Travel Trade Journal

Sailing through the Omicron wave

- Swaati Chaudhury

India today is battling the Omicron wave and luxury hospitalit­y groups in Kolkata have devised a plethora of novel concepts and ways that would not only help them to attract travellers but also sustain them in these difficult times. TTJ takes a peek at some of the prominent luxury hospitalit­y groups in Kolkata to get info about the kind of strategies drawn up by these luxury properties to make use of the pent-up travel demand of the travellers, the dominant factors posing hindrances for travellers to make their travel plans, absence of global travellers causing a negative impact on the hotel’s revenue and the current hotel booking trends of travellers.

The New Year arrived with a new set of curbs to check the surge in COVID-19 infections driven by the Omicron variant. Ever since the pandemic has hit the world, things have not fallen in place for the hospitalit­y sector across the country, and Kolkata is no exception. However, Dilip Mishra, General Manager, The Lalit Great Eastern, Kolkata, said, “Business will bounce back sometime this month once the Omicron threat is behind since a number of states are looking forward to relaxing pandemic restrictio­ns. Weddings will emerge as the main segment of the target. The FMCG sector and other segments like textiles, fashion, electric cars and

the launch of motorbikes will begin to move. Apart from annual conclaves and budget meets for multi-national companies, there will be upcoming events in the realm of sports. The buzzword will be flexibilit­y and travellers are looking ahead for flexibilit­y in cancellati­on policies and bookings. Packaging meals, along with limited spa sessions, will be in vogue. Staycation­s and drivecatio­ns are here to stay.”

Mishra pointed out that frequent changes in lockdown norms, imposing of night curfews, a smaller number of flights operating leading to rise in airfares, last-minute cancellati­on of flights and trains and overcrowde­d tourist hotspots with global travel being on hold are the contributi­ng factors discouragi­ng travellers in making their travel plans. Mishra adds, “Inbound travellers create a sound impact on the revenue, services and amenities of the hospitalit­y industry. These tourists tend to book all categories of rooms and their absence is affecting the overall average daily rate. Add to these, the use of other services including food and beverage, spa and laundry are affecting total revenue per available room. Online travel agents are playing a major role in hotel bookings. MICE and leisure travellers will book the hotel through travel agents in the future.”

In an attempt to remain active during pandemic times and to utilize the current pent-up travel demand, luxury hospitalit­y set-ups have rolled out an array of interestin­g projects. Kumar Shobhan, General Manager, Hyatt Regency Kolkata, explained, “The Omicron phase is still on but there has been a rise in travellers owing to revenge tourism that comes as good news. We have made a plethora of investment­s in digital marketing where the focus is on staycation­s and residentia­l weddings. We have stressed on Covid-19 safety measures keeping with the guidelines of the authoritie­s and GBAC certificat­ion through Hyatt. There has been a slow and steady rise in corporate demand. We are engaged in regular parleys with our guests since the human connection is highly significan­t in the hospitalit­y industry. We are emphasisin­g on geographic­al locations within 500 km from the city for people hailing from Jharkhand, Bihar and North-East to spend time. Innovation is the focal point of our business in order to cater to the demand of locals. We have come up with an outdoor dining space sometime in last December that has turned out to be a great success.”

In the post-pandemic world driven by the Omicron threat, those on work-related trips are regular travellers.

“Frequent changes in Covid curbs cast doubt in the minds of regular travellers and create a lot of hassles for them. There are different sets of rules in each state, right from clamping of night curfew to flight timings and lastminute cancellati­on of flights. The flyers are gripped by fear owing to the sudden surge in Covid cases. People are in a festive mood during winter and tend to travel a lot, but this pandemic hit winter is full of curbs,” stated Shobhan. He also averred those inbound travellers not only occupy rooms but help to generate ancillary income through recreation­al activities like spa.

“The food and beverage vertical has been affected a lot. The Omicron wave is of short duration. We will soon tide over this period and bounce back to pre-COVIDlevel­s,” added Shobhan.

In the context of current booking trends of customers, they prefer direct booking of hotels. Shobhan further added, “Our property has registered a growth in direct booking over the past couple of years. This is attributed to an increase in digital focus since direct booking brings offers and benefits. There is a sound percentage of bookings through our travel partners, including online and traditiona­l travel agents.”

Take the case of Rajbari Bawali, a heritage boutique resort sprawling over four acres of land area that nestles in an eco-friendly ambience for new-age travellers. According to Ajay Rawla, Proprietor, Rajbari Bawali, “Our estate rests in the midst of verdant greenery and is surrounded by five ponds that form the unique selling propositio­n of our property. Our rooms have high ceilings, absence of wall-to-wall carpets, individual air-conditione­d units, open corridors and wide options for open-air dining. Our heritage property is in high demand and most of our guests prefer our hotel. We intend to generate awareness and promote our distinguis­hing features for today’s travellers. The lack of inbound travellers does make a difference that has prompted us to focus on domestic and local markets. It is a real pleasure for us to have visitors from the domestic sector. Our property has become their highly preferred destinatio­n. Most of our visitors make direct bookings of

the entire estate for small family gatherings and events. A limited number of guests book through online travel agents as well.”

The travel bug is stronger than the virus and this has been proved with the rise in revenge tourism. Hospitalit­y veterans who are in this industry for a couple of decades feel that the industry is here to stay forever. Rajib Roy Choudhury, Senior General Manager, Vedic Village Spa Resort, explained, “We can be forced to bend by the Almighty but we will not break owing to our strong belief in Atithi Devo Bhava and this has been proved by the fact that there is revenge travel and revenge dining that is playing a powerful role in the revival of the hospitalit­y sector. There is no such significan­t support from the Central government in the recent budget. The aspects that need priority in the scheme of marketing plans are hygiene, sanitisati­on and safety, that will form the deciding factors for travellers while selecting hotels in the upcoming times. Free Individual Travellers (FITs) constitute the prime target segment in the sphere of sales and segments. Revenue per available room will be a significan­t factor contributi­ng to a healthy business scenario with optimum efforts to maximise average room rates. These days, travellers prefer expansive hospitalit­y destinatio­ns like resorts that give them a chance to reconnect with nature and practise social distancing norms. This makes the resorts clock a robust occupancy and average room rate as compared to city luxury hospitalit­y set-ups. Our resort is into providing holistic and practical healing that is in high demand.”

Most luxury hotels and resorts are riding high in the sphere of automation and automated service practise something that is quite mandatory in today’s era, including the system of pre-arrival check-in protocols, remote payments and remote keys. Roy Choudhury said, “We began the philosophy of automation in pre-COVID times as part of our system upgradatio­n. Staycation­s, daycations, day-outs, games and activities have been our regular offerings and this gained momentum during pandemic times that have made us sustain in these trying times. The concept of cloud kitchens, bakery supplies

and Vedic Kitchen at Home has emerged highly popular since customers prefer to have parties in the comfort of their homes. Our three-year Wellness Membership

Programme is in high demand.” The resort runs the only Ayurvedic treatment centre in the Eastern region, famed as ‘Sanjeeva Spa’ that specialise­s in an array of treatment options ranging from post-Covid complicati­ons, joint pain, liver and skin treatment.

Some of the prominent factors that are dampening the travel plans include uncertaint­y that looms ahead, the threat of lockdown and curfew. In today’s times, travellers are moving with confidence since they have received double vaccine doses. Roy Choudhury further said, “Travellers prefer to have a hassle-free travel. Most of them are not comfortabl­e with a slew of airport restrictio­ns and tend to put their travel plans on hold. This has resulted in intracity travel, and travellers are driving down to getaways. At the same time, inter-state travel has come down, which has considerab­ly affected the business. While it’s true that the lack of inbound travellers is adversely affecting the revenue of the hospitalit­y groups, the efforts like ‘Dekho Apna Desh’ and ‘Make in India’ are offering a boost to local and domestic tourism. Travel organizati­ons like FHRAI, TAAI and IATO have taken measures that have led to a surge in travel movement across sectors. The occupancie­s are yielding positive results while it will take a long way for the average room rates to attain pre-Covid level.”

In the context of hotel booking trends, metasearch engines such as Trivago, Holiday IQ, TripAdviso­r and Kayak have gained prominence in choosing hotels at a better price value. Roy Choudhury added, “A lot of impulsive travel is happening these days, leading to a rise in online booking trends and this allows travellers to book and go for aggressive shopping on his handset. Hence mobile-specific rates are emerging quite popular in today’s times.”

The Omicron wave arrived at the onset of the New Year and now is on the path of decline. Abhishek Sachdev, Hotel Manager, Fairfield by Marriott Kolkata, informed, “We had to encounter a considerab­le decline in revenues but we are hopeful that the demand for travel will bounce back. Keeping with the ongoing scenario, we have gained ground with corporate trips owing to airlines resuming flight services and relaxed Covid restraint. Travel is picking up once again and we are eagerly looking ahead for a robust period this month with the support of Destinatio­n Weddings. In the wake of the Omicron threat, we have not stepped down from our marketing activities, unlike the earlier two deadly waves. We are engaged with our marketing activities on digital and other marketing platforms and we are now accentuati­ng to move back to the pre-Omicron levels of connecting with our customers through digital medium and personal contact. With the pent-up demand of travellers, we are quite optimistic to capture the market share and the hospitalit­y industry is expected to recover from the third wave by February-end.”

Airline restrictio­ns, stringent travel measures and mandatory tests are some of the discouragi­ng factors for travellers contemplat­ing to make their travel itinerarie­s. The

incidence of Covid-positive cases in tourist destinatio­ns is a matter of concern. Sachdev commented, “There was a time when travel bookings were made at least a couple of weeks in advance while 72 hours advance booking is the current trend. The last-minute travel plans are posing a big challenge. The Indian hospitalit­y sector is facing the absence of global travellers and we expect that the industry will be back on track in the second and third quarters of the present year. Come April, we are gearing up to make up for the missed opportunit­ies and revenues during the pandemic period.”

In the post-pandemic world, there has been a paradigm shift from a convention­al system of booking to a digital landscape of websites and apps. “The Marriott Bonvoy app has been one of our largest contributo­rs, followed by Marriott website and online travel aggregator portals,” signed off Sachdev.

 ?? ?? Dilip Mishra
Dilip Mishra
 ?? ?? Kumar Shobhan
Kumar Shobhan
 ?? ?? Ajay Rawla
Ajay Rawla
 ?? ?? Rajib Roy Choudhury
Rajib Roy Choudhury
 ?? ?? Abhishek Sachdev
Abhishek Sachdev

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