'Jaan bhi, jahaan bhi' was the line spoken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his address to the nation and with that began the opening up of the economy. The economic package announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had something for everyone, except the hospitality sector.
Since the lockdown started towards the end of March, hotels and the tourism industry have been badly hit and there is little chance of their early recovery. Most five-star hotels today have almost zero occupancy except those which are being used as COVID-19 quarantine centres and a few that have stranded tourists. The worse is the plight of states or places dependent on tourism for economic sustenance. Even with economy and lockdown being opened up, the chances of tourists coming in is dim. In the past few weeks, representatives of hotels have been meeting government and the finance ministry. Sources say the disappointment faced by this sector after being overlooked in the economic package may be soon compensated.
Sources say the government is working on a system where tourist hotspots, which are not Covid-19 hotspots, can be opened up, with hotels here allowing to open up. State governments will be roped in to work out the modalities. The hotel industry has been asking for tax benefits and holidays. Sources say the finance ministry and the government is looking actively at this. A government source said, “With opening up of the aviation sector, the first step towards hospitality sector opening up has also been taken. It’s the most logical next step.”
But there are many concerns. Will social distancing be possible? More important, will tourists come? The occupancy rate currently is between 5% to 10% and mostly those who are stranded. Sources say the hotel industry expects loss of up to 50% and it doesn’t hope to make any recovery when the tourism season kicks in from mid-September. Some five-star hotels like Hyatt and Hilton have begun to offer takeaways tying up with food aggregators like Zomato.
But for most, these earnings are peanuts. Some, like the Roseate chain, have had to put their expansion plans on hold.
Sources say the government hopes that hotels would benefit with this opening up. The two targets would be business travellers who may need to make personal visits and domestic tourists who may want a break from the lockdown and make short-distance travel.
Will this help the industry? Vir Sanghvi, expert in the hospitality and food sector, said, “Given the enormity of the problem, this may not be enough. But at least a beginning will be made."
It’s still a long way to go and as experts say it may be a small beginning. The MHA guidelines will have to be followed strictly. Restaurants where the hotels earn a substantial amount will not be allowed to open soon. But then for those who have been desperately looking at opening their bookings could finally have something to look forward to.