Hotels must look at ‘repurposing’ multiple spaces in the property to make them revenue generating: Poddar

BW HOTELIER talks to Sudesh Poddar, President, Hotel and Restaurant Association of Eastern India, (HRAEI) about his vision for the association as the newly elected President.

How can domestic tourism help the ailing travel and hospitality industry right now?

Now that international flights and destinations are out of bounds for Indian travellers this is an opportunity for Indian travel and hospitality industry to grab the attention of domestic travellers. India is a huge country with a wide variety of tourist destinations that covers a wide range-- natural beauty, culture, history, adventure, wellness, and spirituality. Also, the country’s population is predominantly young, a generation feeling imprisoned and restless after a long lockdown and restrictions of movement due to Covid-19. 

States must come forward and try to come out with policies and campaigns to attract this segment of travellers. The central government needs to implement a uniform policy across all states with regards to COVID-19 guidelines and no quarantine restrictions should be there,” he added.

What other ancillary sources of revenues can hotels come up with now that occupancies remain so low?

There are plenty of opportunities, hotels and restaurants have to just think out-of- the box. First, hotels must look at ‘repurposing’ multiple spaces in the property to make them revenue generating. For instance, they can convert spaces for offices and warehouses. Since a lot of top executives are being forced to work from home, hotels can think of turning luxury suits into workspace at affordable prices. 

Second, food delivery is a huge segment which hotels ignored for so long due to legal compliances, safety and security. A lot of hotels have now started doing food delivery after the pandemic. Cloud kitchens and conveniently designed drive-in take-away can attract many new customers. If a hotel has a good bakery it can promote cakes and pastries for special occasions like birthdays and marriage anniversaries. 

If you have a plush lawn you can host small garden parties in the open air to dispel fear of the spread of the virus. One can also turn the conference hall into a mini movie hall or a place to watch events like a IPL or foreign football league match on a giant screen for colleagues in an office who don’t get a chance to mill together due to Covid-19 restrictions.
 What remain the main challenges for growth of the hospitality industry in the East of India?
 The tagline for the bi-monthly magazine we bring out is: Mystic East...the unexplored horizon. This sums up the main challenge for growth. The rest of India is simply not aware of the tremendous tourism potential of the region. Eastern India can offer any domestic or international tourist all the options you get in South East Asia, if not more. Coral islands, icy mountains, virgin forests, pilgrimages (especially Buddhist circuits), ancient ruins and what not? 

Teething problems are connectivity issues and adequate infrastructure in most of the states in the North East. Respective state governments and the central government should take initiatives to improve the situation. They should also offer enough incentives to the hospitality industry to set up units in the region.  

Today everybody is stressing on experiential hotel stays. Can you share few such experiences that domestic tourists can look forward to in the east?

The North East is India’s tea country. Many of the spectacular tea gardens have majestic bungalows originally meant British Burra Sahibs. Many such bungalows in Darjeeling, Dooars and Assam have been restored for experiential stays. 

In addition, the river networks of the Ganga and Brahmaputra make ideal experiential stays at hotels on the shores and even cruise. Cruise holidays in the Sunderbans and Brahmaputra in Assam attract many travellers from abroad. 

Similarly, you can look forward to newly opened hotels in the Andamans for experiential stay in the islands and marine environs. Some of the islands--such as Ross and Smith islands--were recently opened for tourist entry. These can serve as an ideal honeymoon destination comparable to island destinations in the Carribean islands.    
What is the direction as well as your vision for HRAEI as the new President?

Our industry is indeed going through the worst crisis in recent history. My top priority is to revive the hospitality and tourism industry in the eastern part of India, hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. To attract more tourists in the region, especially the North Eastern India, we shall make appeal to the Government for more flights and easier access. We are in the process of making a roadmap to promote a lot of inbound tourism to tap the tremendous potential of this region. We have a deep concern for those entrepreneurs who invested in the tourism and hospitality sector before the pandemic.  They were hit hard by Covid-19. With zero business they had a hard time paying their staff, rentals for their property and also the utility bills. Some of them are on the verge of going bust. We shall appeal for moratoriums on loan repayment and relaxation on interest rates on loans for them.

How many member hotels  and restaurants does HRAEI have? How many come under the upper upscale and 5-star plus categories? How are you planning on increasing membership?

There are 850 members. Nearly half of them are in the upper upscale categories. We organise special drives to increase the numbers of members time to time. We offer incentives like special discount cards entitling members 20 per cent discount of food, beverages, liquor and accommodation in all member establishments      

What benefits do the members hotels/restaurants have of being a part of HRAEI?

They get first-hand information of newly introduced law, amendment in laws and statutory orders of Central/State governments concerning the hospitality sector. We monitor various legal and regulatory developments and obtain timely and effective redressal for our members. We also send letters to different government agencies--such as the Excise department, Fire safety department, Municipal Corporation--on behalf of our members if they face any trouble while operating. We organise training sessions of our members in food safety, fire safety, skill development and other pertinent issues. During Covid-19 we reached out to respective Chief Ministers requesting moratoriums on loans and relaxation of GST and payments of utility bills. We also appealed for health insurance coverage of hospitality staff during the pandemic. As an association we always try to aid our members standing up unitedly when they face any problem.


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