As you walk into Atmantan Wellness Centre in Mulshi, a small village near Poona, there is a certain calmness that welcomes you. Spanning 42 acres of lush green valley, Atmantan, in the Sahyadris, lies unusually empty and thus, the seems different. The reason is the novel coronavirus or Covid19. The hospitality industry has emerged as one of the worst-hit sectors in the carnage caused by the deadly virus.
Nikhil Kapur, Founder Director of Atmantan, says, “The very nature of the coronavirus is that it starts spreading much before the person even shows symptoms of it. As people are not traveling much, the hospitality industry has come to a major halt. With travel, hotel check-ins, and outside food being abducted by choice for precautionary measures against the virus, the industry is expected to go further low.”
The hospitality industry was looking for an upbeat start with the beginning of the new decade. But now, it is cutting back on the growth forecast and there is a fall in revenues.
Kapur says, “The hotel industry all over the world is facing a major backlash. While the hoteliers and restaurateurs’ are cutting back on their growth expectations, the outbreak has caused both business and leisure travelers to stall their bookings inbound and for the future.”
The tourism and hospitality industries are both facing similar issues. Organisers are cancelling big events as large gatherings can speed up the spread of the virus. International traffic has been restricted by many countries including India. Domestic travelers too are wary. Hence, from big hotel chains to small home stay/BnB owners, everyone is feeling the heat.
Sunit Tandon, Director of India Habitat Centre, says, “Habitat International Film Festival has been postponed to May. META theatre festival is also postponed. Private organisers are also postponing events. In fact, all major events where we expect participation from different parts of the country have been postponed.”
The government has increasingly strengthened restrictions on international travel to prevent the spread of the virus. In its latest move, India has suspended all visas with some exceptions including diplomatic and official travel till April 15, 2020. “Since we are a business hotel, our main business comes from across the globe. And, international travelling has gone down. That is affecting us,” says Sanzeev Bhatia, VP&GM of the Metropolitan Hotel and Spa in New Delhi. “For now, we do have prior bookings, which have not been cancelled till date. They are intact. But we are anticipating cancellations in months to come due to less travelers coming to India.”
At the five-star Hyatt Regency in Delhi, authorities continue to closely monitor the COVID-19 situation, remain vigilant, and follow recommended precautionary measures, protocols and guidelines from various health organisations including the World Health Organization (WHO), US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and local authorities.
The impact of the coronavirus is shifting daily because the number of confirmed cases and deaths continues to rise even as governments and corporations around the globe gear up to deal with the epidemic. It is affecting travel brands across every sector – from hospitality, to air, to cruise, to tour operators.
Nidhi Doshi, a brand solutions consultant from Mumbai, was planning to travel to Dubai with her friends during the long weekend of Holi. They had booked and paid for flights, accommodation and local activities.
Doshi says, “We had to call off the trip 12 hours before leaving as number of cases shot up worldwide as well as in India within a span of 24 hours. We made a cumulative loss of about three lakhs and haven’t been able to get any refund so far from the airline or AirBnB through which we booked our stay.”
Mehul Sharma, CEO and Founder of Signum Hotel & Resorts, says, “I think greater threat will come from the near-term impact on hotels themselves, which will include large-event cancellations as vendors, suppliers, and guests find it increasingly difficult to travel.”
Satyajit Kotwal, General Manager of The Resort, Mumbai, says, “As much as 25 percent inbound travel has reduced and it is expected to increase. It’s MICE (meetings, events and incentive travel) that is most affected.”
He explains that many companies have changed their travel plans as they don’t want a large group of employees to travel to a location where they will get stuck and in turn, work will get hampered at home.
Employees in the service and hospitality industry are escalating their hygiene measures and following the recommendations of WHO to quell fears of the guests.
Kotwal says that the first thing they have started doing is asking people coming in from affected countries to first visit government-approved hospitals for a proper check-up; only then they can check into the hotel.
On the other hand, precautionary safety and heightened hygiene measures are being implemented in the hotel, he says. The security and staff members have been asked to wear masks and inform hotel guests that sanitisers are available for them.
Gaurav Pandey, General Manager of Sanadige Restaurants which has outlets in Delhi, Bangalore, and Mangalore, mentions that the impact is getting worse by the day. “Especially in the last five days, we saw a spurt in number of cases in and around Delhi. We do not see any large event getting full to its capacity in the near future. There is a lot of cancellation happening in Delhi, and in Bangalore, the footfall has come down drastically.”
“Since this is an epidemic, we see that each one will make the right choice about their eating habits, socializing or travel. The larger organizations have started working on letting their staff work from home. Airlines have cut down their number of flights and routes. A lot of us are going to consider our homes as the safest place till this is over as it is a question of human survival. We hope we find a remedy soon,” says Pandey.
Devendra Parulekar, Founder, SaffronStays, private vacation homes which is spread over eight states such as Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Rajasthan states, “There has been a marked change in consumer behaviour, in that people want to stay away from public hotspots and are okay with being inside the house, where they feel safe.”
Parulekar further says that with the summer holidays knocking at the door, there has been a rise in the number of travelers choosing privately managed villas and holiday homes over hotels. These are considered to be safer than hotels, with the added advantage of being away from the crowd as well as providing guests the chance to indulge in fresh, home-cooked meals put together by staff that's well-trained in food hygiene standards. SaffronStays, which offers homes in neat and hygienic surroundings, has witnessed this shift first-hand, having recorded double the number of inquiries than usual for its homes.
Dinesh Arora, Founder of Unplugged Courtyard and La Roca, says that amidst the virus threat they have been more cautious than usual. He says, “There has been a slowdown in this industry, people are cautious about the situation and we need to understand that while doing everything we can to help the situation and hope for things to turn back to the way they were as it’s not just good for business but also for the health of everyone.”
Bhatia further states that new bookings are on hold while footfall is slow for dine-in. Hoping for the best, he says: “Since, summers are anyhow low period for this industry, let's see what season time brings in for this industry. Hoping good business to come August onwards!”
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