Srikant Peri, General Manager, Hilton Shillim Estate Retreat & Spa, shares his insights on how retreat properties in India can consider several measures ahead of the resuming operations
With India being the second most populated country in the world, it is home to over a billion people. Social distancing lingers as a major challenge with the country housing over 1,200 people per square mile. There is a constant battle for the rapidly depleting resources. Timely lockdowns and circuit breakers have helped to keep the pandemic at check but has severely impacted the economy. The country is experiencing a recession worse than it has ever seen before. Recovery is certain however the debate remains on the shape of the curve and the timeline of resumption.
There is bound to be great uncertainty when it comes to travel and residing in hotels and retreats in the post-pandemic era. The luxury hospitality and travel industry would need to reassure and address fears of the travellers and guests more than any other sector. All service providers would need to assure travellers of a safe environment to ensure they are considered as an option. The health and safety of the guests and associates have for ever been of utmost importance to hospitality operations. The pandemic, however, places greater responsibility on the luxury service providers to allay the fears of the travellers.
Luxury travel has always been differentiated by bespoke experiences with the mantra being low tech and high touch. This is set to change with technology being embraced more freely without compromising of the personalised bespoke nature of the experience. Technology is being embraced to eliminate convention and create new “touchpoints”. At the retreat, the staff would remain at the guest’s call to personalise their stay, however, the service shall be free of physical contact via mobile-enabled applications. Research indicates that consumers will have heightened concerns regarding hygiene on their journey, and trust in cleanliness standards will be critical to restarting travel. Reinforcing sanitation and disinfection protocols with severe routinely checks in place would be imperative. Thermal scans, face masks and PPEs are here to stay for the immediate present.
Social distancing becoming the new normal, retreats that have a wide spread set up and plenty of space between each villa would fare better and need less in terms of remodelling and planning. Not only the spaces between the villas but also the air-conditioning and the water heating systems should also be individually provided for each of the dwelling units, allowing guests the luxury of private spaces and isolation. Wellness programmes would continue to keep healing of the mind, body and soul as its prime focus in the post-pandemic scheme of travel. However, they would need to be revamped to low contact and non-invasive alternates by wellness experts to cater to the varied needs of the luxury traveller. The food philosophy would continue to focus on locally sourced fresh produce that would minimise exposure and contact through channels.
Retreats would need to define a new standard of hotel cleanliness to elevate hygiene practices from Check-In to Check-Out. A specialised program will build upon the already high standards of housekeeping and hygiene at the property, where hospital-grade cleaning products and upgraded protocols are currently in use. The initiative will create a focus on cleanliness that will be visible to guests throughout their entire stay – in their villas, restaurants, wellness spaces and in other public spaces. Guest pick-ups would be in a sanitised car stocked with sanitising wet wipes and the driver and guests must wear masks and gloves. Temperature checks for all guests would need to be conducted by security before entrance and all luggage would need to be sanitised as well. During Check-In the detailed travel history of the guests must be recorded and all formalities would be using online systems. The Check-Out procedure would need to be in a similar manner using phones rather than Check-Out desks and physical bills. Online transactions would be encouraged instead of exchange of currency.
The goal for the hospitality sector is to provide guests with assurance and peace of mind during their stay & to meet evolving consumer expectations during and post the COVID-19 pandemic.