Business better than 2019, Happy Days Are Here Again: Hoteliers

With the famous jingle ‘Happy Days Are Here Again’ in their mind, about 40 General Managers of star hotels will ride out on their motorbikes from the city to Mamallapuram on Sunday morning.

With room rates heating up, guest arrivals increasing, footfalls into their restaurants going up as well the online orders, hoteliers are happier a lot now.

The business now is better than what it was in 2019-before the Covid-19 pandemic. It is not the pent-up demand but an organic demand, a couple of General Managers of star hotels told IANS.

As such the mood of the biking hoteliers has come full circle; the expedition began in 2020 to shrug off the dull Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.

“The hotel industry was severely affected due to Covid-19. There were job losses, deep salary cuts. In 2020 when the lockdown was initially lifted, an idea struck me on organising a bike expedition by hoteliers. Many hotel GMs jumped at the idea and we started this,” Shafee Ahmed, General Manager, E-Hotels, Express Avenue, told IANS.

The bike ride with tagline for the bike ride ‘Rediscover Chennai, Rediscover Life’ was held in 2021 and for a third year in succession, the city hoteliers will be riding out on their motorcycles on Sunday morning to Mamallapuram near here.

The event is now supported by the tourism departments of the central and Tamil Nadu governments, Ahmed said.

Whether it is the 44 rooms E-Hotels or the mega 650 rooms ITC Grand Chola, all the hotels here are now enjoying occupancies better than 2019 levels, officials told IANS.

“Our occupancy ratio used to be 80 per cent pre-Covid and now it is 85 per cent. Medical tourism has picked up as patients who had postponed their surgeries (elective surgery) are now travelling for treatment,” Ahmed said.

That apart, travelling abroad has become a pain as the Visa process not only takes a long time but is also uncertain, so domestic tourism has picked up, Ahmed added.

“Business is being driven by the domestic sector, including corporates, and leisure guests, travelling from all over, weekend staycations, and food and beverage,” Zubin Songwadwala, General Manager – ITC Grand Chola, Area Manager -South, ITC Hotels told IANS.

“ITC Hotels and Welcomhotels in Tamil Nadu are doing exceedingly well, surpassing even the pre-Covid era. ITC Grand Chola, Welcomhotel By ITC Hotels Chennai, Welcomhotel by ITC Hotels Kences Palm Beach, Welcomhotel GST Road, Welcomhotel Coimbatore are performing at peak levels both in volume and in ADRs (average daily revenue) – even better than in pre-Covid periods,” Songwadwala added.

While the sector in general is doing well, there are some pockets for whom the business is tad slow.

“The business is sluggish for hotels on the stretch where software companies, say Old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR) compared to others in the city or on the East Coast Road (ECR),” Yangya Prakash Chandran, Founder and CEO, Crossway Hotels and Resorts, told IANS.

Crossway Hotels manages the Days Hotel By Wyndham Chennai OMR.

According to him, the software sector is still working in hybrid mode – work from home and office- and hence room check-ins and restaurant footfalls are yet to gain momentum.

Another trend that Chandran said is that local or standalone restaurants are doing good business while the restaurants at the star hotels are experiencing lower footfalls. However, some hotel restaurants are logging sales via Swiggy or Zomato.

With the star beach resorts on the ECR doing great business during the weekends – rates ranging about Rs 14,000 per night- the hotels on the OMR with lower room rates are also getting good business.

“From the OMR hotels people drive to Mamallapuram and other spots. This works out economical for weekend getaways,” Chandran said.

Hoteliers told IANS that the properties on the ECR stretch are having a great time with several mega events like the Chess Olympiad, kite festival, surfing festival and others held near Mamallapuram.

Apart from the room and restaurant business, the star hotels are also doing well in the banqueting segment.

While the beach resorts are of the view that the wedding bookings could have been better, city hotels are not complaining.

“For beach resorts, it is a destination wedding or residential wedding where rooms are also part of the package. On the other hand, the city hotels its non-residential weddings. So business is good,” a General Manager of a star hotel told IANS preferring anonymity.

With good demand, the hotels were not only able to increase their room rates but also their food rates.

Owing to inflation and rupee depreciation, the outgo of star hotels has gone up and with buoyant demand they were able to pass it on.

“For a hotel, food wastage is a major cost. What is wasted is not just the raw material but cooked food. Bulk of the food wasted at the buffet owing to wrong forecasting as well as the people’s attitude, ” Ahmed said.

According to him, in order to curb food wastage by the staff, a fine is imposed on those throwing out food.

“Further, on Wednesdays, the staff dining area will not have waste bins. So, the staff had to consume what he had taken on the plate. Now the food wastage by the staff is nil,” Ahmed said.

The hotels continue to follow the Covid-19 protocols like provision of sanitisers, masks and these costs have become a fixed one, officials said.

While business is booming, the one issue that continues to trouble the hospitality sector is the availability of good talent.

“The pandemic forced hotels to lay off several trained hands who have gone to other sectors. Some of the lower level staff in the sector have turned into Swiggy/Zomato delivery guys. While multitasking is there, the staffing issue continues to bog the sector,” Chandran said.

“Earlier all the hotels mirrored the luxury hotels and had additional hands. Post Covid-19 properties in general have right sized their staff strength,” Ahmed remarked.

Meanwhile, hotels like Crowne Plaza Chennai Adyar Park, Sheraton Grand Chennai Resort & Spa are gearing up for the great Indian festival Diwali with special gift hampers.

However, hotels are yet to think about offering millet dishes as the International Year of Millets is just round the corner.

(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be reached at v.jagannathan@ians.in)

20221008-153006

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