Workcation and Staycation have emerged as a significant trend: Bakaya
Travellers are taking longer trips that effectively combine work and leisure both. Ajay K. Bakaya, Managing Director, Sarovar Hotels and Resorts, shares how the group is showing gradual signs of recovery, with all its 94 hotels now open in India as well as Africa and average occupancy in hotels across India increasing by five per cent on a month-on-month basis.
2020 has been a challenging year for the hospitality industry to say the least. In hindsight, what is your take?
The scenario and demand which we have seen over the year in the travel and tourism industry have drastically changed. Guests behaviour and preference too changed. The change has a significant impact on the management and marketing activities of the hotels across the globe. Since the past year, new expectations and new technologies have been evident in the Indian market.
What has the revival been like for Sarovar Hotels and Resorts in India? How many of your hotels are operational right now? Kindly guide us with average group.
We have started seeing early signs of recovery. Month-on-month basis recovery in occupancy and gradual revival in domestic leisure destinations. Average occupancy in hotels across India is increasing by five per cent month-on-month basis. Hotels with small room inventories in metro cities have also started getting the wedding business, courtesy restrictions in number of participants. Leisure destinations such as Goa, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttarakhand are witnessing a visible improvement in occupancy as people have started travelling albeit, closer to their cities. Sarovar Hotels consist of 94 hotels in India and Africa and currently all are hotels are operating.
Occupancies and RevPAR. Occupancies and RevPAR for 2020, or for the last three months of 2020.
The occupancy has gradually started moving towards high 30s. RevPAR will however remain affected due to lower ADR. RevPAR compared to last year is down by 30-40 per cent. Our hotels portfolio in North is doing better courtesy of the leisure destinations. Overall, along with the regular business, hotel’s revenue is getting a boost from the wedding business.
What are the trends that you are noticing among travellers in the revival stage?
As we come closer to 2021, safety and hygiene will continue to be top priorities than ever before. Current trends for some time will be passport free holiday which means domestic travel will remain in significant focus. Workcation/ Staycation has emerged as a significant trend where people are taking longer trips that effectively combine work and leisure both. Travellers look for destinations which have open space, fresh air, are less crowded and not much explored.
Uninterrupted internet connection, privacy and sanitisation remain top pre-requisites for every guest. Second, providing a personalised guest experience will become a key brand differentiator and transforming trend in the hospitality business. Transparency and authenticity will be paramount in regaining traveller trust and business. Online platforms, word-of-mouth and customer’s feedback will remain important marketing tools.
What has been the main source of revenue in the revival period of hospitality?
For us, the main source of revenue in the revival period was banquet business, dining experience via home delivery, SME corporates, film production houses, staycation/workcation in leisure destination and lately wedding business. Apart from this we are connecting with our guests through every possible platform to communicate our various offers keeping the current demand and trends in mind. Our marketing machinery has created several offers for potential guests and travellers such as #carcations #Happy weekends offers #Happy Weddings @Sarovar #Mobile offers etc. Initiatives on promoting wedding venues, customer’s looking for weekend getaways, and flat discounts worked very well for us because of the current demand in the market and our exclusive offerings.
How would you as a leader and visionary encourage people to keep a positive mindset and carry on?
It’s almost the end of the year and considering the situation now, its gradually getting better than what it was initially. Moreover, the announcement that citizens in the UK will get vaccinated by Pfizer as early as December 10 is strong positive sign for the world. And for us as an industry. This is the beginning of the end of COVID. And beginning of new chapter of revival of Indian Economy and ours.
While it would be best for hoteliers to remain self-dependant, what revenue challenges can we expect the government to smoothen for the hospitality segment?
Again, and again we as an industry body have emphasised on extension of the moratorium on interest and repayment of principal. This step will aid in improving the current cash crunch as we expect demand for FY21 to being weak for the first 4-5 months. Secondly, the Government should consider financing the industry by subsidising their fixed costs. Additionally, applications and renewal of licensing fees should be exempted for at least a year and maintained at a minimum for the next two years for all such businesses. State governments should consider waiving certain critical charges such as property tax and interstate transport taxes for a fixed period of time. This will give time to these businesses to calm themselves and revamp their losses, slowly and steadily.
Which states have gone ahead and made some fantastic policy changes, kindly explain with examples? How can other states emulate these changes and help grow hospitality and tourism in their respective state?
We have seen recently how Mumbai and Kerala have gone ahead and taken some fantastic steps for the hospitality industry. Last month itself the State cabinet (Mumbai) gave Hospitality sector the status of an Industry. The move will surely help boost the Hospitality industry amid this crisis. Levying various tariffs and tax as per industrial rates instead of commercial rates will surely aid the industry in coming times. For Kerala, tourism contributes a significant amount in state’s GDP and therefore it is significant to take this much needed revival step to save the industry. We urge the government and hope to see measures that are implemented in a well-planned and thoughtful manner to revitalise and promote tourism and to gain the confidence of the tourists.
What will be high on the agenda for Sarovar Hotels and Resorts in 2021? Any new openings scheduled for 2021?
Sarovar Hotels Pvt. Ltd. comprises of more than 6900 keys under its three brands with 90+ hotels in 55 destinations in India and Africa. We target to achieve 100 hotels by 2021. Strategic expansion plan for next year is to add 15 hotels focusing on Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities like Panipat, Morbi, Dalhousie, Katra, Dibrugarh, Latur, Mussoorie….Our business expansion plan will primarily see new opening of hotels under Sarovar Premiere and Sarovar Portico brand, Golden Tulip and Park Plaza.
Greater Noida West
Dar Es Salaam
Dhamtari (Bardiha Lake View Tourist Cottage)
What do you feel can be done to grow brand ‘Incredible India’ especially post Covid-19?
Considering the current situation and limited international travel, we expected a boost in the domestic tourism in the coming time. India has a diverse portfolio of niche tourism and geographical diversity which attracts all sorts of travellers eg. Wellness; Pilgrim; eco-tourism, heritage; adventure and beaches and we as a brand having a large portfolio have presence in such destinations. Along with this we have created various offers such as #carcation #Happyweekendoffer and #festiveoffer which we are promoting digitally and spreading awareness about the destinations and activities. Also, ‘Dekho Apna Desh’ an initiative launched by Ministry of Tourism early this year to create awareness on various domestic destinations. We hope through our collective efforts we can overcome the setback created by the pandemic.
This article was published in BW hotelier issue dated '' with cover story titled 'BOUNCING BACK - FROM SURVIVAL TO REVIVAL ISSUE VOL 6, ISSUE 6'
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