The Second bout of covid-19 pandemic has not only further devastated the hospitality industry, but also put a major question on the timeline for revival. In 2020, the industry witnessed some momentum towards the end of the year and early this year. Despite the nightmare for the sector, hotels have once again supported the nation in fight with the COVID-19 by offering rooms as quarantine facility, helping the stranded travellers, converting rooms into workstations for corporates, etc. With shortage of hospital beds and facilities during the second wave, hoteliers have fulfilled this void to an extent.
Speaking about the support to governments, Rattan Keswani, Deputy Managing Director, Lemon Tree Hotels and Director, Carnation Hotels, said, “We have been supporting the national and state government needs for quarantining guests, and for hospitals to assist health workers. We have partnered with state governments to convert a number of our hotels into quarantine centers for Indians returning from outside the country. Also, recently, Lemon Tree has offered hotels to various hospitals across India who will provide early care to mild/asymptomatic Covid patients. The admission to these facilities is purely at the discretion of the relevant hospital and the SOPs for these hotels have been redefined on guidelines from WHO, MHA and the specific state government or hospital we have partnered with.”
Hotels have also been involved in community services such as providing food for the needy and also helping the front-line workers. Pushpendra Bansal, COO, Lords Hotels and Resorts, said, “Our hotels have been providing accommodation to front line workers at various locations. At some locations we have a tie up with hospitals where we are offering self-isolation packages. Hygienically packed meals have also been provided to the needy as a part of our community service.”
Serving the community
Besides these special services, more and more hotel chains are now drafting annual CSR policies which are region or country specific. With covid-19 pandemic, groups have tweaked their policies.
Speaking about the CSR policy for Ibis Hotels in India, Sylvain Laroche, Director of Operations, ibis & ibis Styles, India, said, “ibis has joined hands with the Robin Hood Army to extend support to the community and deliver meals to the needy in many cities across the country. In addition to this, many of our hotels have come forward and tied up with local NGOs to offer its services to frontline workers, healthcare professionals and people in need.”
Similarly, a lot of corporates have now diverted their CSR budget into vaccinating their own staff and families. Bansal added, “Vaccination of our staff and their family members is our priority and steps have been taken at various hotels to ensure 100% vaccination of all our team members. Masks have been distributed free of cost to the needy and social awareness campaign on covid protocol has been run by us at public places and also on digital platforms.”
Another major transformation which the hospitality industry has witnessed over the years is being sustainable. Hotels are now focusing on various levels of sustainability and moving towards reducing carbon footprints. Keswani added, “Lemon Tree continues its sustainability focus within the company even during the pandemic year. This includes diversity and inclusion; adoption of renewable energy; reduction, recycling and reuse of water; a new waste management policy; green building certification and more. Our CSR policy i.e. two per cent of profits as per the Company’s Act also continues, and we have donated the defined amount to NGOs working in the space of skilling Person With Disability for mainstream employment. This cuts across different disabilities like deaf, physical handicap, intellectual and developmental disability, Down Syndrome, autism, visually impaired/low vision.”
Revival of MICE & business travel
A majority of the mid-scale hotel chains in India were fairly dependent on the MICE and business travel. This segment witnessing a significant decline due to various factors including; introduction of more tech-driven solutions, reduction of corporate budgets, etc.
Sharing his views on the revival of this segment, Kesawani, opined, “The revival of corporate travel and MICE will take around six to nine months, and it will be restricted to the absolutely necessary. MSME/SME travel may start earlier, in three to four months, and larger corporates by the mid or end of the third quarter, as large corporates have announced their intentions to open their office spaces by September or October, albeit in a phased manner and depending on the vaccination status of their employees.”
Despite this dip, hotels are witnessing a positive spike in the weddings and small meetings segment. Laroche, added, “The pandemic has led to the emergence of small and intimate weddings after the lockdown restrictions lifted last year. It is also encouraging to see small businesses or individuals looking for safe meeting options that found our meeting rooms and hotels perfect for the safety and office setup that we offer.”
Alternate revenue for survival
To further negate the impact of the pandemic, hotels are looking at other sources of revenue to survive. Hotels have come up with innovative ancillary solutions which have been successful in helping maintain cash flow.
Speaking about the alternative revenue, Bansal, said, “We are offering tailormade staycations and workcations packages on our brand website for leisure and business traveller. We are also concentrating on ancillary services like co working spaces, food delivery, facility management for offices to generate revenue. With restaurants forced to close during lockdown food delivery has become a lifeline to ensure continuation of business. Our restaurants have reported huge surge in order volumes.”
Ibis Hotels is now looking to enter the cloud kitchen segment in a few cities. The hotels have been used as workstations by a few corporates.
Laroche, explained, “[email protected] that was introduced last year, aims to provide efficient and functional solutions to meet businesses of all sizes, an alternate office space solution. Our hotels are also delivering ‘Good Mood Food at your doorstep’ while ensuring our guest’s well-being and convenience at the same time. Our hotels have extended to a pet-friendly environment offering all the pet parents the joy to spend time with their furry friends. Additionally, we are also launching dark/cloud kitchen facilities in a few cities to deliver the best of ibis.”