Tourism & Travel march..can perhaps be a game changer..!!

Diversity ..thy name is India..!

2023 actually started on a very positive note for the travel industry. The flights are full, trains have more than they can handle, travel by water is slowly taking root in the country and hospitality is booming both by increased occupancies and a substantial uptick in the rates… Its a V shaped recovery…whatever be the reason. This is also the very first time that I heard travel being headlined in the budget speech of the Hon’ble Finance Minister as an area of key focus both for its relevance for jobs as well as infrastructure… a perception which should be welcomed by the industry. Clearly a time to be in the travel industry and even better where one is servicing the domestic leg!

Lets start with focusing on the positive intention of the Government which has been best expressed through the budget document though it warrants a larger policy document as the benefits of this thought process will help resolve some key issues for the country. Maybe one will get there but this reaffirmation of potential is a big start.. So what changed? Really three things..

1. The country is in dire need to add jobs both formal as well as informal as the normal additions with manufacturing not still the world beater and the IT services now in decline are not happening. The country does need a regular generator of employment for its ever expanding young population. India with its rich history as well as cultural heritage and having a well endowed topography is ideally positioned to exploit the same through tourism. Somehow the powers that be have looked at it with blinkered lenses of social thought in the past which thankfully seem to be coming off.. The recovery of domestic traffic for travel and hopefully soon for international incoming traffic will further boost confidence of such a step. The devastating effect of the demonetisation, couple of years of covid has virtually destroyed the informal economy which once was the backbone of Indian economic policy. This change of thinking reflected in creating the right skills, education and steps for preservation of the environment provide us the impetus for hopefully another Tsunami like the IT services sector.

2. The second part of the budget is the outlay on creating capital assets increasing to 10 lac crore (USD 132 billion) which will include assets for connectivity like airports, road infrastructure and railways. This itself would create employment and will facilitate a massive increase in the travel numbers besides other benefits.

3. The third and perhaps the most important is the statement that 50 destinations are to be chosen with some criteria to be developed on a mission mode by a public private partnership for tourism. We could not have got a better statement of intention from the Government.

No person including the Government has doubted the potential of developing the tourism industry in India, though I admit the the resource allocation for creating the right infrastructure as well as the ability to deliver has been patchy.. Second chances are rare… and we seem to have got it for putting the past mistakes right. We not only need to make it happen but also do it right this time around. The mission is difficult looking at the planning as well as implementation mindset we have shown till now. With the right resources, it could be a game changer for India. Here are some of my thoughts-

1. Criteria and selection of the 50 destinations is perhaps the most important task. Widest possible consultation with experts drawn from various fields ie climate as well as eco specialists,experts on Indian heritage as well as history, developmental experts in large tourism potential projects, construction experts, transportation as well as connectivity specialists. Accent has to be to have destinations which can have relevance for future generations and potential for expansion. Also the planning and then the implementation has to be through a statutory body with Government at the helm and with ability to work with private capital as well as expertise. Perhaps an ideal body for the tourism bodies as well as Government to collaborate on. The one fear still remains is that of bureaucracy which can put all the best laid plans to waste if not constituted well. This would be a massive start would it to actualise..

2. There has to be collaboration between Centre State bodies at various levels….land for creation of assets, its build as well as quality, financing as these can ideally be financed through local municipal bonds and finally management and governance.

3. Private entrepreneur skill sets through Public/Private partnerships needs to be harnessed and that includes sectors like airlines, road transportation and travel services. More importantly transparent sharing of revenue will give a sound foundation to the endeavours.

While there may be many other requirements, on thing is clear that this budget can provide a real kick start to the travel and tourism as a gateway sector for providing good infrastructure,services and employment for our growing masses. Just hope that the fine print in the document is the same as what the headlines state.

Have a good week…and happy reading


Hospitality & Travel… is it time to celebrate..??

After the storm, the recovery, though disjointed at times, it continues to be substantial as well as meaningful. This is also interesting as the world has not opened up fully with a few major countries still not opening their borders fully due to lingering covid residue being played out. On the other hand the Ukraine-Russia conflict in Europe has adversely affected the economics both of the traveller as well as service providers. While on easing of the pandemic some uptick in demand was expected, call it revenge tourism or whatever but the war escalation and the consequential rise in costs has come as a bit of a surprise which may require again a bit of time to resolve.. To frame it more philosophically… ‘Never a dull day in travel or hospitality..’

Let’s focus on India for the moment. All of us know that the tourist activity has picked up appreciably in the last few months, there being a consequential uptick in the hospitality statistics. Part of it was certainly the pent up demand for travel… ‘revenge travel’ as we call it and part of it is the normal demand picking up. Domestic tourism has clearly been the focus and the skew is almost 90% to 10%. Most of the news emanating from the hospitality sector is good…occupancies are up almost everywhere, RevPar is also up and the outlook with the tourist season coming up is looking to be very healthy. Business travel and MICE the other two pillars of hospitality have also started to show a reasonable upside month on month. While the big paying foreign tourists are not back fully but that has not stopped the fully booked signs as well as realising higher rates. If we were to rate most of the people on past performance and this uptick then most of those ratings cannot be anything but high. Perhaps u will see the results in some of the award functions being organised in the present. While good performance is always to be appreciated, is it the time to celebrate? Is it not time to ask the real question which should trouble us ….is this for real?, how long will it sustain..?

One is never sure of the future as how it will unfold, nor it is unfair to hold off the celebrations expecting something different. However it is fair to anticipate the risks for the future and work towards mitigating those. Three risks come to mind… which one needs to be prepared for and these are not necessarily in any order..

1. The first perhaps is the most basic, which is what any hotelier would think about is how to make the higher Rev Par and Occupancies more sustainable. In a more discerning market once the current hype is over, other factors would take precedent which is what hospitality should be about..The location while it is perhaps the key, it has to be accompanied by safety, ease of booking, cancellation policies, good WiFi, and good upkeep. The action has to be be above par in whatever category one is in. Domestic tourism can only hold its place in the tourism sweepstakes if they offer rightly equipped, rightly priced properties in each of the micro markets they serve. For that to happen the skill, the knowledge, anticipation and action have to be represented in equal measure. The competition is already intense in the market with every recognisable hotel chain making a beeline for India due to its domestic market. The right idea would be to use the additional revenue earned in the ‘revenge’ phase to upgrade for the future..

2. The second risk is that as the world opens up, India with its middle and affluent class could quickly change its priorities to visit other countries which was becoming the norm before the pandemic. The Middle East, South East Asia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam are areas closer home where Indians are being drawn to with similar or shared history, with reasonable ticket costs, visa on arrival, and excellent accommodation for all kinds of affordability. The excellent infrastructure in some of these destinations could pull at the domestic constituency very quickly. The affluent will anyhow shift in search of better adventures. Therefore the revenge demand is not to be taken as a certainty specially for poorly maintained locations and properties.

3. The third risk is clearly the biggest for Indian tourism as well as the hospitality sector. India is perhaps the largest country which still does not have a system where the Government and the travel industry come together to have a say in the ideal development of the infrastructure and development of tourism as a viable industry capable of providing the much needed commodity for India at present – ‘Jobs’. It’s perhaps the right strategy as well as hedge to develop to perpetuate this stream of revenue from our perpetual unsatiated desire for travel. We have the locations as well as heritage to match the interest. Again easier said than done for one has seen no serious steps taken by the industry or for that matter the Government – Central or State in this direction. This change in thinking and steps in this directions can be the only underlying action which can then allow one to think of a new dawn

These above mentioned risks are not new and action against these may not be enough or appropriate as in the past. The only reason for writing this today is that we as industry and as key stakeholders do not delude ourselves to thinking that … hospitality with its current statistics is back! Far from it… It should be taken that providence is giving us another chance to change and perhaps this time more suitably and sustainably.

Have a nice mid week read!!

Is this the new Dawn….?

There is increasing evidence now that the travel bookings whether by bus, train or by air or by a private vehicles is on the rise. There is talk of an earlier defunct airline resuming service very soon and the divestment of a government owned airline is finally getting interest from private investors though its a start. The airports are also talking about greater numbers and there is a beginning of discussions to roll out additional capacity as there is a fear that the current capacity will be overwhelmed the minute there is further normalcy in travel specially for key strategic airports. This is largely on the basis of domestic travel estimates as the international travel is still to normalise. The occupancy in key tourist venues continues to show buoyancy with increasing revenue parameters. This no doubt is music to the ears of the beleaguered travel industry which has been hit hard and how by the pandemic. There was hardly a doubt that travel will resume but ….the question was dependant on the control of the pandemic which presently is on a downward curve at least in India. So do we take this as the new dawn….or is there a twist in the tale to still waiting to happen?

The answer presently is and there cannot be another, that nobody knows, specially on the pandemic! The behaviour of the virus specially the current Covid strain is hugely unpredictable with the discovery of new strains like the Delta variant almost on a daily basis. While this is unfortunately true, there are some positives too which hopefully can help. The biggest positive of all is the discovery of number of vaccines which are being produced and are available. They may fall short to detect all variants but for now they are life saving and give the world a light at the end of a very dark tunnel. With growing vaccinations in India and across the world, the possibility of free travel albeit with a few precautions is increasing by the day. Testing for the virus and its aftercare is also far beyond its initial avatar which had everybody at their wits end. With increasing knowledge every day we are getting used to deal with this monster. So what is the prognosis for the travel industry…., where do we go from here?

The dawn to my mind is very much here though the sunshine is still absent with its fleeting presence beginning to show through the clouds. What do we do when we say the summer is round the corner …. Prepare,albeit with caution. My take on what we should be in consideration for everybody in travel business is…

1. Continue with rigour with the covid protocol established as it would be counterproductive to let one’s guard down now even with a little higher cost. Airlines and the hospitality industry with their skills on customer service as well as excellence need to be at their best to assist in this likely revival of demand. Safety, convenience and indulgence today will go a long way in retaining customers who use your facilities in these times.

2. It’s also time to look at your facilities, their upgrades and also perhaps new locations for the hospitality industry. The transport industry too needs to rethink its costs as well as connectivity. This new dawn will only flower if there is coordinated action between infrastructure and the industry, a fact painfully brought out by the long thinking time we have had in the recent past. Time to partner with local government and agencies as they too have the same goals. Also domestic tourism can best be enhanced through this collaboration.

3. The most critical as in every other industry is the Human Resource which has suffered the most during these past two years. Tourism is possibly the largest employer of labour both formal as well as informal and in India at least the informal people have no visible protection. Time to relook at this weak link and repair. My guess is that this is again where partnership with local governments is essential.

If this has to be the new dawn then has to be new thought behind this. We are somewhat assured of the people’s propensity for travel but have a long way to make it enjoyable, hassle free for traveller and equitable for the people who will make it happen. Look forward to a great winter season this year in India and hopefully a full revival in the year to come. Want to see the sunshine again…!

Travel, Tourism and Hospitality… 2021 wish list!

It’s always a long road ..persevere!

It’s early 2021 and we have turned the page of the worst nightmare in the history of travel, tourism and hospitality. To be clear, the nightmare is not over as large parts of the world are having increasing variants as well as cases of the Covid 19 virus. We do have a hope though with an antidote in the form of vaccine’s now starting to be administered across the world, though travel as we knew before 2020 still seems to be a long way of. India, though affected seems to be doing a little better as the no of cases seem to be declining ( unless its just a mirage) and it is starting the world’s largest vaccination drive which can change the paradigm. So we are at a paradox…. do we feel relieved at having survived or do we feel mildly optimistic that the world that is about to unfold could be far brighter and bigger! My intuition tells me to go with the latter but are we prepared ..?

With all the introspection that has ensued over the last few months, there should be a unanimous view that we are not. Of course some of the direction as well as action are an individuals choice but a grander all encompassing vision has to come from the Government which, to my my mind has failed to fulfil that aspect time and again in the past, despite knowing how this sector can change perception of the world, provide the much needed earning and help solve one of the perennial problem of modern day economy…..’Jobs’. So is this then the right time to have this discussion, make the powers that be understand our problems, make them understand the world that can be and what do we need to make that happen both on the macro level and the micro. It’s usual to have this discussion just before the Budget and then to forget it altogether. We will see many webinar’s across all industry forums but really ….is anybody listening? Is Budget time,which is just an exercise in balancing your books ,the right forum to bring your suggestions forward? Sometimes the thought goes out to the striking farmers who too may have felt the same as they seem to have run out of places or forums where they could present their case,before they embarked on an a direct agitation. Certainly not suggesting that method but we need to find a way …

While finding the right forum is critical, it is equally critical to know what you want and how to create that pressure group such that the powers that be take notice. What then would be the priorities from the industries viewpoint as we get over the pandemic? Not looking at a laundry list but here are some key thoughts which could be important :

1. The industry and all its constituents have seen a massive disruption in the last year or so across the world. Whether its the means of travel or meetings or staying, all have suffered due to the dire effects of the virus which could and have been life threatening. Therefore the first rational action has to be to make the receivers of your services safe. With the safeguards in terms of action known ie cleanliness, masking distancing and now pre testing as well as vaccination, it seems to me that industry should come together and join the Government on a massive outreach to say that the industry is open and it is safe to travel. It also means that industry should invest, bring out and advertise safety protocols which they are implementing such that the service receiver starts feeling safe. A joint exercise would be like a massive campaign for travel for the future…

2. The industry while parts of it are formal, it has a lot of informal participation in form of jobs and employment. It besides being a brick and mortar business in some cases, is largely a people business. One needs to be taking action in setting up a safety net for your people. Their safety is equally important as is the safety of the constituents we serve. Only then can one take advantage of the paradigm of new avenues of business which will become available as we get out of this pandemic.

3. The industry forums are the conduit through which one connects as well as partners with the Government of the day. We have experience that the different industry forums either for transportation or hospitality or tourism or infrastructure creation,typically ,while having a commonality of views work at cross purposes sometimes. This has the distinction of being one of the biggest factors of having a haphazard travel as well as tourism policy where the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. The industry counterparts need to work as a cohesive divisions as only then will the powers that be will hear you! If domestic tourism,which is larger, is to be the key value creator then the cohesion within industry constituents and the Government needs to be a must have.

While Industry constituents need to reinvent themselves, the Government too needs to fulfil its role. It needs to reinvigorate the policy framework, improve travel safety, rationalise the asset ownership as well as construction rules, help with setting up a safety net for informal labour and importantly keep its overzealous protectors of policy in reasonable limits. It’s no secret that besides earning, the travel sector gets the country prestige, big time employment and a very healthy tax income. Everybody is not looking only for tax rationalisation but rather a comprehensive policy framework which is workable and accrues value to all its constituents.

I sometimes wonder when is the right time or the right forum to air these concerns and whether that can be the purview for the years Budget exercise specially this current time ? If it can be then the above should be our wish list for 2021 for the Travel, tourism and the hospitality sector!

Travel is an unending love affair…. change to preserve moments!

World at my feet!

Transportation is restricted, hospitality virtually without any guests and many ancillary services whether digital or physical devoid of any business. This is unlike any time we have seen before as even in the great wars, some parts of the world were always open. In the current time, world has decided to go on a strike together. What seemed like a temporary disruption from the life we are used to has far outstretched what we had imagined. Yet whenever we talk of travel, it spurs the kind of reaction which is unprecedented both as a memory and a longing to experience it again, perhaps more than any other material possession. Whether one posts a photograph, writes about a place, remembers friends, travel is a theme hard to miss. Despite the gloom today, there is a silver lining of hope, that despite being battered today, is sustaining and it will spring back to life bigger and better than ever before!

It’s often in desperate times that the biggest improvements are thought of and implemented. Survival is always the first reaction and that is the phase we are in at the moment. We are also aware that this is no ordinary disruption and it will fundamentally change what we thought was the natural course of business or of life for that matter. Therefore as we come out of the survival mode we need to reimagine life of which travel is an integral part as we look at the next century or centuries. Travel has withstood many challenges before but discovering new places whether for adventure, business, leisure or necessity is a foregone constant which will not change. Then what needs to change and how? Should we not spend the time now to imagine the ‘what’ and start planning for the ‘How’ ? Here are some of my thoughts….

1. Need to reassess risk – With new facts on what we can be faced with, there is case of reassessing risk. Risk used to be assessed with respect to safety of travel, fire, theft, political climate, law and order and now one will have to consider the risk of infection from virus’s or other matter and the availability of medical facilities as well as care. Travel business has always had risk but that risk factor now is manifold as it has potential of taking human lives as well as sparking of a pandemic. Therefor whichever part of travel industry one belongs to ie transportation which is travel by train, air or ship, hospitality which is your stay and food or ancillary services which could be your tours, tour guides or ticketing services, the level of risk mitigation measures have to go up manifold. This is not only true for today but for the foreseeable future as the pandemics are going to become a part of life and are not going any where. What it does do is raise the cost of service and that additional costs will need to be passed on as we equip ourselves for the future. What it will also do is to spark innovation in travel related design which becomes imperative.

2. Focus on Environment – Environment and our green spaces are our inheritance and that is what makes this planet livable. In our endeavour for growth and wealth, we have ignored our inheritance using it to enhance our resources but not replenishing it enough to sustain human endeavour over a period of time. Fossil fuels, deforestation, mining while they have increased facilities as well as livelihoods but they have also left us vulnerable to the forces of nature one of which we are facing today with a severe warning that such pandemics will be a fact of life if we do not improve. Therefore whether its transportation, communication, facilities, or services, innovation in environmental management is critical if one hopes that travel should be as pleasurable as always. If one has the eyes to appreciate the wonders across the world then we better have the balls to protect them from decay and disease.

3. Focus on safety and employment – Travel as an industry is one of the largest employment generators both for formal and informal workers besides supporting real estate and the culinary market. Current pandemic has thrown up large scale disruption in these markets with possibly no protection for its participants. This may happen again but every endeavour has to be made that the participants are protected. Now is the time to recognise this industry, formalise its processes and provide a safety net for its participants. Travel industries importance to the employment generation needs to be recognised and not only protected but also supported. Governments and the industry both need to act together and urgently!

Love affair with travel may never get over but we need these actions to continue to savour the moments that we love so much! Time to reflect isn’t it?

Travel … its carthartic moment!

Life can be cruel sometimes and travel is probably going through its worst nightmare at this time. Travel is an intrinrinsic human need to increase interaction with other people build relationships, see as well as discover new places and that need is not likely to go away even though it may look that way with the challenge the world faces. Discovery, knowledge , adventure and interaction are very important to human race. History bears out the need and hopefully future will not be different. We however though need to manage the present. 
Actually managing the present means that as a business we have to survive. Travel encompasses different businesses within its fold ie flights or aviation, railways, road transportation,ground handling,tourism services, hotels, event, conferences and business services. The ground realities of each of these businesses is different and hence the survival strategies too should be different. One can look at these activities in four broad buckets ie Transportation, tourist services, hospitality and the MICE business. There are all closely interrelated and are best when they work together though the investment, carrying value of each of these services or activities may be different. The following are some guideline for survival during this challenging period:

Transportation- Transportation is a key ingredient for travel. Our ability to provide safe as well as secure passage to leisure as well as business destinations is the most important pillar for the travel sector. Presently all forms of travel whether by road,rail, flight, by ship either domestic or international is stalled due to the virtual fear of virus spread through air as well as human interaction. Restarting of these services depend on the threat assessment by Government, social distancing as well as hygiene protocols and fear psychosis in the travellers minds. It could take months or a year plus before such services will be back to normal or maybe a new normal. The biggest sufferers are the aviation companies or the railway owners or the cruise line companies. While the asset owning part will suffer depreciation, the services like maintainance,ticketing, crew services are all people dependant and the key cost will be related to salaries. Key actions here would include looking at maintainance contracts, employee rationalisation, leases,and interest subvention.  Many of the services specially flight bookings are already digital and therefore very difficult to get more leeway on costs. Government stimulus should be actively pursued if there is to be chance of reasonable survival. Good news is that the flights trains and road travel though very limited with precautions has commenced. 

Tourist Services- Tourist services would include tourist guides, special information services,ground transportation either through taxis or busses, food supply for travel either in trains flights or on highways. This along with other service requirements are largely people dominated and are one of the highest employment generators of informal and formal labour. Action here unfortunately unless there is Government help in form of subsidy, is to rationalise your strength to suit the work for the short period. Flight kitchen services can look to service Govt who could look to outsource meal services for their supervision or medical staff. Such contracts even though lesser paying can look to cover fixed costs.

Hospitality- Hospitality is an asset heavy business and unlike aviation its ownership at least in India largely rests with individual owners. Therefore inability for the asset to earn revenue is very difficult time and catastrophic in case there is a debt overhang not to mention the minimum electricity as well as maintainance activity which needs to be maintained. Good news is that it will begin to come to life along with the transportation modes are activated which is likely to happen. However it would require a new hygiene protocol and wait for the fear of travel to subside which could take some time. Action here is downsize, introduce new hygiene protocols, use kitchen facilities for outside deliveries, orient your focus to domestic business or leisure traveller. With constrained budgets the pricing as well as facilities may have to be rationalised too. With no government help in the offing in India at present, alternate use of property specially as quarantine centres or accommodation for medical staff or for other disaster relief should be considered at least in the short term.

MICE- Meetings, conferences,weddings (big business in india) are likely to be at a halt for some time. It’s probably the last part of travel that will normalise specially with strict rules of gathering of people. Besides the accommodation and transportation cost, the rest of the business is heavily people dependant. Action here is rationalise your people cost and other fixed costs. It’s likely to be a changed business when it opens up again and best to have a fresh look at that time. Smaller and more intimate gatherings may be the rule for sometime.

Travel in all its form may be critical at the moment but history indicates that it has bounced back always. It may take a while,it may come with new ways, it may come with changed economics but the world will not be without travel for long.  In the meanwhile ‘SURVIVE’.

Hospitality Industry Outlook – post lockdown…

(An article by guest writer Mr Rajan Puri, a colleague as well as MD of Sapphire Professional Services)

Covid19 is a historic event and is changing the future of business worldwide and businesses need to innovate to adapt to the new normal. For small and mid size organizations survival is key. We understand that this virus may be with us for some time until we have an effective vaccine however sanitization, hygiene, social distancing norms are likely to be there for the foreseeable future. While there is no absolute prediction on what happens next, businesses will need to redefine their revenue models to operate post the lockdown and come out stronger. As always in times of extreme adversity, while most businesses are cutting costs to stay afloat few are taking unprecedented decisions to generate creative solutions to address the change. Business and leisure travel alongwith hospitality will be under pressure for the next 6 to 12 months with graded opening up with hospitality being hit the hardest. Following are some views on some actions one may want to take in this down cycle;

1) Hotels: Identify the deeply impacted properties and repurpose them in the interim period of say 6 months to 12 months till we have more clarity on future. Some of the examples of repurposing could be attaching the properties with hospitals to provide stays and hospitality to medical staff (Covid 19 warriors) with the objective to cover the direct costs. Organizations should review their cancellation policies and make them more customers friendly and flexible. In these uncertain times, the customers will insist on refundable deposits as well as flexible dates. Hotels can offer alternatives to cancellations with additional benefits if they choose to reschedule e. g. use of F&B vouchers or other incremental benefits in value should they wish to continue. Further one can use this quarantine period to conduct extensive training for staff members. Invest in technology in areas like self-check-in and check-out, app driven room unlocking, thereby eliminating physical interaction. Such measures will initiate customer confidence and could lead to revenue.


2) F&B: Chefs could conduct webinars for sharing their popular food recipes to boost customer engagement and increase brand relevance. Restaurants can also look at delivering food packages to homes of their loyal customers. JW Marriott Mumbai and Taj Mahal Mumbai have already started delivering food packages to home. Proper social distancing norms need to be established before the restaurants reopen along with hygiene and now would be the time to establish the same to gain confidence

3) Domestic Tourism: We expect domestic tourism business to increase and there could be increase in demand of luxury and boutique properties, AirBNB’s & experiential holidays. We expect short distance road journeys to be preferred over long destinations and therefore the attention should be to direct marketing efforts to nearby areas both for business as well as leisure purposes

4) Events: Most large-scale events will be cancelled for the next 3-6 months and the popular notion is that MICE travel, exhibitions etc. will be suspended until quarter 2 2021. We expect destination wedding industry to shift more towards Indian destinations and may start picking up starting last quarter this year. The industry will have to comply with government norms in terms of gathering restrictions. However, the sentiment is that weddings and social events might become more expensive in terms of pricing of hotels and vendors given the social distancing SOP’s. We expect an increase in the number of intimate weddings with less people. One therefore should prepare a differentiated offering as well as marketing for such events of the future.


Here are some of my additional thoughts which could help us translate this future opportunity into a reality;


Strong Leadership: The leadership team has to come forward and keep team motivated on a regular basis by actively engaging them instead of focusing only on cost cutting. You should prepare a scenario of readiness in case the demand picks up. Motivated employees would play a key role.


Training: Focus on soft skills training to manage customer expectations and how to engage with those in the pipeline or even cancellations. There could be a possibility that some customers might be willing to examine options with incremental value instead of pure cancellations. While these are challenging times, certain consumers are using the time to plan events, weddings, short domestic holidays etc. which could be a good target audience. Focus on the opportunity even in these dire times. Create short videos and share them online / with your customers showing steps taken by you to deal with the Covid 19 environment e.g. sanitization of rooms post check out and common areas of property, temperature scanning of staff periodically, sanitization of customer bags at check in etc. 


Collaboration: We see a big thrust in Healthcare sector going forward. Grade your properties based on past performance and examine if you need to divest some of the weak performing locations. There could be a possibility of converting your properties into hospitals / clinics. We also expect consolidation happening in near future and look for options to collaborate to increase business.



Use COVID19 as an opportunity to reduce fixed costs and have open discussions with your vendors/ property owners to reduce the costs. Look at ways to convert fixed cost to variable or semi variable. The key is to be flexible in evaluating options and like I have stated earlier, survival is most important in these times. Only those businesses who innovate will come out stronger and emerge as front runners, so focus on alternate creative revenue streams with quick decision making.


Hospitality …..Life at a stand still

It’s summertime and the only talk that one hears at this time of the year  has to do with holidays and leisure breaks ! The preparations starts long before as there is a whole lot of research required to choose the places to visit, the hotels, airline or train tickets or a pleasant car drive, the clothes and the special experiences. In recent times the summer is not the only logical time but also extends to long weekends and other occasions when such trips are planned. The Internet, the newspapers and the special mailers from the travel companies or the hotels are over each other to entice you to come enjoy your summer and spend your money with them. This year however it is different! The world one fine morning decided to close down. When I say the world I mean virtually every country on the planet. People advised to stay at home, businesses, transportation and all nonessential supplies all cut off. No, it’s not the World War 111 but something more sinister where the enemy is invisible, armies  as well as weapons are useless and it will devour everything in its  march. It’s the COVID 19 virus and life is at a stand still……

One has not seen a catastrophe like this in lifetimes and there seems to be no conceivable preventive cure or protocol for this kind of an emergency. While the world with its resilience and science may be able to come out of it but it’s certain to leave an economic cost which may be crippling for countries, businesses and the people. Travel and all travel related businesses like aviation and hospitality have been dealt a very severe blow in the the short term which may ease over a period of time but the normal has forever changed. The traveller will come back but slowly and it could take months or years before he could travel without fear of infection. Along with the travel sector, hospitality plays a major role in earning the much needed foriegn exchange for India and is one the biggest employers in the country. Therefore what could be the new normal for the hospitality sector in India in the near term and what if any can the sector look forward to or drive to in the longer term future merits a discussion. Our reading of the situation is essentially in four areas ie what is the likely timing of reopening of the hospitality businesses, what are the short term issues that are likely to be faced by the businesses, what would the new normal look like and finally what are future areas that the businesses would concentrate on to fulfil the collective potential that India represents.

1. The likely timing for restarting hospitality businesses presently ranges from a few weeks to a few months. The virus is still active and not at its peak in India. The easing of restrictions will have to follow the onset and control of the disease as we still do not have a cure. The hospitality businesses cannot function until the aviation, train services or other travelling restrictions for road are lifted. It seems presently that a partial lifting of those restrictions with precautions may happen by June 2020. Only then the essential travel can resume which would mean a slow opening for the domestic hospitality too. The International travel may not resume except for necessary services or cargo till the end of the year. However the opening may not be business as usual as they could be additional hygiene or other restrictions which may be imposed. The near term, I’m afraid may spill over to the winter months which is the peak travel season for India. 

2. The near term issues for hospitality businesses are likely to be severe. They are looking for a revenue winter in the near term and reduced occupancies as well as revenue for the next year after that. This again is tentative since there is no cure as yet the virus may repeat in another six months along with the flu season and hence there may be shut downs again. Again three or four star properties may revive faster than the leisure or the expensive properties as the propensity to spend is likely to come down too. Therefor cost management and survival should be the the mantra in the short term. Pay cuts, rationalising staff costs, deferring renovation costs unless essential will have to be the norm for the coming period. The situation is grimmer if you put debt servicing into the equation and it would be wise to look for reschedulement. In India, except for a few large owners like ITC , Oberoi or the Taj group, majority of the hotels are owned by individuals,realtors or builders though managed by large brands. Their ability to sustain this crisis is going to be a challenge. In the current market conditions any transactional solutions also may be nonexistent.

3. The new normal is going to be very different from what we have seen before. To be fair though the market for hospitality has been slowing down due to the economic downturn and many properties with huge debts are already in the market with no buyers. This event is set to substantially increase the stress in the sector. All hotel businesses will have to look at their business plans again specially the average revenue per room which is going to show a decline along with the budgeted footfalls. Financing structures for Hotels have always been a source of worry due to high land cost and building cost, not to mention the low tenure of term loans.  Time to reimagine for lower growth and lower fixed outlays.

4. However, it does not mean travel and consequently hospitality will finish. Given a safe vaccine which everybody thinks is a good possibility and a little time to get over the fear, the sector will be back in favour. India’s basic attractiveness still remains and we will need many more rooms than what we have in the future. While we have the market attraction we continue to have the problems too. Our Infrastucture is bad. Land is expensive and we still require myriad permissions to operate.  Time to work together through the hospitality associations to lobby for a very large stimulus package for the sector as it is the hardest hit, to revise financing rates as well as structures and lobby government to build infrastructure. There is a good chance you will be successful as the Government could be listening.

Tough times will pass, need is to persevere!

Shimla- a walk down memory lane…

Hills have had a special fascination for me for a number of reasons. They were the preferred holiday destination and part of my growing years were in a school in the hills more specifically Bishop Cotton School in Shimla. Therefore hills in and around Shimla are like home. Coming after many years there was a strange anticipation as our plane docked at the new Chandigarh airport. It was a sudden flood of memories and the curiousity to see if things had changed in the many years that I had not come.

We took a cab from Chandigarh which along with its two twin cities Mohali and Panchkula still remains as one of the best planned cities in India. It’s wide roads, large roundabouts, plazas and big houses are a pleasure though they are more crowded now than before. With new highways we did not have to go through the main town and were near Pinjore, a township which houses the heritage palace and grounds from Mughal times, in good time.The place is now run by Punjab tourism and remains a great tourist spot. The first stop was for lunch ,a little further up,at Timber Trail, a beautiful resort on the highway with also a development on the hill across connected with a rope way. Lunch on the terrace with view of the valley and the mountains and bright sunshine was the ideal balm after part of the journey and preparation with what is ahead. The place has only gotten better with time.

As you take the turn from Shoghi ,the last stop before Shimla, you get the first glimpse of Shimla sitting majestically like a saddle straddling across two hills. Magnificent view which has not changed over the years. From being the summer capital of British to being the people’s capital of the state of Himachal Pradesh, it’s been a change! It’s happened gradually but the vestiges of the heritage remain strong. We did not stay in the city but a little away at Mashobra and then Naldera.

Clean air, blue skies, strong sun though reasonably cold is what we experienced the next morning. With towering pines, flat walking road and snow clad mountains as a backdrop it was heavenly to walk. Far away from habitation you have only you and the mountains for your thoughts. Brought back memories of another time when one would sit facing the Tara hill from school on a bench on many days alone looking out to the tiny specs of habitation on the opposite hill wondering how the people on the other side lived! While alone, there was always a calm and stillness and a realisation as to how tiny you are to the enormity of the whole existence. I am still fascinated!!

Shimla as a town has not changed much. The Mall Road, the ridge with Christ Church, the Gaiety theatre, Scandal Point are the life pulse of the town. Crowded, fashionable and forever buzzing. Shops may have changed some but some of the old names are still there like Gainda Mull, Dewan Chand & Sons though with one name which has closed – Baljees. Many fond memories of Baljees with its happening restaurant ‘ Fascination’. Many a afternoon spent listening to the latest English music at that place.Paul McCartney’s Band on the Run and George McRae come to mind. Davico’s the dinner and dance bar has also closed down though India Coffee House is going strong as ever. Finally the house on the corner of Scandal Point was always occupied by the Grindlays bank and then Standard Chartered Bank and now it is the ICICI bank. Times do change maybe sometimes for the better. What was good to see was the rush of tourists as well as locals on the weekend which has not changed.

Some images;

Some romances never die down or finish. Mine is the one with the hills and Shimla!

Travel, Tourism and Hospitality – why not on Government agenda?

India as a country is no doubt one of the most endowed in terms beautiful terrain, mountains, beaches, culture and of course centuries of history. Yet we are not one of the key tourism destinations of the world. We draw less foreign tourists than single cities like Singapore or for that matter Dubai.Our economy grows at and has for some years  grown at a enviable rate of growth and despite that our focus on this area has been sorely lacking. We do recognise its potential but sadly have not taken any adequate steps to bring this sector to its potential. Where are we lacking?  

Sapphire, a couple of years back did a survey along with BW Hospitality magazine to find out what ailed the Hospitality industry as well as the Travel Industry in general. Some of the key factors which emerged were:

1. Lack of connectivity and Infrastucture – poor roads and poor air connectivity are a hinderance 

2. Safety – safety of travel registered very high 

3. Lack of quality hotel accommodation

4. Inadequacy of information on the Indian experience both terms of places to see,eat and of course stay

None of these issues are insurmountable but the solutions do lie at the door of the government. Successive governments have recognised these but the action has been patchy if not negligible. With the kind of demographics that we are faced with and if they are to remain positive as well as value accretive we need jobs. Travel, Tourism and hospitality have the potential to create many more jobs than some of the other sectors like manufacturing where you look at the demand for for your goods. Here we have the destination and Government need to take steps to make the investment through infrastructure. These sectors have the potential to give you superior foriegn exchange earning, jobs and improved Infrastucture.  Then why the Government apathy?

 Part of the fault also lies in how the current industry is organised. The industry associations are different for travel and tourism and hospitality. They often work at cross purposes and do not work closely with administrative government ministries which create infrastructure and provide as well as regulate key services. Another key hinderance are the laws relating to building and running hotels. Permissions  are multifarious and take a huge amount of time. These are long gestation as well as expensive projects and hence facilities for credit as well as bank facilities need to be tailored accordingly. The industry associations need to be relentless in bringing forward these problems to the government of the day.

This is not the first time that these issues are being raised but surprisingly nobody is listening!