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Wellness A Long Way Away For Hospitality Sector
The global pandemic has pummeled the hospitality business to such an extent that many of the players are clear that it will take some time for the sector to even be on a “revival” mode. Those who have borrowed heavily to build their brand and presence are staring at a bleak future, with many knocking the doors of the government for bail-outs.
In the city, there are about 90 registered hospitality players, including 20 in the luxury space, 30 in the mid-segment, 15odd service apartments and the rest in the affordable category. Half of this is those who have borrowed to establish their ventures or in joint venture partnerships.
The regional and central bodies of hotels and restaurants have urged the governments to extend interest-free loans for two years or sops pertaining to electricity tariffs, subsidies and salary disbursements. “We have sought relaxation of labour guidelines to allow working in shifts and more clarity in liquor norms. For another year, the picture appears grim,” R Rangachari, honorary advisor, SIHRA, told DT Next.
Industry veterans said it would be July-August for the hospitality sector to be back on its feet - provided there is no second wave of the pandemic. “The business has suffered tremendously.
The collapse of many thriving economies globally looms large. Many have taken salary cuts, 50 per cent in some cases. Travel operators, tourist guides, curio and other tourism-driven fields are feeling the cascading effect. All these are sending alarming signals to the hospitality sector, heavily reliant on aviation, among other things,” T Nataraajan, CEO, GRT Hotels & Resorts, told DTNext.
Rupam Dutta, GM, Feathers Hotel, said the industry is still absorbing the shock, as the initial picture of the 40day lockdown was different. “Hoteliers are looking for financial support from the State and the Centre, but we are also working on cutting costs and also equipping ourselves to handle the emerging formats of hospitality – adherence to the WHO and government guidelines, disinfecting hotels, thermal screening, etc.,” he told DT Next.
“We have also been trying to stay connected with our clients, including many from Italy and Germany, besides expats from Japan and other countries. Enquiring about their safety and welfare leads to a better and tighter bond with our guests,” Dutta said, adding they had been preparing from February once the signs of the virus were visible.
The stakeholders are going the extra mile to spread the message of wellness and safety to their customers. Emphasis is on following protocols, be it physical distancing or using sanitisers, thermal scanners and protective gear.
“It may take three months or more for some semblance of normalcy to be restored. We are in a ‘survival to revival’ mode. There will be no compromise on the core values of hospitality but our focus is to ensure that our facilities do not look or feel like a hospital. From separate tables to follow distancing norms, protocols to clean laundry to even staff interaction, we have tried to be innovative,” B Gopinath, COO, Residency Group of Hotels, told DT Next, pointing out the new way of greeting by touching the heart instead of the customary handshake that is being followed.
“This was in place even before COVID as part of our branding strategy, but this has worked in our favour now, with the increasing emphasis on limited human interaction. Removing amenities in the room, stocking mini bar after the guest arrives and providing the toiletry kits only if asked for are among the many changes we adopted,” said Gopinath.
Arul Jothi, MD, Shri Gowri Shangar Hotels in Hosur, said this was a unique situation in the hotel’s three-decade-old history. “We have always been booked throughout the year, except for Deepavali, when we are closed,” he said, expecting the occupancy to improve from
July or so. Most of his 120-member team have returned to their native, with only 15 from the North East states remaining at the facility. “Even after my workers return, they will need to be quarantined for a short period before they can take up normal activity,” he said.
According to him, recovery is expected post-Deepavali, and reach normalcy by the year-end.
As the shutdown restrictions in the city ease from today, many offices begin their operations at 30% workforce, much to the relief of many.
However, members of the local entertainment and nightlife industries do not share these sentiments, with many preparing for a long hiatus.
Since their industries are reliant on large crowds where social distancing might be difficult to enforce, many do not expect their businesses to resume immediately.
“Our industry is going to take the biggest hit and take the longest to recover. People aren’t going to come for a live show or a night out because of safety reasons. They are looking at essentials at this point of time. Our business is considered a luxury for many, and the shutdown has affected the economy hard,” said Vinod Karthik, a local DJ.
While many entertainers are living based on savings or relying on other parttime jobs to sustain themselves, many are concerned about what the new normal will be like following the easing of the shutdown.
“It gives me a lot of anxiety thinking about the end of the shutdown because I might not have a job then. COVID-19 is still going to be a threat, so how do people maintain social distancing at shows? Will those places even be open for me to perform at? There are many things uncertain,” said Aaquib, a local stand-up comedian.
For those in the performing-arts, resuming live shows is not a priority due to the health risks. Additionally, many are running online workshops and classes to financially sustain themselves. However, many feel that the nature of their art will change following the shutdown.
“The nature of art will change after the shutdown. I think after we have psychologically healed from the shutdown, the arts will help us understand and grapple with what the shutdown was and the impact of this virus. But until then, we must reflect on what we have been doing thus far, and our effect on the Earth,” said theatre veteran V Balakrishnan from Theatre Nisha.