Uncertain Times Call for More Meaningful Exchanges within Industry and with Diverse Stakeholders

In a brief interview, Neeraj Govil, head of Marriot Hotels in India, says business sentiment has picked up significantly since May this year. Is this long haul? One cannot say, he emphasizes, but believes there is cautious optimism all around, not just in tourism but across the economy.

Courtyard by Marriott, Nashik opened its doors last week

“These are uncertain times, and there is plenty of speculation. What is noteworthy is that there is recovery. We have moved a long way forward from our May 2020 situation when we were at ground zero with zero business on hand, “said Neeraj Govil, head of Marriott Hotels in India, in an exclusive conversation with Destination India.

He cited 30% aggregated occupancies across their portfolio in October, and mid-30s in November with combined November-December figures at around 40%. Resort business has picked up well, but the same is not true equally of metro hotels. Bengaluru is soft, and so are Hyderabad and Pune. Business travel has not picked up, and while related businesses such as weddings and social events are seeing traction, the sentiment is one of cautious optimism keeping in mind the restrictions on get-togethers across the country. In Mumbai, their properties are however doing upwards of 40% as demand is more locally driven.

Is this proving to be long haul? Too difficult to say, he says. Demand is on the upswing, though and we are seeing month on month improvements. From July onwards there has been a sustained recovery in the business, which looks like holding on. He expects the occupancies in Q1 of next year to grow beyond 40% across the Marriott India portfolio.

What impact has the virus had on the chain’s plans? Did we see any choking of the pipeline? Yes, naturally, he says, with hotels getting pushed back in time. With supply chains impacted, labour not being available, demand coming down to a trickle, this was bound to be the case. But even then, the month of November saw two hotels opening their doors to welcome customers – a Courtyard by Marriott in Nashik, followed by one in Ahmedabad. There are about a dozen hotels lined up for a 2021 opening. These would include hotels in Goa – Westin Anjuna, Fairfield in Calangute and Fairfield in Benaulim. Courtyard by Marriott in Navi Mumbai; Trivandrum and Mahabaleshwar and hotels in Agra, Dehradun and Lucknow, among others.

How does he see 2021 looking for the industry? He believes there is need for the industry to get together to ideate more intensely and also to evolve meaningful ROI driven exchanges. Business growth will be critical for the coming year.

“We also need more interventions for policy outcomes, as we need to engage with policy planners both at the centre and in the states. Covid 19 has stressed the importance of a more vigorous collective outreach for travel and tourism as an economic activity for our country,” he said.

For most of 2020, we have been talking of the learnings from the pandemic, for our corporate entities, for the industry and also for ourselves, as individuals. How does he see 2021 evolve considering the various learnings we have had?

“At the cost of being repetitive it is clear that this passing year has had huge impact on our lives, both personally and professionally. My big worry is that we should not let these learnings slip away once we get back to normal. The silverlinings must be here to stay, as the new normal for the industry,” he said.

“Engaging with diverse stakeholders has become the new normal, no more looking upon your own business in isolation. We understand the connect better, as we are integral to each other. A new eco-system has evolved, wherein we have to continuously strike the win-win nerve in the business. I also feel that some of the new business streams created would be here to stay. Effective Cost Management has assumed a new definition and significance”, he said.

Asked to sum up, more like a year ending message for his colleagues, Neeraj said 2020 is coming to an end, and will soon be behind us in a few weeks. He is very hopeful and confident that that solutions are emerging, and once we are over this pandemic, there will be no looking back. The Travel and Tourism industry is resilient and will thrive in the coming years!

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