Hospitality industry is one of the first and worst hit sectors by the catastrophic pandemic. The challenges of the global health crisis have dealt a crippling blow to the travel and tourism industry leading to the decimation of a substantial part of the hospitality business. Since August 2020, the hospitality sector has been struggling to find its ground for recovery and started to show signs of improvement though in a staggered manner. However, much to the woes of the industry, it took another hit in February 2021 when the second wave hit the country, bringing the sector to its knees. Hotels are still reeling under the devastation of the second wave with little to no hope of a better future on the back of predictions of a third wave.

In the meantime, the decrease in number of cases and improvement of economic activities has spurred optimism for the beleaguered hospitality industry which is limping back to normalcy on the back of domestic leisure and business travel during the last few weeks. Many states still continue to enforce different restrictions on travel activities which has made the recovery of the sector a long-drawn process. As hotel and tourism operations strive for survival, industry has greatly welcomed the support offered by the government. States like Maharashtra and Karnataka have accorded industry status to the hotel sector. This will enable better rates for electricity and property tax. Punjab, Telangana, Rajasthan and some states have also come out with some
relief measures.

The announcements like ECLGS scheme, liquidity support by RBI and relief measures by the finance ministry, are some of the major steps that have bought a breather and hope for the sector. While these measures hold great significance, many SMEs consider the relief by the government as only a drop in the ocean. Hospitality and tourism associations have also reached out to the central and state governments highlighting the pain-points of the industry and the necessary policies that may help the sector survive and revive over the coming years.

Road to recovery

Liquidity support from the government will lay the foundation for the survival of the sector. Furthermore, the quotient of adaptability is crucial as the sector is witnessing some dynamic shifts in traveller behaviours and preferences. “Consumer confidence” will be the focus for the industry in the coming days. Innovation in payment methods, seamless check-in and check-out facilities and overall hygiene of properties are going to be the underlying aspects for occupancies. Therefore, hotels will have to continuously look for newer ways to enhance their services and minimise risks throughout the travel journey of their guests.

As lockdowns are removed after the ebbing of the second wave, people are now looking at leisure travel for unwinding and overcoming the boredom of long indoor stays. There is a lot of movement seen towards local and drivable destinations. Although leisure travel has led to high bookings in hotels, business travel is yet to see the light of the day due to prevailing work from home norms and precautions in the context of fear of a third wave. Many hotels are betting on domestic travel and the wedding season for survival, but it may not be sufficient in the long term.

The hospitality sector fervently hopes that the traveller’s confidence will bounce back with the rolling out of vaccinations. It is evident from the experience gained over the last year that the sector is likely to see noticeable changes by the 2022–2024 only. From all accounts it is realistic to assume that the hospitality sector will take another couple of years to have a sense of complete recovery and growth or to get back to pre-2019 levels.

Madan Prasad Bezbaruah; secretary general, Hotel Association of India