular fitness regime. We also ensured that the associates who were on the hotel premises during the lockdown were duly recognised and lauded for their efforts. In such testing times, it is important that we stay rooted and do not forget to support each other.   Recently held festival celebrations for Eid & Rakshabandhan in the associate dining room with exciting menus and festivities for our colleagues have been a highlight and we are now looking forward to Independence Day celebrations. Again, all these celebrations are conducted keeping in mind safe distancing norms and safety measures.

What changes do you think this pandemic will bring to the Hospitality sector in terms of running a hotel?

Hotels have been the traditional destination of choice for socialising and fortunately, this preference will only get further strengthened with our commitment to safe and sanitised environs for our guests.  Our commitment to clean protocols were rolled out by a global council in consultation with renowned partners who are identified experts in the field, and this surely gives us the edge in the eyes of our customers. 

However, we must always remind ourselves that the core business we are in is inherently about creating memorable and lasting experiences and our loyal customers will look upon us to ensure their well-being at the same time.

What has been your hotel's contribution towards the fight against this pandemic?

We have supported the local authorities in providing and serving meals to essential workforce during the lockdown. We have also collaborated with industry associations and central agencies by providing accommodation and meals to Indian citizens returning via repatriation flights who are required to stay in institutional isolation.  While food deliveries are on the rise, with Marriott on Wheels, we have ensured that we only use sustainable packaging and have eliminated single-use plastic in all forms.  


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