‘This is war’

 ‘This is war’

Pradipta N Biswas, General Manager, The Grand says Covid-19 has wiped out a major chunk of hospitality business globally and there is no clear horizon on when things will reboot

The pandemic hit the industries in ways that have been unprecedented and unexpected. Being a hotelier, I have been exposed to unusual circumstances – but this is war. It hit the hotel industry in every area possible. Travel cancelled, F&B took a hit, banquet down and with no clear horizon on when things will reboot.
In my career spanning 25 years, in hospitality, nothing prepared me for something of this magnitude. I’ve lived through Swine Flu, SARS, 26/11 and the economic crash of 2008. But this – it has wiped out a major chunk of hospitality business in the global scenario.
Of course, we have to be patient and brace ourselves for a long and prolonged haul which is fraught with uncertainties. What faces us are the repercussions- massive job loss tied up with the loss of business and revenue.

The way that business operates will essentially change. Non-existent international business travel, socialising will take a hit for sure, we see a world more insular. People uncertain of what lies ahead, may be scared and may want to stay in the confines of their homes. What follows naturally is that how we look at business may change for good.
We as a hotel, are living for the day and micro-planning ahead but what may happen tomorrow stays uncertain, most unfortunately. Uncertainty is the new reality. Till there is a breakthrough in the medical and health sector, a vaccine for the cure, the chances of recovery are bleak. A cure ensures that both Humanity and then economy will survive.

How are we coping?
There is no set formula but we are focussing on the things that are in our control and the things that we can do and the things that we have control over. We have set up stringent heath checks as per WHO guidelines for our colleagues and guests. For the colleagues who have lent their support we have developed activities that will keep them motivated, and healthy and boost their immunity. From our end we are focussing on a positive speech – an approach that looks forward and beyond the dark times. Ensuring that food and supplies have been provided for our guests and colleagues, the families have been reached out too – and the closest to normal that they would have known. It is all new and a massive rehaul, but we are in it to win it.

How will we function differently when business starts getting back to normal?
There are two aspects to this – the economic and the operations aspect. In terms of revenue, new avenues will have to be created and somewhere I have a strong  feeling that social media and digital marketing will play a big role in generating revenue. The face of the client along with the needs are bound to change. So, the teams that have run sales will look and function differently.
With a lot of business being transferred online – online and internet services will be huge. So where webinars and meeting rooms were a small part of the hotels, they may be used very differently now. The management will go under an overhaul to cope with the change.
People need to be prepared that when business starts there will be a new normal. A world that will be run on social distancing. Where people have been encouraged to work together – the incentives is to be working from afar and creating and maximising opportunities from afar.
Obviously – tolerance will run low and fear will run high. This is the run up till the vaccine/cure – but even so – the memory of what happened is bound to alter any movement and exchange.

What are the learnings discovered during this time?
It has been a powerful learning in so many ways. It seems like a scene from a science fiction surreal film. For a hotel, touch is the key. It is everywhere. From the basics at housekeeping, assisting with luggage, flowers, clearance, the art that is left for guests as a part of their welcome – the handing of welcome drinks, not to mention the front office.
It is not even about switching to a electronic assist pad – it is how to create a warm experience because that is what we do. Thousands of miles away from home whenever a guest checks in, they need to feel unique. Here the biggest learning comes handy. I had heard change is the true constant, but to live it is another thing. There is no time to mourn a loss when the birth is underway!
Everything that you built and learnt in your career is wiped out in few days, massive unlearning – rapid is enrooted, 25 years of career is a sweet memory. And that is where it stays. Reinvention is the key, yourself, your entire thought process and your actions. Naturally, your whole idea how hospitality operates will change for good, by eliminating touch from the entire process. Gloves and masks are in, and handing bouquets are out. Guests will carry their own luggage, and perhaps even place luggage in quarantine – a new facility to be considered. When smoking was taboo, the list is growing longer.
Elevators. That lifeline in hotels, back and front areas, the sanitation of buttons, door handles, with invisible masked men and women cleaning furiously all touch points in the room.

Very soon, the hotel will resemble a scene from Isaac Aimov’s book and although the move to a clinical and sanitised living is cutting through, this period has taught me to value myself and my family more. In terms of what we have, perhaps the last generation who knew and lived the glamorous touch life. Strangely this time has made me value human life much more than when I was actively participating. The latent concern for guests has been deep rooted – has surfaced thus making the new way plausible. 
The whole ethos of uncertainty has made me realise the power of the omnipotent and to remember to surrender completely to the force.


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