“Mid-market hotels will be better placed to reap recovery benefits”

Ajay Bakaya, Managing Director, Sarovar Hotels and Resorts, explains how as per the latest trends, the most important concern for the guest will be hygiene & sanitization and ensuring that they feel safe. Therefore, once hotels become operational, new SOPs, as per guest’s requirement and keeping social-distancing norm in mind will need to be framed. 

TPCI: What impact has the suspension of international and domestic travel had on the Indian hospitality industry? How is it affecting your business?

Ajay Bakaya (AB): The business has been affected badly due to the lockdown and travel restrictions specially since mid-March and April. It is too early to predict the sector’s performance for the next quarter. It’ll depend on when the country emerges from the current lockdown. The domestic market will respond faster to fuel recovery. I have no doubt that recovery will be gradual; especially for the MICE events. Once again, business hotels will recover faster. Mid-market hotels will be better placed to reap recovery benefits as bleeding businesses will be forced to cut all costs.

TPCI: How long will the hospitality industry take to recover once the lockdown is lifted? What steps are being considered to help in facilitating a speedy recovery?

AB: Recovery will be over a year post full movement in sky, and removing all restrictions. We are expecting initial business from domestic market for the coming six months at-least; more of car travel, tapping that market will help to recover faster. We’ll reach out in all conceivable directions for business.

Pharma will be one big focus area. New SOPs, as per guest’s requirement and keeping social-distancing norm in mind will be framed post opening.  Visible safety signs will be put up in public areas. Marketing these activities on social media platforms, OTAs and incorporating guest’s feedback are some of the collective measure for facilitating speedy recovery.

TPCI: Of late, prominent hotel chains are offering customers the opportunity of home delivery of food items by partnering with Zomato (which is launching contact-less delivery & dining) and Swiggy. What steps are you considering to restore customer confidence when it comes to food quality and delivery?

AB: Several operating hotels for Sarovar are taking home-delivery orders. As a brand, we continue to monitor food and beverage services in accordance with current food safety recommendations. Abundant precaution is being taken for the training of our associates on CoV-19 sanitization, prevention and surveillance routines. Each hotel has taken stringent safety measures while preparing, packing and delivering the order. We encourage customers for digital payment and contactless deliveries, which further reduce the chances of spreading infection. Recently we have started disbursing a small personalized safety note, which goes with each delivery to the customers.

TPCI: How is the concept of dine-in expected to change in coming months, pending an effective vaccine for Covid-19? How are you looking to prepare your service offering for this?

AB: Post the re-opening of hotels, there will be surely a new-normal which every hotel will have to adopt around dining at restaurant and eating in general. If we see the latest trends, the most important concern factor for the guest will be hygiene & sanitization and convince the guests to feel safe. In our new SOPs, we are ensuring to put at least 7-8 tangible/visible hygiene and safety measures to rebuild guest’s confidence, including reduced number of covers in the restaurant area to follow social-distancing norm. Initially, we will have TDH (Table d’hôte) menu. Disposable napkin, menus, cutlery and pre-packed water bottles will be served to our guests. Also, we keep sharing our hygiene and sanitization process conduct by hotels on the brand’s official website.

TPCI: How do you anticipate the operational intricacies and business landscape for hotels to change in the coming months? What will be key to surviving this environment?

AB: It will certainly change. The initial business will surely come from the domestic market, as it will be the first one to recover faster. We need to tap new business segments, pharma being one of them. The need to update oneself with the guest’s new needs and requirements will be very crucial.

Ajay Bakaya is the Managing Director of Sarovar Hotels & Resorts. The seasoned hotelier is responsible for overseeing the operations and development of the group. Founded in 1994, right now the group portfolio includes 85 properties across 55 destinations, under three brands — Sarovar Premiere, Sarovar Portico and Hometel, besides some properties under other brands.

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