June 23, 2021 10:30:01 am
Last week when Mumbai’s Hyatt Regency decided to shut down, it confirmed everyone’s worst fears – the second wave has pushed the crumbling hospitality industry into an existential crisis. Reports say that another 10 hotels, which are part of significant hotel chains, have shut operations permanently due to the second Covid-19 wave. Industry experts believe that once the second wave is over, the industry will see the rebranding of hotels, with independent hotels likely to seek a merger with big brands.
According to global real estate service firm JLL, hotel occupancy levels in India dropped by 17 per cent and room rates declined by about nine per cent in April 2021, when compared to March 2021. The recovery of the sector at the beginning of this year has been primarily driven by the leisure segment performing notably well.
Vikram Lalvani, Chief of Revenue, Sales and Destination, Sterling Holiday Resorts, says, “The initial months of 2021 proved to be good for the brand with approximately 65 per cent occupancy. Even until the initial days of April 2021, we saw occupancy of 65 per cent with a healthy mix of members as well as weddings, business meetings, conventions and other events. However, with the re-imposed restriction during the second wave, the summer season was impacted this year again across all resort destinations. Many people, whose bookings were scheduled in the summer, have started enquiring about alternate dates and resorts.”
To tide over this, Sterling, which has over two dozen properties across India, is also offering ‘Holiday insurance’, as a free opt-in feature during booking, that covers guests for up to Rs three lakh per person in case of cancellations and medical emergencies. Lalvani adds, “Traditionally, city hotels see a higher occupancy rate due to business travel from Monday to Fridays. But going by our last year trends, leisure resorts seem to be a better fit because of the advantages of large space indoors, closer to or amidst nature, and accessibility from major metros.”
In the meantime, many hotels are trying desperate measures to set off some of their mounting losses. A few weeks ago, the image of a luxury hotel in Hyderabad offering a vaccination package worth Rs 2,999 — including charges of the dose — went viral on social media. Later, more such images were noticed, including that of The Lalit in Mumbai and Bengaluru’s Columbia Asia. Soon, the government came up with a notice seeking action against private hospitals offering special packages for COVID-19 vaccination in collaboration with hotels. Following the directive, hotels withdrew the offers.
Zostel, a country-wide hostel chain, has converted some of its properties into quarantine and isolation centres, even as they have launched the Zostel Bubble to offer long-stay travellers and digital nomads a safe environment. “The only travel that the industry has been seeing lately is those opting for long stays to escape their COVID-stricken cities,” says Dharamveer Singh Chouhan, its Co-Founder & CEO. While Zostel premises in Mumbai, Delhi, and Jaipur have been turned into quarantine centres with multiple facilities for patients, the long-stay programme at places like Dalhousie, Alleppey, Mukteshwar, and Vagamon is aimed at digital nomads and stranded travellers.
Meanwhile, Treehouse Hotels has started an impact initiative to help Covid-19 infected patients and families around Bhiwadi with simple, nutritious meals. They have now extended this initiative to their guests. Each spending on a room for the night would contribute to feeding 50 people in the community.
Jayant Singh, its Managing Partner, adds, “The hotel business and tourism industry as a whole has been reeling under the sharp blow dealt over the last year and a half. Our company has been feeling the pain too, but more pain was being felt by the team which wanted to work and contribute but did not have any direction.”
International digital travel platform Agoda has leveraged its technology expertise to help people in India search and find quarantine or alternative stay options during this latest phase of the pandemic. For this, Agoda has curated a list of hotels from its accommodation partner network that are providing “hospi-tel” services, that is, accepting Covid-19 positive guests to isolate until recovery. Guests who have tested positive for COVID-19 and have stable vitals can now isolate themselves within any of the listed 100+ hotels, located in 23 cities across India. These properties, Agoda says, are equipped with amenities like COVID-19 nursing support, three daily meals and oxygen support.
The high-maintenance wellness industry, which was thriving owing to international visitors, is also in crisis like never before with flights being banned for more than a year now. In the meantime, they are also hopping on to the immunity-wellness-recuperation bandwagon to square off some losses. For instance, Niraamaya Wellness Retreats has introduced a 21-night Post Covid Care Program in its Solan (Himachal Pradesh) and Kovalam (Kerala) properties, which is aimed to help the patients who are struggling to regain their physical activity levels, reduce dependence on supplemental oxygen, improve quality of life and most importantly cope better with the emotional and psychological impact of the disease. Besides accommodation, the programme includes physician consultations, meals, treatments and therapies, and of course, diagnostic tests and unhindered internet access.
While there is an exodus of hotels from big cities, hill stations and remote locations is where most of them are now setting sights at. Welcomhotel, one of India’s fastest-growing hospitality brands from the ITC Hotels group has just launched its second property in Himachal Pradesh — Welcomhotel Tavleen Chail. This launch follows the inauguration of Welcomhotel Shimla about six months ago.
“The pandemic resulted in the timely lockdown and restrictions through most states. As a direct consequence, there was some quarantine related travel and a smattering of in-city vacations. The penetration of the vaccine is helping bolster confidence in travel. We are expecting a resurgence of motorable getaways which provide enriching destination experiences.
“The hills and beaches are normally the quickest to recover, and this time again we are seeing a lot of interest being generated for these hotels. Additionally, we introduced responsible dining initiatives like Gourmet Couch, Flavours and our F&B App that has helped our customers relish the culinary legacy of ITC Hotels’ finest cuisine from their award-winning restaurants,” says Anil Chadha, COO, ITC Hotels.
Guests can place their orders on Zomato, Swiggy and EazyDiner, across eight cities, including – Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Jaipur and Agra.