Shipping crew and staycation seeking clientele are the new segments emerging: Babita Kanwar

In an interview, Babita Kanwar, GM - Courtyard Marriott Mumbai shares prospects for business travel and MICE in the short and long term and also tells us about the newer segments and ancillary revenues that are driving business for hotels.

Tell us briefly about the market response to the reopening of hotels in Mumbai? 

The response has been lukewarm so far to the reopening of hotels. One needs to correlate the fact that a hotel’s business is directly linked to travellers getting onto a plane from everywhere for various purposes. Mumbai, being a financial capital is driven by business travellers primarily but with very few companies operating their offices at present, there is negligible travel into Mumbai. Once offices open up fully, travel is bound to follow.

Business travel and MICE have been among the key growth segments in Mumbai’s hospitality industry. With the current scenario, what market segments are going to drive the performance of hotels in this region?

There is a short- term and a long-term perspective to this. In the short term, companies that are looking for bio bubbles for their employees are driving some amount of rooms into the market. Shipping crew is one large segment that is currently active. This along with staycation seeking clientele are pretty much the new segments emerging. Mumbai wasn’t strong on staycation Pre Covid barring a few sporadic hotels, but the extended lockdowns and feeling of imprisonment at home is creating a demand for a getaway now. In the long term, domestic business travellers are bound to come back since various industries need to sustain their growth and that is not sustainable in a permanent Work from Home model. A vaccine may not prove to be a magic formula that everyone is waiting for so sooner rather than later, companies will teach their employees to work in offices with COVID.

F&B has been another significant contributor for a hotel. What creative initiatives have been taken by you to maximise your F&B business? 

This hotel industry had to innovate to get some cash flows going and home deliveries has been a successful adaptation done by Marriott through the launch of its Marriott on Wheels concept. From a pastry to a full Sunday Brunch sumptuous meal spread, we are now catering to the guest’s cravings by delivering to their doorstep. Even with the opening of the hotel restaurants now, Marriott on Wheels.

What was the percentage of revenue that you used to generate from Weddings market in the pre-covid times? What are the latest developments in this market?

Weddings was and continues to be a substantial source of revenue for catering in most hotels and 25per cent of our catering revenues used to comprise of weddings in pre-covid times. With the latest government norms limiting the number of people to only 50 in Maharashtra, this segment has taken a massive hit. People do want to get married and are booking the venues, but the revenues have diminished by 80-85per cent now as a result of the limitations. Once the government norms loosen up, it will build confidence amongst the people to celebrate weddings similar to pre-covid times.

As new hygiene norms and standards have come into play, what training model has been adopted for your staff for their daily working? 

Trainings is the single most critical component that ensures that a hotel stays COVID free and both guests and associates stay safe. We have comprehensive training modules formulated in Marriott under the Commitment to Clean program that requires every single associate to undergo trainings to sensitize them to the new normal hygiene practices at all times. Each associate is certified and there are daily reminder trainings that keep the focus at all times on defined hygiene practices.

Housekeeping has a leading role to play in the new normal. What is your take?

With hygiene and sanitization being the new amenity in the hotels, this is as true a statement as it ever was. Housekeeping has employed a rigorous routine now to ensure that every square inch of the hotel and especially the high touch points are sanitized thoroughly, and they are a reason that all our guests and associates feel safe at work.

With the increased focus on domestic tourism, what is your take on the revival of the industry? 

 Domestic tourism will predominantly benefit the hotels that are located in leisure destinations the most. We can already see travel increase to these leisure hotels over the past month or so and it will only grow further. However, for big cities like Mumbai, this segment will not play as much of a significant role as these cities are fed largely through corporate travel. Without corporate travel returning, it will be difficult to revive the industry especially with international travel not contributing for some time to come.

What would be your message for the guests who may be making their travel plans for the near future? 

Marriott hotels are the safest bio bubbles today due to the extensive sanitization and hygiene practices that we follow in our Commitment to Clean program. It just requires people to now have the confidence to step out and travel again. We are ready to welcome you whenever you chose to do so.


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