Refreshing welcome drinks, warm handshakes and lavish, elaborate buffet spreads are no longer the cynosures at hotels. After the onset of COVID-19, all eyes are on safety protocols, sanitiser bottles, disinfectants and over the counter shields.
The pandemic brought about sweeping changes across all businesses in the country, especially when it comes to the hospitality and tourism space. According to the Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism and Hospitality (FAITH), the sector is estimated to have endured three quarters of economic losses estimated to be up to Rs 15 lakh crore in 2020.
From branded, luxury hotels, bed and breakfast stays to budget guest houses, the impact of the health crisis was felt by all and still continues to stare at them. With the second wave of coronavirus hitting the nation hard, restrictions around mass gathering and public movement are back. Several states have already imposed lockdowns and night curfews. Most people are putting their travel plans on hold (whether it is for work or leisure), and choosing not to step out for dinners or parties.
As per a report by the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Western India (HRAWI), 30 percent of hotels and restaurants in the country permanently shut down due to losses. The rest continued to operate with revenues below 50 percent of the pre-COVID-19 numbers. The occupancy rate in the beginning of 2020 was 57 percent. But, as soon as the government imposed travel curbs in March, this dipped to 15 percent.
Tweaking operations according to the times
The COVID-19 pandemic has heighted the significance of health and hygiene in the minds of everyone. And, one of the first things that people want to know before checking into a hotel is whether it is sanitised. Many a time, this is validated at the time of booking itself. Booking apps and websites like Trivago and goibibo have started displaying all the cleanliness protocols being followed at hotels in the home screen or landing page. The same goes with restaurants too.
Leading food and delivery apps such as Zomato, Swiggy are also disclosing safety measures for dining as well as delivery. For example, Zomato shows the body temperature of the assigned delivery executive while leaving from the restaurant on the app itself.
Hence, hotels, restaurants and other players in the segment are going the extra mile to ensure good hygiene standards. They are implementing a slew of physical checks too. Security personnel are given remote thermometers to check the temperature of people stepping into the premises, huge bottles of hand sanitizers are stationed around the place, safety measures and indoor air quality is exhibited on signboards or pamphlets.
“With the onset of the pandemic, we swiftly began adopting to all the operational changes - from disinfection and sanitisation guidelines to social distancing. We initiated clear SOPs to ensure safety and optimum hygiene for our guests. We also appointed a designated hygiene officer at each of our hotels and created some mental health support systems for our team,” says Vivek Shukla, Corporate General Manager, The Lalit Suri Hospitality Group.
Both seating and accommodation capacities are being reduced to save costs and avoid crowds. Only indispensable services like housekeeping, kitchen and dining, engineering, front desk and security are kept operational. All staff members are instructed to strictly keep their masks and face shields on and also endorse the same to customers.
Some restaurants are even decreasing the number of items on menus with a view to cut back on the cost of high food inventories. Dine ins, especially located in metro cities are encouraging self-service to curtail human contact.
Leveraging technology for the greater good
A lot of hotels and restaurants are realising that integrating technology with existing systems is the way to go during this pandemic. Since most of the people step in either to grab a bite or stay over as part of a junket, their ultimate concern is to do with the safety of the place.
The Jaisamand Island Resort, located about 44 kilometers from the city of Udaipur, has been relying on technology to keep their guests comfortable. The Director of Operations of the resort explains further.
“We incorporated an e-checkin procedure with Google form links and guidelines which we mailed to every guest three days before their scheduled arrival. We also placed menus on Google drives and displayed barcodes across the F&B outlets and rooms,” he says.
So, usage of technology and minimal human contact boosts their confidence. Placement of QR codes for digital menus, facilitation of self-check-ins through mobile to unlock rooms, installation of common food dispensers and provision for UPI payments are a few steps that are being taken at the moment.
Innovating across the spectrum
The spread of coronavirus has emphasized the importance of eating healthy and nutritious. Immunity boosting food items and balanced diets have started taking the spotlight. With a view to cater to these needs, several eateries and restaurants have launched special packages like quarantine kits, family meals, lockdown lunches, which are made available through deliveries or take-aways.
For instance, the Taj hotels have floated an app called Qmin through which their customers can order delicacies directly from food and beverage outlets. And, Sarovar hotels and resorts have gone a step ahead with their DIY food kits. Their package includes the recipe as well as a live video call facility with the chef, who would explain the cooking process.
Besides this, meal subscriptions are also being introduced wherein customers can register for a plan with a restaurant of their choice, for meals to be delivered or picked up at a predetermined time. This ensures stable and reliable earnings for restauranteurs.
The fairly new business model of cloud kitchens also seems to be growing amidst all these transformations. A lot of players in the industry including home chefs are setting up commercial cooking spaces on lease without a dine-in option. These usually serve as catering hubs for online orders and pick-ups. Some prominent cloud kitchens that are operational include Behrouz Biryani, Fresh Menu, Box8 and MOJO Pizza among others.
An impending need for monetary support
The Indian tourism and hospitality industry is one of the key drivers of growth and accounts for 7.5 per cent of the country's GDP. It is a major job provider and attracts a lot of FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) year on year. However, the coronavirus pandemic affected the performance of the sector to a large extent.
With a view to enable the industry to survive and meet operating costs, the Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations of India recently wrote to all chief ministers and chief secretaries seeking monetary support for revival.
“Even our Chairperson and Managing Director, Dr Jyotsna Suri, along with other industry experts, are making presentations to the government seeking help in terms of waivers in license fees and reduction in tax burden. For the time being, the senior management of the hotel is lending a helping hand by bearing pay cuts," adds Vivek.
Some resources to help you learn more about the hospitality industry at this time: