Will the Tide Change for Hospitality in the Festive Season?
Hospitality industry honchos and hotel owners repose faith in the industry’s ability to tide over the lockdown induced crisis at the ‘Indian Hospitality Awards and Summit 2020’
When international travel is becoming extremely difficult, every country needs to concentrate on domestic tourism. India has a very large base ‒ 130 crore ‒ but about 500 million Indians travel regularly, of which 24 million Indians travel to different countries,” pointed out Veer Vijay Singh, CEO and Managing Director, Trance Hotels, at the 5th edition of the ‘Indian Hospitality Awards and Summit 2020’. Singh was moderating a session on ‘Regions ushering in the new domestic travel seeker’.
“These 24 million people are not going to travel much which creates an opportunity to tap this market segment,” he said optimistically.
Other hotel industry leaders on the panel pondered on how the industry could encourage domestic tourism, on a solution to the ongoing and upcoming challenges and ways to overcome this massive disruption. The 17th panel on the last day of the five-day virtual event was part of the fifth edition of the BW Hotelier ‘Indian Hospitality Awards and Summit’. The theme of the virtual event was ‘Reimagining Indian Hospitality’.
Apart from Veer Vijay Singh, the panel comprised Souvagya Mohapatra, Executive Director, Mayfair Hotels & Resorts Ltd., Chander Baljee, Chairman and Managing Director, Royal Orchid & Regenta Hotels, Suhail Kannampilly, CEO, Concept Hospitality (The Fern Hotels & Resorts), Satyen Jain, Pride Group of Hotels, Vikram Cotah, COO, GRT Hotels & Resorts, Atul Jain, COO, India, Sri Lanka & Bangladesh, Best Western Hotels & Resorts and Arindam Kunar, VP- Operation, Fortune Park Hotels Ltd.
Discussing action-oriented solutions, the industry leaders said the hospitality industry must focus on major segments of domestic travel, namely, religious, wedding, medical, and vacation travels. Asked to predict the near future, Chander Baljee said optimistically, "Let’s aim to cash-in during the Diwali and Dussehra period and I am sure the next two years will be the golden period for the hotel industry, provided we pay attention to it and focus on it.”
Baljee said the biggest challenge before the hospitality industry was an unexpected period of “zero business or no revenue generation” and “huge overheads, interest costs, salaries, and rentals”. Emphasising the need to encourage domestic tourism, he said, the industry needed to “appeal to different states to lift the remaining restrictions. Baljee spoke of the need to showcase hygiene to build confidence in people. He said traveling and living in hotels was now safe. He rang out a note of hope when he said, “August has improved slightly, so in six months things will get alright.”
Reinforcing a well-known saying, ‘Every crisis is an opportunity’, Satyen Jain spoke of his experience and the challenges faced in managing the Aerocity property which has been declared a hotel for quarantine. Jain divulged that the group had registered all of their city hotels under the 'Vande Bharat' programme and were able to generate operational costs.
Suhail Kannampilly focused on the major challenges he and his team faced, namely the ‘human aspect’, ‘property’ and the ‘financial implication’ of the lockdown. The human aspect involved assuring guests of safety, a healthy workplace and retaining employees. The ‘Property’ conundrum implied shutting down property during the lockdown and opening them up again with safety protocols and precautions in place. The ‘Financial implication’ for the Concept Hospitality group, he said would build up as time progressed. “Till now, our hotels have been able to survive because of the moratorium period but with that ending; we need to re-plan our financial strategy for the hotel,” Jain said.
The panelists felt that the biggest challenges before the hotel industry was zero revenue generation during the months of the lockdown, keeping employees safe and motivated and bearing the costs of the hotels in the absence of revenue. Atul Jain also concurred with the other panelists about the challenges ahead. He talked of the training programmes the Best Western Hotels & Resorts were a part of during the initial days of the lockdown, which had focused on maintaining safety measures and protocols while keeping the hotels running.
Arindam Kunar believed that there was a lot of learning on the way from the start of the lockdown till now. He talked of the importance of open and transparent communication, resuming functions on the best practices the Fortune Park Hotels group’s parent company ITC had initiated, and introducing a certification programme to upskill the workforce. “We all must agree to what Souvagya Mahopatra has mentioned that the hospitality industry was the first to get affected by this massive Covid-19 outbreak and would be the last to revive,” he said.
He pointed out that the Fortune Park Hotels group too had no revenue owing to the lockdown and said, “even today we are barely registering seven per cent occupancy.” He spoke of the difficulties the group faced in paying salaries to 2,500 employees and retaining teams and operating amidst precautions.
Talking of the challenges before the industry, Vikram Cotah said, “deployment of our employees who were staying in other states was one of the challenging tasks and of course, the cash flow was the biggest challenge during the zero-revenue period”. He then looked toward the bright side of the situation. Reminding panelists of the popular saying, ‘Every disruption is the mother of creativity’, Cotah said, “so we have to look at different avenues to create revenues.” The industry also needed to advertise destinations and showcase them to build confidence and bring back faith in travel among guests, he said.
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