Tier 2 cities don’t lag behind Metropolitan cities at all: Sarbendra Sarkar
In an exclusive conversation with BWHOTELIER, Sarbendra Sarkar, Founder & Managing Director, Cygnett Hotels & Resorts talks about the impact of Covid-19 on the Hospitality Industry in Tier 2 cities, the road to recovery, the increasing role of innovation and technology and F&B segment.
How do you look at the future of Hospitality industry in Tier 2 cities post COVID 19? Did this pandemic affect your perception towards the growth of Hospitality industry in Tier 2 cities? If yes, then how, If no, then why?
There is immense potential for Tier 2 cities going forward—Industrial cities like Digha, West Bengal, Bongaigaon, Assam, Ahmedabad, Kanpur, Chandigarh, Patna and religious one like Rishikesh, Shirdi and Amritsar are gaining traction. The growth in domestic travel in this time, coupled with demand for “affordable” holiday experience, and religious pilgrimage among middle-income segment, who mostly look for hygiene, safety and affordability will lead to a slow, but steady rise in hospitality industry in Tier 2 cities. This pandemic took all of us by surprise, overnight our entire sector crumbled. So, initially we were all in the dark. Eventually as the lockdown restrictions lifted and domestic travel began to open up, we saw the light at the end of the tunnel and now slowly things are beginning to look up. I wouldn’t say that it affected my perception on the growth of the industry. It was a bad time, but we have seen this before maybe not with the same magnitude of this pandemic. But the SARS epidemic had also crippled the hospitality industry in South East Asia, but the industry bounced back soon enough. So, one can say that we are also on the road to recovery.
What are the occupancy numbers in Tier 2 cities as of now? How significant is the growth in these cities?
We are seeing a rise in occupancy numbers and feel that hotels in Tier 2 cities will grow steadily in 2021. Currently our Occupancy numbers in Digha, West Bengal is 65 per cent and Bongaigaon, Assam is 75 per cent, Silliguri is at 50 per cent and Itanagar, Arunchal Pradesh is 60 per cent.
Many of the hotels and restaurants had to shut down post the pandemic in Tier 2 cities. Do you think this could have been avoided?
None of us anticipated this pandemic, so it is hard to say what we could or could not have done to avoid businesses shutting down. However, what we can do to brave through the storm and understand the prevailing sentiments and work around it—set Hygiene and safety protocols, implement social distancing, ensure staff is trained rigorously to deal with every situation with regard to guest comfort and their own safety, enhance menus to include healthier food options. Additionally, hotels and restaurants are also doing budget reallocations, diversion of marketing spends, postponing investment plans, etc. to tide through this time. In fact, a lot of hotels and restaurants have majorly turned investing into F&B delivery and take-away options.
What innovations could be done in the Tier 2 cities for the betterment of Hotel Industry?
In terms of innovations, here is what I think-Technology has taken center stage. Whether it is to ensure contactless service, to ensure work-from-hotel is easy and comfortable for the guest or marketing technology to understand your consumers and interact effectively with them. Secondly, sustainability is the way forward. Refillable toiletries, water conservation, locally sourced fresh produce is the expected list of amenities. The pandemic has pushed us to be greener and more conscious and respectful of our surroundings. Hotels are now going green in more ways than just putting a card in each room that says, please reuse your towels. We need to start with innovations in technology and sustainability and move forward to employee and staff safety. Guest comfort is of course paramount, and everything mentioned above leads up to this.
How can F&B industry boom in these cities with ongoing pandemic?
As mentioned previously, with people homebound and not venturing out, F&B has turned its focus to home delivery and take-aways. This is working well because, people are cooped up and craving for different types of cuisines and restaurant food. However, they are not going to be cooped up for long, in fact people have already started venturing out, whilst prudently. Restaurants are following consumer patterns and creating unique F&B experiences with safety and hygiene protocols in place. Furthermore, since the pandemic set in, restaurants are sourcing everything locally, gone are the days of importing ingredients and vegetables and fruits. Now local cuisine with locally sourced produce is the norm. This helps the industry to grow while enabling the farmers and the small local businesses.
There is a perception that Tier 2 cities lag behind the big cities when it comes to technology which is an integral part of hospitality industry. What’s your take on it?
Tier 2 cities have been preferred destinations for the manufacturing industry, which makes it a burgeoning space for hospitality as well. True, the pandemic has flipped the sector, but with everything opening up and slowly going back to normal, we are all on the road to recovery. I wouldn’t say Tier 2 cities lag behind at all. In fact, they are pretty much on par with big cities in terms of connectivity and with ‘Technology’ taking center stage in all aspects of hospitality from operations to guests’ service, it is now up to the hotels to deploy the technology suitable to their brand.
A large population has moved from the Tier 1 to Tier 2 & Tier 3 cities due to the pandemic. How has this impacted hospitality and F&B businesses in the Tier-2 & Tier-3 cities?
This is very good for business. People are moving out of bigger cities and moving into Tier 2 and 3 cities to get away from crowds and pollution. ‘Big city’ people come with expectations and requirements and this is helping the Tier 2 and 3 F&B segments to innovate and grow to the “Big City” level. It is pushing them to be unique with local produce and create different healthy yet scrumptious dishes. Also, with work-from-home being a norm for the better part of 2021 as well, a lot of these individuals are even moving to Tier 2 and 3 cities and checking in to hotels for a couple of weeks. This move is further helping us to revive.
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