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Hospitality was the first economic segment to be hit by the ongoing coronavirus crisis, much before the outbreak was declared a pandemic. After more than two months of near shutdown, hotels and resorts will restart offering services with enhanced hygiene measures and protocols.
Hotel Association of India's (HAI) Vice President K.B. Kachru said that hotels across the country are putting in place "Gold" standard operating procedures (SOP) to ensure better safety and hygiene in order to contain the spread of the virus. He also said that several hotels have tied up with global companies to implement the best and enhanced measures.
Among other social distancing norms, thermal screening of all hotel staff and guests will be a norm as hotels and resorts resume operations on June 8.
Tata Group-backed The Indian Hotels Company (IHCL), which owns the brands Taj, Vivanta, SeleQtions and Ginger, will come up with digital or single-use menus among other measures.
Also, the standard operating procedure (SOP) to be followed will make it mandatory for staff to wear safety gear at all times and keep sanitisers available at all customer contact points.
OYO hotels in its SOP has said that it will encourage in-room dining while distance market signs will be painted on floors to highlight the correct physical distance people must maintain for correct social distancing.
Along with other steps, Rohit Kapoor, CEO of OYO India & South Asia, said: "We are further ensuring regular background audits at our hotels for hygiene and protective equipment; all properties that clear these checks will have the 'Sanitised Stays' tag on the booking page."
Along with the mandatory use of masks for guests and hotel employees, personal protective equipment (PPE) for the staff interacting with guests will also be a common feature. FabHotels has said that it will also provide PPE for guests.
FabHotels has also mandated "Namaste" as the standard greeting for its staff, under its '100 per cent Safe Place to Stay' initiative.
According to Ankur Bhatia, Executive Director of Bird Group that owns Roseate Hotels and Resorts, "touchless hospitality is the new future". Roseate Hotels & Resorts will also follow an alternate room occupancy policy to maintain social distancing.
Hotels have also taken pre-resumption tests of its employees. InterGlobe Hotels has carried out health checkups on all its over 1,850 staff at the hotels as part of its enhanced safety measures, the company said.
In what sums up the hygiene measures taken up by hospitality service providers, Ramesh Ramanathan, CMD of Sterling Holidays, said that in the company's resorts the hygiene level has now moved up to the sort of a "clinical" hygiene.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has also come up with SOPs for the sector, whereby all hotels have been directed to follow proper protocol and hygiene and adopt contactless processes like QR code, online forms, digital payments like e-wallet and others for both check-ins and check-outs. Luggage should be disinfected before these are sent to rooms.
The ministry has directed all staff and guests of hotels to be allowed entry only if using face covers or masks. The face masks have to be worn at all times inside the hotel.
Speaking to IANS, HAI Vice President Kachru said that a step has been taken forward by the government and the authorities and the industry will have to work together in implementing norms and amending them as per the requirements on the ground.
He said that the directive regarding air-conditioning may have to be tweaked and the requirement of masks in restaurants would also have to be reconsidered.
The government's directive says: "The temperature setting of all air-conditioning devices should be in the range of 24-30 degrees Celsius, relative humidity should be in the range of 40-70 per cent, intake of fresh air should be as much as possible, and cross-ventilation should be adequate."
"Industry and the authorities have to understand what is practical, understand the basic practicality of the whole thing," said Kachru, who is also the Chairman Emeritus and Principal Adviser of South Asia, Radisson Hotel Group.
On the demand outlook, the industry veteran said that queries and room occupancy will increase gradually as the fear factor recedes from the people's minds.
"We are hopeful that the fear factor will come down gradually and people will start moving out, but one can only tell after about 15 days of opening up," he added.
Ramanathan of Sterling Holidays was of the view that the demand will revive around only January-March quarter next year.
"For growth to revive to the pre-Covid stage, we will have to wait till January, February and March 2021, not before that. Hopefully, next year will be as good as any other year and the next financial year FY22 will be a growth year," he said.
Shwetank Singh, Vice-President, Development and Asset Management at InterGlobe Hotels, said that to ensure business continuity, hotels need not alter their business models full circle.
"The hospitality market has a robust demand base and if the companies work with the right combination of responsibility, agility, compliances, and safety protocols, they will surely be able to manoeuvre uncertainties that may come and put themselves back on the path to revival," he said.
Kachru said that hotels have started receiving queries from customers, which is good news for the market.