Express Food & Hospitality’s “Atithi Devo Bhava Confex Series” in its second edition marked the participation of hospitality stalwarts of Gujarat state coming together to share their invaluable views about the booming HoReCa sector in the city of Ahmedabad. The event was graced by keynote speaker Dipika Chauhan, deputy commissioner, Food and Drug Control Administration (FDCA) – Gujarat who gave a presentation on the state government’s efforts to monitor the quality and standard of food safety and handling in the foodservice industry in the state. “Regulated by FSSAI at the central level, we as regulators at the state level bring into action both enforcement and opportunities for the food handling businesses. At FDCA Gujarat, we aim to safeguard public health. As an industry, we as authorities along with the businesses sail in the same boat. In the food sector, with the Food Safety and Standard Act 2006 coming into force from August 5, 2011, Gujarat was the first state in the country to reduce the age-old PFA cases – wherein irrespective of the intentionality of food adulteration, everybody was dragged to the court of law. Gujarat was the first state in the country to move over 35000 cases from the High Court to lower courts. With the payment of a penalty issued, the resolution became streamlined and fast.” She added, “Also, as we all love to savour street food but subconsciously a feeling of precaution of the poor food handling by street vendors is present in the back of the mind. Hence, we at FDCA Gujarat recognised and awarded certificates to the street vendors who followed food safety and handling with utmost diligence keeping the public health in focus. This, in turn, led to more vendors seeking training programmes in hygienic food handling, which we offered to them and hence a clean street food hub was presented to the masses. Out of the country’s 15 clean street food hubs, Gujarat has nine of them.”
Chauhan concluded, “I do not say only enforcement of regulatory actions can improve the quality of production, but the increasing competition has kept people on their toes now to offer only good quality right from ambience to food. We as regulators do not intend to swindle money from the industry, but our efforts are to increase the quality of the product and service day by day. We saw it as a pattern that many international visitors stayed only at branded hotels and consumed food there. We encouraged them to have food from the streets vouching on the safety measures that the street food vendors were taking. They too appreciated this initiative.”
Speaking on Indianising the Hospitality Experience in India, our plenary speaker Param Kannampilly, CMD, The Fern Hotels & Resorts, said, “India has traditionally welcomed people with Atithi Devo Bhava. India’s hospitality scenario reflects that of the country’s ancient way of greeting the guests by treating them like God. However, it is not made an everyday habit in our day to day operations. It happens out of a chance rather than a systematic decision to make it happen. In the hospitality industry, be it hotels or restaurants, a guest is not bound to get angry at the staff, but it only happens for some misbehaviour or unexpected body language that provokes a guest to think that they are not getting what they are paying for and decide to take it up with the seniors. Here, the onus of responsibility of the brand image is on the junior staff, be it the restaurant waiter or front desk manager. For them the job is important but dignity has a value too.” He felt that this is where the role of the supervisor comes into play, for they are at the helm to train and educate the staff to counter situations in a calm and composed manner. “The industry needs supervisory level of staff who are enablers and enable their juniors to completely take care of what is required and plan for the future course of action. If this happens it will be much smoother. Unfortunately, it is easier said than done. I hope people will put it into practice,” he opined.
Making a presentation on OTAs v/s Hotels: Need for a Level Playing Field, Nirav Gandhi, jt. hon. secretary, HRAWI and executive committee, FHRAI, observed that the hotel association’s voice against predatory discounting pattern followed by OTAs has been considered by the Competitions Commission of India, for which decisions favouring the hoteliers would soon be taken.
Speaking on the increasing potential for hospitality business in tier II and III cities in India, Kunal Katoch, VP – Operations, Sayaji Hotels observed that as most of tier-I cities are pretty well developed and with many players already present there, tier II and III cities are the next big hotbeds for hospitality companies. “Sayaji Hotels predominantly started with tier II and III markets and we can proudly say that we as a company still believe in these markets as they are the ones from where we have seen most of the return on investments. The four major points that have increased more and more national and international brands to explore these markets, of which first remains the growing affinity towards brands; followed by business enhancement in these markets; capital investments v/s the return on investments, and lastly the low operating costs. The tier II markets have been popular for the past 5-10 years. When it comes to brand affinity, the dynamics in tier II markets are slightly different as compared to that of tier I markets. The former vouches for more on F&B offerings than keeping the asset room-heavy, which isn’t the case with tier I cities. The growth rate and sustainability grounds for corporates in the new markets are showing up. To give an example, we have our hotel in Indore. Indore in 2011 was sitting at a population of 31 lakhs, whereas presently it is seeing seven million population. That is the sort of catchment that is increasing in these markets. Irrespective of hotels or retail outlets, in the smaller markets these players, have larger horizons to tap,” he explained.
The event also saw the presence of general managers of leading hotels in Ahmedabad participating in a GMs Conclave panel discussion on the hospitality dynamics in the city. Panelists included Umesh Tiwari, VP – Operations, Royal Orchid Hotels; Ridul Deka, GM, Novotel Ahmedabad & Residences; Niraj Kumar Sinha, GM, The Grand Bhagwati Ahmedabad; Ajit Singh, GM, Lemon Tree Premier The Atrium Ahmedabad; Rakesh Dogra, GM, The Fern, Ahmedabad; Rachit Goel, GM, Fairfield by Marriott Ahmedabad and Nagendra Singh Rathore, GM, Fortune Inn Haveli Gandhinagar.
The panelists were quite positive about Ahmedabad as a booming market for both international and homegrown hospitality brands. According to Deka, “The last ten years have been phenomenal for the hotel industry in Ahmedabad. The government is trade-friendly and provides the great infrastructure needed for the industry at large. Also, many other brands both international and domestic are present here in the city, which shows that there is demand in the market.”
Dogra remarked that Gujarat in itself is a developed state in the country. “Likewise, it is not a surprise that the demand and supply of rooms have been growing exponentially in Ahmedabad. The scale of events has been increasing too which has prompted more and more hotel brands to come in. We are the first World Heritage City in the country, hence more and more tourists are pouring in. Also, the other attractions are easily connected to the city,” he said.
“With Leela, Taj and ITC coming here, and so many developments happening within the city like the opening of Statue of Unity in the last year and the upcoming visit of Donald Trump to the city, all this shows that the hospitality industry in Ahmedabad will only keep growing in the years to come,” noted Goel.
Sinha felt that though there is a significant increase in international hotel brands, there is a fair share of business for all the homegrown as well as local players. “Every brand plays an important role in the location. Demand varies from patron to patron, as some might prefer staying in homegrown/ local hotels, hence ensuring a fair share of the pie for everybody.”
Tiwari pointed out that the city is attracting a lot of investments. “In 2011, the city saw 1348 room nights, whereas today we are sitting at 3348 room nights. That showcases the increasing potential of Ahmedabad as a destination.” It is not just Ahmedabad, but the adjoining cities too that are seeing growth, highlighted Rathore. “Vadodara, Rajkot and other cities are also picking up with many hotel brands there. investors are coming from all over to invest in these cities,” he added.
Ahmedabad is not just popular as a business destination but also attracts a lot of the leisure traveller segment, Singh voiced. “The leisure traveller market in the city has grown up to 30-35 per cent. We do get travellers coming to explore the city and its attractions. Ahmedabad is a stopover destination for both international and domestic clients. Also, Ahmedabad attracts domestic travellers from down south to patrons from the east and extreme north too,” he added.
The panelists unanimously agreed that 2019 was sluggish for them. However, , they were positive about the future timeline.
The partners for the event were Elanpro and Oriqa.