Before the coronavirus pandemic gripped the country, 53-year-old Amir Ahmed used to manufacture cloth slippers for budget hotels in central Delhi’s Karol Bagh, selling them for Rs 17 a pair. Now he is scrambling to put together enough food for his family of four living in UP’s Bulandshahr.
Ahmed and his two sons, who work as a painter and a barber, were made redundant in the coronavirus lockdown. Over the past two months, the family has sold their furniture and borrowed food from neighbours to survive. “Times are difficult and I think from now only my children will be able to earn some money. I won’t be able to do field or labour work, even if I want to. No one knows when hotels will start business again,” Ahmed said.
The closure of budget hotels in Delhi under the coronavirus lockdown has also put many of their associated businesses and staff out of work. Kunal Kanojiya (30) is the owner of a laundry service in Karol Bagh, which receives business from seven-eight hotels in the area. His family has been running the service since 1972, and Kanojiya has been involved in it for 17 years. “I have never seen business shutting completely like this,” he said.
On a monthly basis, he used to receive orders worth around Rs 20,000 from each hotel in the area. After the outbreak began, not only has he not received new orders, he has not been paid bills over Rs 5 lakh owed to him by hotels.
“Iss saal hotel nahi chal paayega (hotels won’t run this year). We used to get a lot of business when there were expos, exhibitions and during the time of IPL. All of that is now over. My staff has left for their home towns and I am too thinking of leaving,” he said.
For hotel staff who are back in their hometowns, there’s uncertainty on when to return, and if the jobs they had would still be around. Sanjay Naik (47) and Satyaranjan Das (40) went back to their native villages in Odisha in March.
Das, who came to Delhi in 1985, said he used to work double time as waiter and kitchen staff at two hotels, for 18 or 20 hours in a day, as he had to support his family of six: “I earned around Rs 17,000 in total a month, and I used to send it all home. Corona doesn’t scare me and I am ready to return to work right away. I am more scared of my children not having food to eat.”
With no clear sign of when tourism would resume and a consistent surge in Covid cases in the city, hotel owners too have mounting expenses. Sandeep Khandelwal, president of the Delhi Hotel and Restaurant Owners Association, said many are not able to pay loan EMIs and rent for hotel buildings. “We have a capacity of providing 50,000 quarantine rooms to the government. They can take it on a fixed charge of Rs 4,000 or Rs 3,000 and that will slowly help us revive our business,” he said.
For a few owners, conversion of their hotels into quarantine facilities has resulted in some flow of cash, but they say they are only able to pay current expenses with it.
Lovleen Anand’s Citi International Hotel in Karol Bagh has been converted into a facility for asymptomatic international arrivals to Delhi, who have to quarantine themselves for a minimum of seven days as per current rules. The tariff set by the government for a single room is Rs 1,850 plus taxes and Rs 2,250 plus taxes for a double room. He said, “Recovery from the losses suffered in the lockdown is still far away, and for the next six months there would be no business… We don’t even know whether after the current batch of people in quarantine leave, we would get more guests.”
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