Hozpitality Interview:- It's not about us! It's about you, says Sarbendra Sarkar of Cygnett Hotels
Domestic tourism will be the only focus area for the first few quarters once this pandemic is over
Hotel owners, founders of hotel chains, and senior officials have requested the Government to start opening the hotels, restaurants as the airlines reopened back on May 25. There were a few hotel properties that remained open even during the lockdown to contain COVID patients but as the airlines opened and more people will be traveling within India, the hotels need to reopen. The hospitality industry has been suffering since the last 4 months, not only in India but around the globe as the Governments started shutting borders for foreign travelers, the airlines stayed grounded. Millions of people lost their jobs, thousands stayed without pay for months. Many states have allowed hotels, malls, retail, and restaurants to reopen but not all the hotels are opened. Indian capital Delhi has advised hotels and banquet halls to be on standby in case they are needed to be allocated to COVID 19 patients. Food courts and restaurants can reopen with 50% seating capacity only.
India has witnessed a spurt in coronavirus cases since the lockdown has eased and businesses reopened. Governments across the globe have had pressure from the public to shut the lockdown to refuel the economy. There are over 10 million cases in the world and India has 5,82,000 cases already, it had to happen as India is the second-largest population in the world. Most developed countries like the United States and many European countries with modern medical equipment and facilities could not contain the virus itself.
Hozpitality Group spoke to the Founder and Managing Director of Cygnett Hotels, Sarbendra Sarkar to understand their concerns as a leading hotel company in India. Cygnett Hotels and Resorts is an emerging hospitality company with 30 hotels in 25 different locations across 2 countries which includes, upscale, midscale, and budget hotels. Cygnett hotel aspires to venture out into more South Asian and African markets in upcoming years.
Hozpitality Group: Hospitality Industry was among the hardest hit to experience the extreme effects of Covid-19, what are your thoughts in the current Pandemic situation and a way ahead?
Sarbendra Sarkar: We are living through a global pandemic with far-reaching consequencesit has endangered lives as well driven the economy into a recession. This pandemic has adversely affected our entire industry at large and we are facing the same consequences as others. There won't be any returning to normal for the initial few quarters even after the lockdown is lifted completely. People will be skeptical about most of the things post stepping out of their houses. The business looks bleak in the coming months unless a vaccine is found at the earliest. The world will undergo a new transition and everyone has to accept the "New Normal".
Hozpitality Group: Considering the Unlock India Phase, how are you taking care of Hygiene levels at your hotels?
Sarbendra Sarkar: Our top priority has always been the safety and wellbeing of our employees, keeping the same in mind we have come up with a health wellness program called "Hygiene Safety Assured". The program is designed around all the key guest touchpoints and compromises of all essential protocols and guidelines from WHO, Central Local health care agencies. Some highlights are as follows:
- Sterilize and disinfect all public areas in the hotel such as the elevators, lobby, washrooms, restaurants, etc. every two hours and the complete air-conditioning system at least once a week.
- A hygiene check station at the entrance and exit to ensure every individual entering and leaving the building use hand sanitizers. Also, all guests, partners, vendors are requested to have their temperatures checked and hands sanitized at check-in.
- All staff members have been educated on the protocols to follow for personal sanitization and hygiene as well as to ensure guest sanitization.
- Any staff member with a body temperature of above 37.5 Celsius or flu-like symptoms is quarantined and provided with medical attention immediately.
- Only preventive maintenance staff is appointed at the units, rest everyone is sent back to home during this lockdown.
Hozpitality Group: The housekeeping department is frontline worrier in facing this crisis, how are you training the Housekeeping staff?
Sarbendra Sarkar: Cygnett Hotels Operations and LD teams have come up with robust SOPs and guidelines after doing a deep dive into guest cycle and touchpoints. These SOPs and guidelines have been made sacrosanct to ensure that guests have the same experience across the board. We have started regular training of the on-ground human resources in adherence to the guidelines released by the healthcare authorities. Virtual training is being carried off the units under the reopening phase.
Hozpitality Group: How do you plan on managing hotel functions while considering Social Distancing norms?
Sarbendra Sarkar: As social distancing is one of the core remedies to combat the novel virus, we have incorporated all the essential elements at our units to adhere to this protocol. Right from the lobby, the floors are marked with yellow strips and stickers to maintain a minimum distance of 2 meters. The same has been carried out at the staircases, elevators and other public areas. Plexiglass is being used as a divider at reception and FB areas. We are also following the practice of not providing adjacent rooms to our guests. Cygnett is a strong tech-savvy company, we have also devised mobile applications with contactless guest check-in check out facilities and guests can order food with our QR code-based menus.
Hozpitality Group: What measures have you taken to reduce the cost of operations?
Sarbendra Sarkar: We have taken all the essential steps to ensure proper fund flow. Such as
- Employees are advised to utilize their unpaid leaves as we are not in favor of retrenchment
- HVAC is strictly monitored and has fixed operational hours
- Store management is redesigned to minimize any kind of food or any other wastage
Hozpitality Group: Do you think the relaunch of Domestic Travel will help the industry to subside the crisis impact?
Sarbendra Sarkar: Domestic travel has always been a big market and hence a key focus area in the industry. A recent study indicated that 50 Million Indians fly out of the nation annually. Now with International markets taking time with getting cleared for COVID 19 and then opening up, there is a good chance to capture a fair portion of that number. Domestic tourism will be the only focus area for the first few quarters once this pandemic is over. The hospitality industry will work towards encouraging travel, but the government will have to enable the industry with incentives to help us get back on our feet.
Hozpitality Group: What will be your strategy to make a strong come back once this is over? Which revenue streams will you focus on?
Sarbendra Sarkar: As the demand destruction will be there for a while, hotels will have to explore new ways to generate other revenue streams and also have to convert fixed costs to variable costs. Hotels will have to travel the extra mile to regain the faith of customers and have been extra cautious to ensure the safety and well beings of employees. It is uncertain to say anything at this moment, but we are in the process of chalking out various business strategies for diverse scenarios. We will be resilient and will set course on a transformation journey to combat the aftermaths of this pandemic.
Hozpitality Group: What is your expectation from the Government? To what extend Government intervention is needed in the hospitality industry?
Sarbendra Sarkar: We are hoping that in the coming months, the Government introduces schemes/reforms that enable liquidity. To aid us with these tough times, we have requested the Government for the following:
- An extension of an additional 6 months to the moratorium on all working capital principal, interest payments on loans and overdrafts without categorizing the companies as NPAs, thus ensuring business continuity.
- Double existing overdraft limits for the industry enabling immediate ease of cash flow, thus helping avoid mass employee lay-offs.
- 12- month deferment of all statutory dues such as GST, Advance Tax payments, PF, ESIC, customs duties (Central government), excise fees (State government), taxes, and power water charges.
- Deferred renewals periods for all permits, licenses, bank guarantees security deposits across the tourism, travel, hospitality aviation industry.
- TCS exemption in line with the GST holiday granted to the airlines and hospitality sector.
- Rollback the new provision proposed in Budget 2020TDS under the GST law that enables travel agents/tour operators/OTAs to withhold 1%/5% TDS while remitting payments to airlines, hotels, etc.
- Also, the appointment of a special committee, dedicated to TT to draft necessary policies and measures to revive the sector.
Non Promotional article written by Vandana Raj Bhatt