Today's Traveller Interviews

Mahesh Natarajan: Vaccination needs to be a key part of the sustainability strategy

Palace - Ananda in the Himalayas
Palace – Ananda in the Himalayas

#ReviveRebuild | Today’s Traveller initiative “Revive and Rebuild the Hospitality and Travel Industry” invites Mahesh Natarajan, COO, IHHR Hospitality Ananda Pvt Ltd to share insights on new challenges in the wake of the second Covid wave and mapping a strategic way forward …

Mahesh Natarajan, IHHR Hospitality, Ananda In The Himalayas
Mahesh Natarajan, COO, IHHR Hospitality Ananda Pvt Ltd

Today’s Traveller: How do you assess the current situation?

Mahesh Natarajan: After a period of lockdown and reopening in August 2020, we went through some very difficult months which made all of 2020 incredibly challenging.

We started to see some positive movements in travel towards the latter part of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021 till March was definitely a period of positivity. Even though we had come nowhere near 2019 levels, we were at least able to sustain operations with a very good domestic response.

But the current situation has been a huge setback and a very significant blow to all in the travel and hospitality industry. The spread of Covid cases not only in the big cities but also in smaller towns in the second wave has been very detrimental to every aspect of the business, impacting not only customer travel but also staffing and Infrastructure.

Today’s Traveller: Were you prepared for a second Covid wave scenario and the likelihood of a further setback?

Mahesh Natarajan: The possibility of a second wave was always something that was expected. What was unanticipated was the sheer magnitude of the number of cases, the exponential infection factor, the variability in problematic symptoms and the degree of seriousness of cases that required hospitalization, and unfortunately the loss of so many lives.

At Ananda, keeping in mind that this was not going to be a short-term phase, we have been extremely stringent in following a much stronger Covid protocol right from when we reopened in August 2020.

Lounge - Ananda in the Himalayas
Lounge – Ananda in the Himalayas

This meant a combination of multiple initiatives – the first being that every single guest has to be tested Covid negative before entry into Ananda. All guest contact service team members are also tested and staying on the property thus creating a complete safety bubble.

We also consciously accepted only a very limited number of guests operating at less than 30% inventory at any point in time at Ananda. These initiatives were highly appreciated by all our clients.

The last week has been extremely challenging due to lockdowns in major source markets and a general sense of worry about the situation. We continue to advise clients on the complete safety that Ananda offers, and why this could be the perfect time for those who are able to retreat to a 100-acre destination like ours and live in complete harmony with nature, breathe fresh air, and build on their health and immunity.

Today’s Traveller: What new challenges are likely to take shape?

Mahesh Natarajan: The main challenge ahead is in breaking the chain of transmission and in reducing the severity of symptoms. For this, vaccination has to be one of the key strategies and we hope that everyone takes this seriously and gets vaccinated as soon as possible.

It requires at the local level, all the elements to work seamlessly, including timely supply and implementation through health services. The second challenge is in the ability to rapidly test, trace, and isolate.

Today not only in larger cities but also in smaller towns this is a huge challenge with test results taking anywhere from 4 or even more days. Unless we are able to rapidly test and isolate, breaking the transmission chain is going to be a daunting task.

Efforts must be made to innovate to bring about highly effective rapid testing. And now we enter the summer period which has traditionally been one where travel picks up within the domestic market; it is a critical time to get all these elements right.

Today’s Traveller: What is the way forward with strategies to rebuild the travel and hospitality industry?

Mahesh Natarajan: Vaccination needs to be a key part of the sustainability strategy. Travel and hospitality workers need to be guided to get their vaccinations urgently.

While the opening up of 18+ years as eligible for vaccination is an important step forward, supply issues seem Inevitable. It will require a consolidated effort from all parties concerned to enable this industry to get ready for the months to come.

All travel and hospitality players must agree to follow the most stringent protocols to keep both their clients as well as the staff safe. Only if everybody is careful then confidence in the travel industry will grow. Any weak links create mass concern and that impacts the whole industry.

In times like these, ancillary industries such as Insurance, which protect risk for both the travel industry as well as for clients, needs to step up and become more enabling and transparent.

Lockdowns and curfews can be temporary tools in the fight against Covid but responsible travel to destinations and hotels which limit numbers and follow strict protocol can be very safe options even compared to normal daily activities in cities. This needs to be communicated strongly by the travel and hospitality industry.

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