Global vaccinations provide a ray of hope

Farhat Jamal, Chairman – Travel, Tourism and Hospitality Committee, IMC Chamber of Commerce & Industry, talks about the role of vaccination in reviving the tourism industry

I begin with two stories about the way Covid-19 has impacted the world. First is my own experience and relates to my younger daughter who got married in Rhode Island, USA recently. Our family could not be together physically due to Covid-19 restrictions on travel, but we logged on for the celebrations online and raised a toast on the occasion. The second instance was when a friend in Washington DC, USA, informed me that he had shifted his office to the Mandarin Oriental which has converted its standard rooms to a functional office space. The hotel brand offers a membership programme and my friend now enjoys an ergonomic chair, office supplies including a printer and access to the hotel’s business centre for meetings or Zoom calls. The membership also includes unlimited use of the hotel’s pool, fitness centre, spa, storage, and dining. A super-hygienic and safe working environment. Welcome to the strange new world that we have all getting accustomed to. 

Renting rooms as office space is already in place at many hotels in India but the shift today for more individuals and smaller teams to name a few that are ready to avail of such facilities if priced and marketed attractively must be the focus. This will fill in the gaps that have arisen from reduced foreign and local business travellers. Remote working seems to be here to stay and a shift in strategy to offer corporations a secure, aesthetically designed and comfortable address to live and work is a new business opportunity.

Door-delivery businesses like QMin offered by the Taj is a breakthrough concept which has propped up the top line for its hotels. It has also created a new customer base that is seeking quality and choice but is happy to dine in home comforts. I am sure the same holds true with other restaurants that are busy with food delivery and suddenly find their popularity going through the roof. Would it replace dine-in? I don’t think so but this alternate revenue stream is here to stay and grow. 

Through the last year, we witnessed hotels offering rooms that were being used to house asymptomatic Covid-19 patients, either for quarantine or treatment. A chat with some medical professionals made it evident that future and existing hotels should look at options of quick conversion of a hotel room to a hospital room in case of a severe pandemic and large-scale health emergency. 

Dr Ahmad Mecklai, founder of Mumbai-based AAA Healthcare, is one of its strong proponents. “If newly built hotels could have medical oxygen pipelines built in, the corridors and room floors adopt new flooring materials, the elevators and room doors stretcher-friendly and the housekeeping pantries on floors be designed in a way that can be switched to nursing staff stations overnight, it would be a successful business model. The key is to keep the intrinsic character of a comfortable hotel room rather than a hospital. Situations like the current health emergency created globally by Covid-19 has forced us to think more creatively in order to deal with crises. It’s an idea worth pondering on,” he said.

According to hotel designer Jean-Michel Gathy, “Post-pandemic, hotel rooms will have less bling, less fanfare and will opt for a more minimal and sanitary experience. For some hotels, expect that to be reflected in their room design, including antimicrobial surfaces, even special resins used on the floors and walls (which prevent viruses from sticking) as well as auto-cleaning metals in bathrooms,” as quoted by Phil Butler in his recent piece in Argophilia.

Much has been written about technology and its use in hotel businesses, whether it is contactless check-in and check-out or digital room keys where the guests can completely skip the hotel reception and use his phone as a digital key. The growing trend is being noticed globally and in India too, most guests want minimum contact with hotel staff through their stay. 

Studio 54’s Ian Schrager, founder of New York City’s luxury public hotel, as quoted by Samantha Conti in WWD, says, “There is no longer the need to make small talk or sit and have a glass of champagne while being checked-in or checked-out. People don’t want that anymore. They want to get up to their room as fast as possible and not stop by the front desk.” The technology, he explains, needs to add to the experience. I agree with Ian as the new-age guest wishes to spend minimal time in public areas and more time in his room or in open spaces if available at the property. 

However, the world is still in a wait and watch mode and the situation is still dynamic. So, it is hard to predict when cross-border travel will return to normal and what kind of regulations will be enforced for travellers to have a pleasurable experience. 

According to UNWTO, about 100 to 120 million jobs are at risk and a loss of 1.3 trillion in tourism export revenues in 2021 over previous year. The redeeming factor is the nations having realised that vaccinating a large percentage of the population at breakneck speed will play a major role in global tourism recovery. We have to draw hope and optimism from the images of full stadia during Euro 2020.

Even Tokyo Olympics, though without spectators, will go down in history as one of the most spectacular games ever held in very trying conditions, both at home and globally. Not all is lost and the road to recovery does not look as long and bumpy as it seemed at the beginning of this year.

This article was published in BW hotelier issue dated '' with cover story titled 'SMART MANTRAS ISSUE VOL 7, ISSUE 4'

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