Inside their room at a budget hotel in Karol Bagh, Prabhakar Shankar (59) and his wife watched the news about a fire at Hotel Arpit Palace a lane away. By Tuesday noon, the couple from Mumbai checked out of their hotel in search of a “safer” option.
“It scared us. Our hotel’s stairs were narrow, the night guard would chain the main gate and sleep, and the fire extinguisher on our floor looked dusty, like it hadn’t been used in a while. So we moved to another hotel where we at least know where the emergency exits are,” said Shankar.
A day after the blaze, hotels in a deserted Karol Bagh spoke of a sudden dip in occupancy. “Something as disastrous as this has never happened here in two decades. Hundreds of hotels here are the main industry. Since the fire, guests have started checking out,” said an employee of Hotel Nice Palace.
There are at least 215 hotels in Karol Bagh, for all budgets, and many frequently occupied by foreign tourists because of the area’s proximity to a railway station, Metro station and key markets. “I was supposed to check out of my hotel on February 15, but I am moving in with a friend in Chhattarpur today. The news of 17 people dying next door has left me uneasy,” said Malaysian national Mei (31).
The incident also came as a wake-up call. At Hotel Mid Town, extra fire extinguishers have been ordered, and a training session for staff is being organised. “During renovation, too, we will be vary of using wood for interior decor, and will avoid putting up acrylic sheets on the terrace,” said Sanjay Arora, offline marketing head of the hotel.
On Wednesday, staff at Hotel Grand Imperial were busy checking hose reels, fire extinguishers and the water motor. “I stayed at a five-star property in Sri Lanka 10 days ago, and saw that each room came equipped with a mini fire extinguisher and a fire kit. I am hoping to implement this plan in all 36 rooms here. Putting sprinklers in each room is not practical as that involves construction work to the tune of Rs 20 lakh, and putting the hotel under major renovation,” said Sandeep Khandelwal, owner of the hotel.
Khandelwal, also president of the Karol Bagh Hotel association, held a meeting with hotel owners Wednesday. “In 2010, a training programme was held for hotel owners and staff by Delhi government. We were taught that when there is a fire, one should put a wet cloth on the body and slither out of the room. Such trainings should happen often,” he said.
Around 4 am Tuesday, as smoke enveloped Hotel Arpit Palace, it also woke up guests and staff at neighbouring hotels. “We woke up all our guests in 17 of the 20 rooms that were occupied, and asked them to stay in the lobby in case the fire spreads and they need to leave. We will have to be even more prepared in the future,” said Mukesh Yadav, receptionist at Grand President hotel.