In early July, after a two-month lockdown was lifted in Karnataka, the state-owned eco-tourism company Jungle Lodges and Resorts (JLR) was in for a travel boom -- it set a new record for the month by clocking double the revenue it had previously earned in July during the pre-pandemic years.
The previous best was in 2019 when it reported revenue of Rs 3.46 crore. “But this year in July we reached revenue of Rs 7.10 crore,” says Kumar Pushkar, Managing Director, JLR.
“Most of our destinations used to have low occupancies mainly because people used to travel only during the weekends to our properties. But in July we could see that throughout the month, people travelled,” he says. Typically the Kabini river lodge, located on the fringes of the Nagarahole National Park near the Karnataka-Kerala border, sees the highest occupancy rates. But this time around, demand was spread across the 25 properties that JLR -- wholly owned by the Karnataka government -- manages in the state, most of them set amidst its wildlife sanctuaries.
“In fact it was almost 50 percent occupancy for all properties put together in the 25-26 days (of July) which we could utilise,” says Pushkar. At Kabini, Bandipur, Bhadra, K Gudi and Bheemeshwari, occupancy was upwards of 75 percent. “I was not expecting this much of revenue and occupancy but then it has really done well.”
Besides, JLR had offered discounts at many of its properties. “So this time we saw a sudden surge in the demand due to pricing and also because people want to travel to safe destinations. At JLR, we have been following all the protocols for Covid,” he says. “We have also improved on our service standards and housekeeping.”
However, August is unlikely to match this pace given the general Covid-19 scenario, says Pushkar, an Indian Forest Service officer. Currently, weekend curfews are back in Karnataka’s border districts as the administration keeps an eye on inter-state movement amid concerns over rising cases.
But JLR had seen a similar boom last December as well when it reported an all time record of Rs 10 crore in monthly revenue. Until then, its highest monthly figures used to be in the range of Rs 6-7 crore, the best months being April-May and October-December.
“In fact, last year, without having any business for almost 6 months, we still could manage a marginal profit,” says Pushkar. Last fiscal, JLR reported Rs 55 crore in annual revenue compared to the Rs 68 crore it had earned between April 2019 and March 2020 which had been a normal year except for the Covid-19 disruption during the fag end.
This summer too, the second wave of Covid infections wiped out the holiday season. But Pushkar says that it is still possible to reach the pre-pandemic revenue figures provided there aren’t major disruptions during the rest of the year. Across its 25 properties, JLR employs a staff of around 900 people.
“We will have to keep our fingers crossed. The important thing is that the third wave is already showing signs,” he tells Outlook. “So if we are careful and if we are able to survive...we are not looking for very high profits but only some sustainable income to meet fixed costs during this period...we would be more than happy.”