While India is in the process of unlocking with most sectors slowly opening up, the scenario is totally different for the hotel industry. With international travel still banned, states sealing their borders and a general fear psychosis prevailing amongst the people, the hotel industry is far away from the road to recovery. Hotels are still shut but even if they were to open tomorrow, this industry sees a bleak future until tourists start flocking back. The hospitality industry, which remains the worst-hit during the pandemic, is now facing tough times and hoteliers are slamming the government’s apathy towards them while demanding immediate intervention into the matter.
“This is the first time a problem like this has arisen in 30 years of me working. I don’t think any hotelier was or would have prepared for this situation. The situation is getting worse day by day because we depend on international and domestic tourists both. Due to flights being grounded, the influx of tourists has stopped in the country. Tourists were our number one customer and with them not coming, we are facing a hard hit,” says S.P. Jain, MD, Pride Group.
According to Jain, the future looks bleak “and we need to come up with solutions. This industry also employs the most amount of people, our manpower is huge and so are the jobs we give them. We have all been brain-storming and thinking about what to do. Situation is very difficult, and we do not know when will things get better.”
The hospitality sector is facing its biggest challenge of survival during these difficult months. Ankur Bhatia, of the BIRD Group of Roseate Hotels, says that it’s time to think out of the box. Comparing India’s response to the situation with that of the UK, he says, “We need to be creative and the government needs to be creative as well. Now personally speaking, I have hotels in two places — India and the UK. The latter came forward very quickly with very interesting methods. They ensured to not to lay off their employees and they also offered to pay 80% of the salaries there. Loans that are interest-free for 6 months were also introduced and given. They were quick and the help given to the three hotels in the UK was very good and effective. The local council has also given rebates when it comes to properties and land. We need to do all these things in India as well. We need to buck up and implement strategies that work in an effective way.”
With things deteriorating with each passing week, Indian hoteliers are now demanding immediate government intervention. They also believe that the economic relief announced by the government couldn’t give much relief to them. Gurbaxish Kohli, president, FHRAI, says: “What the government needs to understand here is that you cannot equate us with the manufacturing sector. Restaurant booking has been hit and our hotels have been hit too. We need to be looked at differently. Defamation of interest is not an option for us like others. We are made to pay interests of April in August. The opportunity is not coming as there are no directives on banks that should be there.”
Sanjay Sethi, MD Chalet Hotel, agrees and adds, “First step would be to allow the banks a one-time restructuring of loans. Second, we need subsidies when it comes to labour cost. Third, the industrial tariff on the electricity rates and bills. Fourth, we need relief on exercise licence fee and taxes. Finally, we also need some relief on the GST side.”
Though the hoteliers are suffering economically, they are also coming ahead to help during the crisis. Many of them have offered their hotels as quarantine facilities. Dilwar Nensey, Joint MD of the Royal Palm Hotels, says: “As far as the municipal corporations are concerned, they were getting in touch with a lot of us especially in Mumbai. They were in contact with a lot of hoteliers to shift the hospitality angle to a quarantine angle. For the people who could potentially get affected and are not positive, these hotels would serve as a containment facility. We have also given our 280-room property to the municipal corporation for this purpose. Now yes, the rents will be low. In this way, we can keep some infrastructure alive.”
Copy: Meenakshi Upreti