Rohit Vig, regional MD – India & director development, StayWell Hospitality, in conversation with Express Food & Hospitality, highlights the company’s initiatives to helps its hotels operate seamlessly in the ‘new normal’ and its plans to build a presence in all the key markets in India with a wide variety of brands
How has the pandemic and the lockdown impacted StayWell’s business in India?
The scale of the pandemic has impacted all the businesses and tourism is one of the major affected sectors. Our hotels have been closed since the lockdown has announced with zero revenues and are bearing mounting fixed costs. All our budgeted revenue targets, which we were kept at the starting of a year for our hotels have taken a back seat.
We are working on new concepts for delivering our services and experiences to future guests.
What measures are you considering to further optimise the balance sheet for the current fiscal?
At present our foremost aim is to follow the current measures imposed by the government to stop the spread of Covid-19, the situation will improve with new practices, hygiene and customer safety being at the epitome.
As a company, we are looking out for fresh strategic decisions and contribute to the earlier revival of the industry. The situation is currently unpredictable and the impact of this on the hospitality sector will last for quarters post the lockdown.
This pandemic has caused major demand disruptions and effects heavily on the forecasted overall profit. We are reviewing all our operational strategies for the reopening of our hotels and to closely mitigate the impact on EBITDA. The next few months are very challenging to drive business as demand has declined to an all-time low and to maintain hotels operational cost for the coming few months is a mammoth task, until such time normalcy in operation returns.
We continue working on parameters to attain operational excellence with the limited resources at our hotels; source out local markets for demand generation; bringing creativity to new offerings; adopting multitasking culture in place, working with key stakeholders on tight profits margins and keeping guests safety on top priority to win their trust that our hotels are safe.
With the country currently in Unlock 1.0 phase, what contingent plans are you chalking out to ensure the utmost safety of guests and employees?
At StayWell Holdings, we have recently announced our post-Covid-19 brand standards for hygiene & sanitation.
With a focus on protecting guests and employees, the brand standards have been developed in conjunction with one of the world’s leading testing, inspection and certification agencies, Bureau Veritas, and adhere to the Bureau Veritas SafeGuard Assurance Programme. The standards outline auditable measures that span front office, guestrooms and housekeeping, public areas, back of the house including suppliers, restaurants and food outlets, functions and events, and human resources and training. Each new measure complements the already stringent standards upheld by the group and has guest and employee safety front and center.
These standards have been translated into what has been dubbed the ‘Stay Well’ measure for the group’s hotels. This programme is designed to not only provide the safest possible environment for guests as they return to travel but also to assure them, through independent implementation audits, that StayWell has adopted the highly stringent standard and operational protocols required to achieve the certification. Hospital-grade cleaning features heavily in the new standards, including increased frequency of cleaning, and the use of chemicals to kill Covid-19. Every property will install sensor hand sanitisers within all public spaces including lifts and will undertake the management of social distancing across public spaces. In addition, StayWell Holdings is introducing innovative measures such as immunity-boosting menus, and the introduction of contactless free restaurant mobile ordering systems at all participating hotel restaurants.
As the traditional MICE business will take a major hit, which alternative revenue streams at StayWell are you vouching on?
We have launched a range of flexible booking options for guests, to provide additional peace of mind to those wanting to make travel plans. The group’s ‘Reserve now, pay later’ initiative allows guests to book their stay across all of the StayWell properties with a 20 per cent discount, and without any payment upfront. The initiative also permits cancellation without penalty up to 48 hours prior to arrival. StayWell loyalty programme members also receive additional discounts on rates globally.
We keep reviewing and optimise our revenue generation strategies and cancellation policies; creativity is the key to design offers to target domestic and local businesses after winning the trusts from the guests that our hotels are safe and are following all the safety measures.
Your views on the recovery of business from domestic tourism in India?
The next 6 to 8 months are very challenging to drive business as demand has declined to an all-time low and to maintain hotels’ operational cost for the coming few months is also a mammoth task. Hotels are coming up with new offers with deep discounts to attract the local business.
We are inclined to create distinctive experiences that will resonate with our target local audience. Being in touch with the customer on various touch points without physically being present right in their face will help us to gain loyalty and trust.
The future roadmap of expansion for StayWell in India from introducing new brands to expanding existing brands in new destinations?
As a part of one of Asia Pacific’s largest hotel management companies, StayWell Holdings, together with its strategic partners and parent company Prince Hotels Inc. operate a diverse portfolio of over 137 hotels worldwide with brand offerings including The Prince Akatoki, The Prince, Grand Prince Hotel, Policy, Park Regis, Prince Hotel, Leisure Inn Plus, Prince Smart Inn, and Leisure Inn. Each brand offers guests with quality experiences, ranging from luxury to lifestyle to midscale brands.
We are committed to India and looking forward to introducing the full range of brands from the merged entity, our pitch is to build our presence in all the key markets, since we now have a wide variety of brands within our group, following the acquisition of Prince Group.
Focusing on key gateway cities, like Mumbai, Delhi (NCR), Kolkata, Chennai and Bengaluru, will be our key target markets.
We are also planning to bring our luxury brand ‘The Prince Akatoki’ to Mumbai soon.