As hotels get ready to open their doors again to welcome patrons, the back-end technical department factors in various dynamic measures to keep guest safety seamless while ensuring a high degree of cost optimisation. The technical heads of leading hotel groups speak about the way forward to engineer an uninterrupted stay experience for your guests
Hard-pressed on managing cash flows, the capital-intensive hospitality industry, even during usual business days, strives to bring the crests and troughs on the P&L sheet at equilibrium. Managers continuously explore prerequisite and contingent plans to sweat the brick and mortar establishment in a bid to surge the revenue figures while axing the cash outflows. Essentially the people’s industry which by and large invests a fair share of its operating costs on human resources, the hospitality sector constantly looks to optimising the units on utility costs.
In a bid to stabilise the fixed costs during the pandemic, importantly – the energy consumption, engineering departments of all the hotels are on their toes to keep the component at bay, during and post the lifting of the lockdown for efficient management of the expensive equipment and cash reserves of the hotel.
Heads of technical departments elucidate that while maintenance of hygiene and cleanliness remain the foremost area of concern for the hotel, they will face several challenges including break down of machinery for not being in use for a prolonged period; difficulty in claiming AMC services due to surge in demand for maintenance and fixing across the sector; decreasing number of occupants yet high energy bills, etc.
Hotels are equipped with huge equipment such as pumps/ fans/ chillers, etc. These machines are installed to cover the load of the entire hotel. In the post lockdown scenario, the hotel will require these machines to work in a limited capacity to cut down the use of energy.
Hotels will find it challenging to calibrate energy consumption according to the business volumes, especially during the early days when occupancy and F&B use will be low. Most of the AMC and job works contract firms are also going through Covid-19 related challenges. As most of them employ people on a temporary/contract basis, the trimming process can be expected. Many firms have their workforce scattered and immobile. This can pose a challenge in regular preventive maintenance and breakdown calls, explains N Ramamoorthy, head – technical, EHS & Projects, Fortune Hotels.
“At Fortune Hotels, strategies have been worked out for the graded opening, through modularising/sectionalising areas as far as HVAC and lighting are concerned. Operations will be begun with essentials like a minimum number of floors, just one F&B outlet, etc. The key is to match energy supply exactly with the demand,” he says.
Speaking on the additional pressure that will be faced by the AMC vendors due to high demand for maintenance, Mukund Sahasrabudhe, director-technical services, Sarovar Hotels and Resorts notes that, during the lockdown, all plant and machinery has been shut down and AMC vendors have also been unable to schedule visits to the hotels. As such, making sure that vendors are in a position to visit the hotels poses a major challenge considering the amount of pressure they will come under once the lockdown has been lifted.
Per the government directive for single occupancy in all rooms, automatically the number
of people inhouse is going to be reduced by half. Vikram Kamat, founder chairman, VITS Kamats Group expresses that the challenge will not be lower consumption, but optimising the equipment like a transformer, and panels to run/ manage the lower demand because they were designed thinking that certain things will always remain operational continuously.
Agreeing with Kamat, Atul Upadhyay, VP – operations, Pride Group of Hotels, states that the major challenge post lockdown will be testing and running of electro-mechanical equipment.
“All the equipment are needed to be tested on load condition, as the machinery was kept unattended for long.Other challenges are the equipment maintenance contract, availability of spares and retention of the employees as compared to other departments. Facility services are required to be operated by an experienced team to get optimum results,” he notes.
Considering that Covid-19 is transmissible, the biggest challenge for the engineering department would be to control the likelihood of it spreading in hotel engineering systems like HVAC and water systems. Explaining about the contingent plans chalked out, Shiv Kashyap, VP – technical services, India & South Asia, Accor, said, “To combat this, our immediate plan of action is to first train and motivate
engineering personnel towards such unprecedented situation and then to control the air-conditioning system and ventilation system operation to prevent any spread. There also is a need to assess the electrical system operation to prevent any damage and alongside check for any damage in water supply and drainage system network before commencing any activation. We are also taking a close look at the fire safety measures and adapting all required measures towards social distancing to integrate an improved surveillance system.”
Given that the guests will return to hotels only when they feel safe, hotels will run with low occupancies and business volumes in the coming months and chief engineers will have to maintain very tight control over their expenses (mainly energy costs and repairs and maintenance costs) without compromising on the guest experience. The engineers will have to keep pace with the innovations in technology that helps make the indoor environment safe and sanitised, and be ready to implement such technologies quickly.
Chalking out a contingent plan to significantly lower the energy costs, Rajneesh Malhotra, VP – operations and asset management, Chalet Hotels – owner, developer and asset manager of high-end hotels in key metro cities in India, explains, “Almost 45 to 50 per cent of energy at our hotels is consumed by HVAC and hence the maximum focus on controlling the HVAC load can be attained by – installing VFD’s (variable frequency drive) to chiller plant, pumps, cooling towers; increasing planned preventive maintenance of the low side equipment like Air Handling Units, Fan coil Units, cooling towers and ventilation system to ensure maximum efficiency; switching to the energy-saving mode for the room lights and air conditioning to be activated/ checked/ introduced to shut-off all lights and set air-conditioning on higher temperature with low fan speed, and automation of the plant room (Plant room optimiser).”
Taking a cue from Malhotra’s point that HVAC energy consumption accounts significantly for the utility costs, Sahasrabudhe expresses that controlling costs will be much easier in properties by installing split ACs or VRV systems. “However, properties having central air conditioning would require major changes in piping and probably even in chiller configuration to optimise the cost. In line with the focus on reducing the consumption of energy by HVAC, the engineering department will have to work hand in hand with kitchen operations to ensure that utility costs are in proportion to occupancy. This can be done by deploying more sub energy meters and not operating kitchen equipment which is not required during the low business.”
As hotels are valuable assets to any company, and they require a considerable amount to be spent even during times like the lockdown for maintenance and to prevent the property from any damage and deterioration. Accor has initiated a lot of steps towards optimisation of cash outflows, Kashyap points out, which enables them in maintaining a hotel in its healthy form, such as reducing energy cost using running AC plant at higher temperature settings or comfort and humidity control. “Additionally actions like switching off lights to the minimum level required, running and operating single kitchen, operating laundry at non-peak hours, implementing steps for reducing waste of food and water and re-negotiating AMC contracts with numerous vendors with possibly looking at on-call basis service have also been implemented. We will continue to follow similar measures post lockdown as well,” he adds.
Every penny saved is a penny earned, echoes Kundan Attarde, chief engineer, Meluha The Fern. “We are doing our best to reduce the energy consumption. Now we have to be more vigilant. We will have to constantly monitor the hotel occupancies and assess the current situational maximum demand of the hotel. Accordingly, we have to reduce our demand for electricity so our fixed cost is reduced. Also, we will be opting for lower capacity equipment instead of the traditional higher capacity equipment. Furthermore, analysis of every hour consumption (manually or auto) of the utility of each section would be considered to understand the pattern of usage and resort to corrective measures to reduce or give alternative/ substitute of particular equipment for lesser consumption,” describes Attarde about the plan of action that he has chalked out at the hotel post the lifting of the lockdown.
Sarbendra Sarkar, founder and MD, Cygnett Hotels & Resorts, opines that going back to basics is the survival plan for the group. Blocking guest rooms in advance so that only a particular floor area can be provided and all the utilities & rest can be switched off. “A detailed scrutiny will be conducted to identify new ways to reuse leftover DG oil. We are thinking of putting motion sensors to monitor and regulate lights and water movement across the unit. HVAC will be monitored regularly and power will be released to the areas which are in use only,” he adds.
Ramamoorthy says, “At Fortune Hotels, Interdepartmental Core Teams are being formed for close monitoring of energy use. Energy costs continue to be under strict monitoring even during normal days and this will now be further strengthened. It will now be matched against occupancies and cover numbers even more closely and frequently. Each department will need to pitch in full. Excess consumption anywhere will be treated as an emergency.”
Nagesh Kamble, director – engineering, THE Park Hyderabad suggests that energy-saving technology gadgets and equipment are available in the market and it will help to reduce the utility cost and improve guest satisfaction levels in terms of services.
Technology bridging the gaps
As most hotel groups, by now, have gone the extra mile introducing diligently enhanced hygiene protocols and safety practices programmes, industry experts are of the view that dependence on technology for various operations, especially utility will increase dipping cash outflows on energy consumption.
Future technology will involve enhanced hygiene practices with contact-less operations. It will depend more on quality of air and hygiene for a better and safer atmosphere. More sensor-based technology will take over each aspect of engineering operations.
Having considered contactless operations already, Upadhyay justifies, “We have installed in-house touch-free washbasins for maintaining hygiene and sanitation process. Moreover, new energy-efficient equipment is being installed for elevating guest experiences like ATCS, VFD chillier, HPN, lighting control, auto dosing system cooling tower, STP water utilisation, etc.”
Kamat says that technology is the game changer as it can help manage demand by allowing better tracking which will in turn help understand costs better. Technology is allowing remote management even of premises hence providing remote access to various functions without demanding physical presence all the time, which will reduce the number of people.
Malhotra underscores that keeping the current situation in mind, the immediate focus of all is on hygiene and sanitation; so, we all can expect some major innovations and introduction of new technology-based solutions in that area. “Contactless check-in using touch-less kiosks, touch-less elevators, voice-controlled gadgets in guest rooms, cleaning robots are a few innovations that one can expect to see very soon in most hotels. There will be several innovations in the sanitisation area and one might see the usage of new UV-light based sanitisation gadgets, specialised air filters in air-conditioning systems to prevent the spread of pathogens and maybe even sanitisation tunnels,” he says.
UV technology will be the order of the day in public areas, observes Attarde. Treated fresh air and Air Handling Units for better air quality to ensure dust-free operations without any allergies will be required. Auto dispensing sanitisers for hand hygiene, temperature, humidity and air quality sensors & IoT (cloud) based programme modules to control the air conditioning plant/ freezers/ exhaust fans will be used. This will help in saving electricity if run in an optimal mode.
Kashyap highlights that in times to come, they will see technology being integrated in day to day operations. At properties across Accor, BMS will assist in controlling and improving the efficiency of HVAC, electrical and plumbing systems, along with other equipment in each of the hotels. There will be an immediate shift to motion-sensor and touch-free equipment for hygiene. Remote working will be the new norm where guests during their stay will experience online check-in and checkout, thermal scan through for health reasons, etc. The future is certainly moving towards usage of Smart Technologies both to improve operational efficiencies as well as to manage some aspects of a ‘minimal touch’ for the post-Covid environment. “We are already developing and improving numerous technologies with some of the features that will take more prominence, for example – touchless systems for locks and services, sensors-based room management to reduce energy cost, smartphone and voice for in-room controls to minimise cross-contact and to improve the guest experience. Our focus is on IoT technologies that can be opted to reduce energy and people costs to increase operational efficiency and enhanced guest experience by delivering greater service quality at hotels,” he explains.