By Suresh Nanda
It is possible to plan for a 100 years, but, impossible to accurately know what will happen tomorrow!
As soon as the pandemic hit the world early last year, the global hospitality industry faced the first wave of disruptions. Travel restrictions snowballed into lockdowns and complete travel bans which continue to be in effect in many parts of the world even today. The global travel and tourism accounted for 10.4% of global GDP in 2019, amounting to $9,170 billion. For 2020, this figure came down to 5.5% of the global GDP at $4,671 billion. As a result of this fallout, the global travel and tourism economy contracted by 49%.
The need of the hour is for the hospitality sector to strategically take steps for survival, build capacities and services for revival, and thrive once the pandemic is brought under control. It may not be possible to completely overwrite the economic impact of the disruption. There are likely to be changes in growth, and a longer disruption could invariably lead to some closures and setbacks. The Indian hospitality industry won’t be able to withstand the onslaught of Covid 2.0 unless survive, revive, and thrive, emerge as the biggest priority areas.
Adaptability is essential for survival. While the suspension of global tourism has hit the Indian industry hard, it is time for us to pay greater attention to the domestic demand. Millions of Indian tourists travel to overseas destinations every year, but, with international destinations being out of bound, they would look for quality domestic alternatives.
We have already seen a lot of interest being generated in resort destinations, especially places with decent to great connectivity across India. Hotels and service providers are offering customizations and deals that address the needs of the domestic travellers.
In the post-pandemic world, emphasis is on sustainability and hygiene as well as exclusive experiences. The travellers are more focused on getting a safe and enriching experience than the ‘lowest cost’ options. This is where premier brands such as Claridges offer excellent value proposition to the guests. Lower carbon footprints, complete bio-bubble level hygiene and adherence of COVID-19 protocols by guests and staff alike are some of the things that will be preferred as well as appreciated. Right now is the best time to assess the situation and revive operations that have been halted by the pandemic.
Hospitality companies and businesses across India are using this time to reset their operations, and re-strategise how they want to conduct processes, business activities and ensure efficiencies in the post-pandemic world. The circumstances are disruptive, but, they offer ample learning and transformation opportunities. For instance, irrespective of the challenges such as staff crunch and cost considerations in the face of lower revenues, we at Claridges have placed even greater value on service enhancement and comfort for our guests. The need of the hour is to revive core competencies, facilities and capabilities to create plans and operational infrastructure for the post-pandemic travellers. Random and short-term gain strategies will be dropped by most players as they will focus on value creation for the years ahead.
For hospitality sector enterprises that adapt to the scenario and revive their operations, facilities and experiences in accordance with the new normal, future is going to be great. Apart from the existing domestic travelers, there is now an opportunity to cater to the 25 million Indian tourists who throng global tourism hotspots in their quest for experiences. By creating quality and unique experiences closer at home, the industry operators can turn this audience into patrons. Sustainable tourism, upscale and boutique branded hotels, business hotels, and resorts that offer ‘exclusivity’ are going to thrive in the times to come. This would mean ensuring impeccable customer experience and keeping the user at the core of all operations – following global standards of service and support. The core philosophy would revolve around value creation as opposed to short-term profit generation.
Outlook for the future
Uncertainty: Uncertainty related to the prevailing conditions and the apprehensions related to future pandemic outbreaks or lockdowns will impact the behaviour of future tourists. There will be a more pronounced emphasis on experiencing and exploring all the options that a destination has to offer. People are likely to take each new destination as a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity and that would directly make the demand for premium quality go up. Hospitality will experience some vertical disintegration as companies will focus on their core abilities. Health, wellness and lifestyle will see an upheaval as will responsible leisure travel and resort destinations will continue to thrive more.
Public Sentiments: With the focus on national economic recovery, as we have already witnessed in China, there is likelihood of the millions of Indian travelers going abroad, opting to deliberately avoid foreign travel even when the option will be on the table. In sync with the Government of India’s Dekho Apna Desh initiative, they are likely to travel domestically and contribute to the national GDP.
As a provider of world-class hospitality services, we have taken into account these strategic changes, and adjusted our sails to make the most of the headwinds. Our iconic hotel in New Delhi has undergone a transformation to enhance the existing offerings and we are also adding a lot of exciting options for the guests. The focus is on redefining hospitality through our core competencies of refined guest experiences! The hospitality sector will thrive, and we have to be ready for it!
(The author is Chairman, The Claridges Hotels & Resorts. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)