In a one-on-one with Today’s Traveller, Rajneesh Malhotra, Vice President Operations & Asset Management Chalet Hotels Ltd speaks on how the pandemic has acted as a catalyst in heralding the arrival of future-ready changes in the hospitality industry.
TT Bureau: It is widely said ”The pandemic will change the way we do business.” What changes do you think this pandemic will bring to the Hospitality sector?
Rajneesh Malhotra: The pandemic has acted as a catalyst in heralding the arrival of future-ready changes in the hospitality industry. As a result of the virus outbreak and the subsequent lockdown, the hospitality industry has been forced to re-examine the fundamental strategies of preparedness, business survival, daily operations, technological investment and people policies.
By its very nature, the hospitality industry is one that needs to constantly reinvent itself to cater to ever-changing guest needs and stay ahead of the game. With the lockdown restrictions gradually easing out, businesses are embracing the change and welcoming their guests back.
TT Bureau: How do you prepare for the new normal?
Rajneesh Malhotra: In the new normal guests not only expect hotels to deploy latest technology to make the premises safe and sanitized but they also expect the staff to be trained to handle all issues related to health, hygiene and safety.
Our research shows that guests will increasingly prefer touch-less/contactless options wherever possible. For instance, contactless online payments or touchless payment options will become the norm as people prefer minimum contact for routine tasks.
Services like valet parking and bell desk will also go the self-service routes. Warm handshakes are getting replaced with warm Namastes. We have already put in place protocols that will help assure and delight our guests with the highest standards of hospitality.
TT Bureau: What time frame do you give for the travel industry to revive?
Rajneesh Malhotra: COVID-19 has disrupted economic activity across the globe, the hospitality, travel and tourism industries being hit the hardest. In India, the hotel bookings were not impacted until mid-February when travel restrictions were imposed on visitors from South East Asia.
On the whole, we started witnessing cancellations starting from the end of February and towards the second half of March, the situation began spiraling downwards as the virus outbreak spread.
In the current scenario, it is difficult to accurately predict a timeline for revival. However, we are seeing some early signs of recovery in countries like China where travel restrictions have been lifted. As lockdown restrictions are being relaxed, we are witnessing a few green shoots and businesses are slowly opening up, the new-normal is becoming more and more acceptable and people are learning to live with the current realities. Businesses are re-opening and travel too shall pick-up pace thereby generating demand for hotels.
However, I believe that things will change rapidly if/when a vaccine is developed for COVID and the bounce back will be faster than anyone can imagine.
TT Bureau: Would you look at new revenue streams and reskilling to reclaim your share in a price-sensitive market
Rajneesh Malhotra: Today hoteliers are waiting in anticipation for travel restrictions to be lifted completely as travel will lead to increase in hotel bookings, providing much-needed revival for the sector.
While the industry looks for future demand clues, given the current situation, it is important that we gain back the confidence of our guests and they feel assured of their safety and wellness while staying with us.
TT Bureau: Will business models change?
Rajneesh Malhotra: In a fast paced and changing business ecosystem, hotels will be compelled to be more guest-centric than ever before. Hotels will adapt to a leaner business model and will require to be equipped with enhanced processes leading to restructuring of businesses in terms of management and job roles.
At Chalet Hotels, we have strategized the way forward with sharpened focus on the changing customer needs and are in the process of deploying latest technology focused on health, hygiene and safety of employees as well as guests. Our hotels have already elevated safety and sanitation standards as per the new norms and we are ready to welcome our guests back.
We are exploring new revenue streams and have gained traction in the food delivery/take-away segment at some of our hotels.
TT Bureau: Are we likely to see consolidation insofar as standalone properties go? How difficult is it for independent hotels to adopt best practices in areas like technology, safety, and hygiene protocols in a post COVID environment?
Rajneesh Malhotra: While global hotel chains are strengthening their safety measures, it is essential for small scale businesses to relook and alter their strategy to evolve into a stronger business model. They are faced with the challenges of debts and as well as laying out fresh investment strategies for adopting new technology to cater to guests’ changing preferences.
Looking ahead, these small-scale asset operators may explore M&A opportunities with flagship brands/partners for capital support needed to survive and upgrade to the new standards. In the near future, the industry may witness notable acquisition agreements between small-medium scale business and large companies for conversion of the former to branded category.
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