Pecked by a Black Swan and with No Government Sops, Hospitality Braces Up to Fight the Virus

The hospitality industry, like travel, are among the sectors hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and even insiders do not hope for a rebound in the very near future. A star-studded panel, comprising hotel industry stalwarts and columnist, author and talk show host Vir Sanghvi, debated the way forward in a webinar hosted by BW HOTELIER and yes, some rays of hope did shine through.

A black swan event has disrupted the entire value chain of the travel and tourism industry, spreading its tentacles through aviation, railways, roadways, hospitality et cetera. Battling the Covid-19 pandemic is a huge challenge before the world and a crisis of dimensions that are unprecedented and incomparable to any past experience.

The Indian hospitality industry is among the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic, where demand has declined to an all-time low. The industry is barely surviving, with almost no support from the government. A webinar hosted by BW HOTELIER 'Getting Indian Hospitality Back... Hear The Leaders' debated the impact of Covid-19 on the hospitality industry and the way forward. Industry stalwarts mulled on the theme, ‘How to get Indian Hospitality Back on Track’. The webinar, anchored by celebrated print and television journalist, author, columnist and talk show host, Vir Sanghvi, was live streamed on Facebook and the BW Hotelier website.

Sanghvi, steered the conversation through the problems faced by the hospitality industry, such as the impact of the social distancing norms on the hospitality sector. Nakul Anand, Executive Director, ITC Limited, though felt that social distancing may not be the answer. People should learn to practice safe distancing. He repeatedly emphasised that the key to future success is all about redesigning services and experiences. His views were echoed by others through the discussion that the novel coronavirus had indeed, forced people to reflect on and adjust to these changing times. 

The Webinar brought together an elite panel of industry stalwarts on one platform. Apart from Anand, who is also Chairman, FAITH, the panelists comprised Patu Keswani, Chairman and Managing Director of Lemon Tree Hotels; Vikram Oberoi, CEO, The Oberoi Group; Neeraj Govil, Senior Vice President - South Asia of Marriott International; K.B. Kachru; Sunjae Sharma, Country Head and Vice President – India Operations of Hyatt Hotels & Resorts; Dr Jyotsna Suri, Chairperson and Managing Director of Bharat Hotels Ltd (The Lalit); and Priya Paul, Chairperson of Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels.

Keswani, who is known for his entrepreneurial skills, said, “We, as hoteliers, can’t depend on government budgets. The Indian government is known to do ‘too little, too late’. And if we go by that premise, we can try our very best but we should expect too little.” Jyotsna Suri said she had hoped for some kind of support from the state governments now because the industry is compelled to make several mandatory payouts to them like lease rent, tax, or license payments. “The states need to come up and support us and so should the Centre,” she said.

Vikram Oberoi, CEO, The Oberoi Group rued that, “We are disappointed that the government has done nothing for tourism and the hospitality sector even though we employ so many people.” According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, the Covid-19 pandemic could slash 50 million jobs worldwide in the travel and tourism industry, reflecting a 12-14 per cent reduction in jobs. "In such a long period of time, I have never seen all the trade associations coming together in such a manner with one objective – please help us survive. We are left with no choice but we need to pay costs, otherwise job losses will increase,” said K. B. Kachru, Chairman Emeritus and Principal Advisor - South Asia of Radisson Hotel Group.

As operators, the industry needs to see what it can provide and how it can leverage and monitor data. Sunjae Sharma said, “We are at a stage where we know what the expectations are and now we need to deliver not only to the customers but to other parties as well.” Some optimism was evident in Govil’s address when he pointed out that as domestic borders in the country begin to open up, drives to destinations and staycations are going to become popular, as people will be driving to destinations like Jaipur, Goa, etc. 

He argued from the customer perspective that once things get back to normal, people will get back to doing what they like. Govil said there will be significant changes in how the industry plans to approach hoteliering ‒ from a cost standpoint and a restructuring standpoint. “As an industry, we will do everything to bear the new normal,” he said.

Priya Paul felt that the situation was evolving. “My fundamental view is that people are social, and we are in the right space where people can meet with safety, hygiene, and high-quality security which can be guaranteed with a lot of efforts that we are doing. And, I think, people will be back very soon,” she said cheerfully. They will, morose as they are locked in by a lockdown, but the key question, the answer to which remains elusive is ‒ when?


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