Amid the many pandemic-related uncertainties, weddings have emerged as a bright spot of sorts for the battered domestic hospitality sector.
After hosting a record number of weddings in November, hotels and resorts have decked themselves up for the peak season that began in December and will stretch till March. And they are counting on the big, fat weddings that are being planned with a vengeance after the pandemic restrictions.
Driving the domestic hotel business are restrictions on global travel, which rule out mega-weddings at exotic destinations such as Istanbul, Greece, Italy, France, Thailand and Japan. Now, Gulmarg, Goa, Udaipur, Jaipur, Mussoorie, Shimla, Nainital, Jim Corbett National Park, Rishikesh and Port Blair are emerging as the most popular wedding-cum-tourist destinations, with bookings going up by 50 per cent across these venues, according to EaseMyTrip.
Reflecting a strong comeback, online travel aggregator EaseMyTrip has seen wedding travel bookings jump 100 per cent from November 14 to December 13 over the year before. Domestic leisure, weddings and social events have been driving nationwide hotel occupancy, which is steadily approaching the 60 per cent mark, Anarock property consultants said in a recent note. The occupancy rate pre-2020 was close to 80 per cent. Nationwide occupancy stood at 77.01 per cent in November 2019, while December saw 70.8 per cent occupancy.
For all the positivity generated by wedding bells, hotel executives are not oblivious to the risk posed by the Omnicron variant of Covid and the potential threat it poses to the yet nascent recovery. “So far we haven’t seen any of the bookings for the wedding destinations getting cancelled,” said an executive at a hotel chain.
“We have weddings all the way to March. These are full-fledged destination weddings for which the entire property gets booked,” said Vibhas Prasad, director at Dehradun-based Leisure Hotel Group.
Vikram Lalvani, chief of revenue, sales and destinations at Sterling Holiday Resorts, which has a dedicated brand under Sterling Weddings, is also counting on the packed wedding months. It has already hosted close to 75 weddings this year and hopes to end the fiscal with 85.
“We will double this fiscal year’s number in FY23, Provided we have an interrupted 12 months,” said Lalvani. Sterling has 40 resorts across the country and is looking to double that number by 2025.
Leisure is the asset owner of Jim Corbett Taj Hotel and Club Mahindra properties in Uttarakhand. It also operates and runs its own brands in the region. “Between the two properties — the Taj and the River View Retreat (Leisure’s own brand) — we hosted 10 weddings in November,” said Prasad. “This is a record for us,” he added, pointing out that at Rs 27,000 per night (inclusive of meals) hosting these events has been very lucrative. It has surpassed pre-pandemic levels.
Rohit Chopra, regional Director — sales and distribution, Accor India & South Asia, said Accor’s hotels in markets such as Goa, Jaipur, Udaipur, Delhi and Hyderabad “have been completely blocked on all auspicious dates till the end of this year.” Compared to last year, when there were restrictions due to the pandemic on the number of people that could attend a wedding, this year, all big wedding markets are doing very well, he added.
Weddings are a meaty affair for hotels and resorts. “Hotels of all hues — from budget and mid to luxury and upscale segments — gain from it. The ones that have high exposure to leisure destinations gain the most,” said Nandivardhan Jain, CEO, Noesis Capital Advisors.
With the entire property often booked, destination weddings in particular yield high returns. Besides room rent and food and beverage, hotels and resorts earn from all the ancillaries offered — from theme-based décor to photography and bespoke services. Sterling’s Lalvani said yields from weddings have gone up 20-25 per cent over FY20.
November, added Noesis’ Jain, has been outstanding for most hotel chains. At an all-India level, the RevPar, or revenue per available room, is estimated to have reached 75 per cent of pre-Covid-19 levels.
Concurs Sanjay Sethi, MD and CEO at Chalet Hotels, the asset owner of Marriott International, Renaissance in Mumbai and Bengaluru, said: “The industry is on a strong path to recovery, and weddings as a business have made a strong comeback.”
The hospitality arm of K Raheja Group has seen banquet halls across its properties “well-occupied,” he said, adding that there is a “huge pent-up demand for weddings” and it may well explode in the next couple of months, if there’s no fresh threat from the pandemic.
Travel companies, too, are seeing a pick-up in business this month. “Domestic tourism is witnessing a surge for Christmas and New Year driven by 100 per cent air capacity and easing of restrictions,” said Daniel D’souza, president and country head, SOTC Travel. “Hotels are running at significantly higher capacity with availability being a challenge in Jaipur, Udaipur, Goa and the Andamans. With the onset of the wedding season, city and resort properties are in high demand. Honeymooners are flocking to Pahalgam, Gulmarg, Shimla, Manali, Munnar and Coorg,” he added.
However, even as hotels and resorts are putting out their best for the wedding season, with hygiene and safety protocols in place, there’s a lurking fear of the pandemic spoiling the party. The hope is that the tide won't turn and the party will go on.
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