Maharashtra hotels reopen, but no room for error amid Covid-19 crisis

Topics Maharashtra | Coronavirus | hotels

At this point, hotels have permission to operate only a third of their rooms, and food and beverage (F&B) facilities are available only to residents and guests staying on the premises.
The more than 10,000 hotels in Maharashtra that remained shut for over three months reopened on Wednesday, giving some respite to an industry severely hit by the pandemic-induced lockdown. And though there is no clarity on when they will be allowed to open bars and restaurants for walk-in guests, hotels are going all out to woo their clientele back with special offers and packages.

Maharashtra’s “Mission Begin Again” that became effective from  July 8, stipulates several mandatory norms for hotels such as masks for all residents, sanitation measures, social distancing and so on. At this point, hotels have permission to operate only a third of their rooms, and food and beverage (F&B) facilities are available only to residents and guests staying on the premises. As a rule, F&B accounts for between 10 per cent and 15 per cent of a hotel’s revenue.

At the Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai’s most iconic hotel, only Shamiana (the all-day dining restaurant) and the Taj Salon are open to residents, says Taljinder Singh, senior vice-president – SeleQtions and IHCL’s Mumbai Hotels. “With the state easing restrictions, we look forward to opening more services to offer guests a safe, holistic experience on our premises,” he adds.

While a partial re-opening will certainly not bring back historic revenues, the move has been welcomed by the hospitality industry. Says Atul Bhalla, area manager, west, ITC Hotels, “The re-opening will be a humble beginning for hotels in the financial capital of the country, and we hear that a banquet and restaurant SOP is also being discussed. Under the new 33 per cent law, ITC can sell 200 operational room-nights at its hotels in Mumbai. Bookings have started to trickle in from both business and leisure.” 

As for the hotel staff, they are limited to the employees already staying on the premises. For example, at ITC’s hotels, the current number of staff is between 25 per cent and 30 per cent of their usual staff strength, Bhalla says.

Meanwhile, large hotel groups keen to get business started after what has been a near-zero income period since the middle of March, are looking to market “staycations” and other short-term getaways for domestic travellers. Rahul Makhija, general manager at the Park Hotel in Navi Mumbai, has introduced family and couple specials for city-dwellers seeking quick getaways, but who don’t want to or can’t fly. Guests can rent a room plus all meals for a weekend for Rs 10,000 plus taxes.

ITC’s hotels are selling weekend nights with pre-set meals, happy hours, and discounts on F&B, as well as special room rates for day use between 9 am and 9 pm.

To encourage guests to take a break from the rigours of work-from-home, the Taj Mahal Palace has introduced an ‘Urban Getaways’ offer for a short staycation within the city. The offer includes hotel credits and flexible cancellation policies, Singh says. But will the rule that guests have to wear masks inside the hotel impact the leisure experience?  Nicholas Dumbell, general manager, The St. Regis, Mumbai, says, “Masks will become a way of life and I don’t see them impacting a guest’s restaurant experience.”

Others agree. Vikas Kapai, general manager of the Sofitel Mumbai, says, “The fear of dining out in crowded spaces will change habits. Hotels have traditionally been perceived to have better levels of hygiene. Since they have no space constraints, they are in a better position to effectively put social distancing norms into practice.”

Marriott International, which operates 19 hotels across Maharashtra, is ready to welcome guests in accordance with the ‘new normal’ standards of hospitality. “We expect that as borders and skies open up, locals will be more resilient and book and experience our hotels once again,” a spokesperson for Marriott said. “We would like to take a more pragmatic approach, adjusting our strategy as conditions evolve.”

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