During lockdown we have witnessed various webinars and other virtual discussions in which various profiles of the industry were discussing the new normal, what do you think the ‘New Normal’ should be like?
Himmat Anand: To be honest, I somehow do not believe in this phrase “new normal”. We have been through various crises in the past, though not of this magnitude. Did they really create anything which we called the “new normal”? No. Because if we want to live in the present, the present must become normal. Hence, while I agree there will be some changes from how we lived our lives and ran our businesses in the past, most of them will be temporary and very few will be permanent. What did 9/11 finally leave the hospitality industry with – security of the vehicle at the gate of the hotel and a metal scanner before you enter the lobby and the enhanced use of CCTV cameras. Other than this, really nothing else. Similarly, Corona will leave behind a few permanent hygiene safety issues and the rest will fade away. What these will be, we will only know to say after two years.
Do you think the hospitality industry always left ignored because of a lack of unity within the industry?
Himmat Anand: No, I do not think it is because of the lack of unity within the industry.This is a double-edged sword. On the one side is the Government’s apathy towards us and on the other is our inability as an industry, to drive home our point with the Government. I personally believe that the Government does not see our industry as a genuine beneficiary for assistance and help, unlike say manufacturing and MSMEs. They see in us a suited-booted community, which spends its life in comfortable, air-conditioned comfort; which travels Business Class to exotic international destinations; participates in the top tourism marts and when disaster strikes, we say we are ruined! I do believe that while FAITH is our umbrella Association and has made the necessary efforts, the end result is zero. For me, it is never the effort but the result which counts. We have so many Associations and I know that most members will now question their role and deliverables. They must take responsibility for this too.
What steps associations should take to put all the requirements and demands in front of the authority to seek aid?
Himmat Anand: To start with, I think we have to get more firm and outspoken with those in authority. We have been too gentle and too accommodating with them in the last two decades and a point has come where patience has run out. For how long can we keep putting up the same 10% GDP / 10% employment to them? For how long can we keep requesting for the same matters year after year after year? Yes, I am aware that the Government cannot concede to all our requests. But let us say at least the top three. Maybe our umbrella Association FAITH should now just take three key points to the Government and just keep talking only about those and nothing else. Let us make a start somewhere rather than have such a long wish list which also puts the Government on the defensive.
‘Tree of Life Resorts’ is well known for its luxury boutique experiences and the calm locations away from the crowd, how are you strategizing your comeback?
Himmat Anand: We have decided to reopen on June 19th. Corona is here to stay and rather than fight it, we should learn to live with it peacefully. Let us now quickly spread positivity, hope and feel good. It will take at least four weeks for some business to start coming in from the time we open our doors – business will not happen overnight. My reading is that borders will open by end May or first week June. I need two weeks from then to put in hygiene and safety checks and controls at the Tree of Life Resorts. We already have skeleton staff at all our properties, who are doing day to day cleaning and maintenance. Our properties are between 11 to 18 rooms and are within five odd hours driving time from source markets. Domestic driving holidays will be the first to kick off. So yes, I want Tree of Life Resorts to be that early bird which catches the worm. If lockdown rules gets extended, we will alter plans accordingly.
As a Hotelier, what have been your learnings from this crisis?
Himmat Anand: Each ‘ crisis’ comes with its own learnings. These learnings take their different shapes – one type for the few months when the crisis happens, then phase two when the wait and watch period happens and then the last phase of learnings when the crisis fades away. It is hence premature to put in detail all that one will learn because some learnings still have to happen.
Every crisis has its pros and cons, for a situation like this, what would the pros be, and what are cons.
Himmat Anand: No crisis has hit us as badly as Corona has. So yes, it has hit cash flows, it has hit staff morale, earnings and jobs and it is actually threatening the survival of many establishments. On the cons side, it has made us more agile; we have been able to create business opportunities which we did not consider before; made the entire operations more health-conscious and safe; streamlined our resorts and reached out to a larger source base for our business.
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