The pandemic has seriously impacted almost all industries around the world. And one of the most badly affected is the hospitality industry with hotels, inns, lodges, and thousands of such facilities struggling to stay afloat and are finding it difficult even to keep their establishments functioning with little or no revenue with bans on flights and many parts of the world still under partial or full lockdown. Vaccinations that are going on bits and pieces in some nations seem to be the only hope. The bubble flights are mainly carrying people desperate to reach their home destinations or meeting up for emergency needs etc.
The vicinity of the Kempegowda bus station and the Bengaluru City railway station is peppered with hotels. Cottonpet main road, just 2 minutes from the City railway station, has been lined with lodging establishments ever since travellers first started arriving in this city. With humble room tariffs going as low as Rs. 350 a night for a single bedroom, many such lodges offer rooms to travellers from all walks of life.
The locality, which offers a colourful plethora of people, travellers and locals alike, is a mixing pot of all ethnicities and income brackets drawn by the allure of life in Bengaluru. Cottonpet's main road is for many a traveller the first glimpse of a better life, despite the dust and milling crowds. These hotels and lodges provide jobs and a livelihood for many migrants as well as locals, from low-paid workers to educated managers.
The hospitality industry has been the worst hit during the pandemic, as travel had been suspended for many months during the first wave of Covid-19, which led to layoffs across the industry. Even when the travel curbs were lifted, these establishments saw sparse footfall as people were wary of travel.
Mr Jayaprakash, Director of Operations, UG Group of Hotels says “Although the travel restrictions were eased after the first lockdown, we saw minimal occupancy of rooms as people who would usually stay for one night preferred to travel back the same night considering the risk that might be there if they stay back and mingle with strangers, etc.”
“All the hotels follow sanitisation protocols but what good are the sanitised rooms if there are no occupants for the same, we are incurring additional costs of sanitisation and following of covid protocol but no income. All our employees have been with us for over a decade. We can't randomly fire them, they are still on our payroll,” he added.
Mr Jayaprakash adds, “We have loans to pay and no moratorium insight as well. We have to pay ESI and PF for our staff too. The government has not announced any relief package and is not concerned about the many workers in the travel and hotel industry.” The Employee Provident Fund (EPF) scheme makes it mandatory for all establishments employing 20 people or more to register all employees for the scheme.
Covid-19 restricts the very idea of people moving and gathering which is the very essence of the hotel and travel industry. It is dependent on group travel as much as individual travellers and businessmen.
People have adopted the online mechanism of a meeting which has cut off the income to be made from conferences and functions.
“We as an industry have contributed immensely to the economy but we have not been considered by the government for relief packages,” Mr. Jayaprakash adds.
Hoteliers have patiently been waiting for better days but the surge in Covid-19 cases is literally drowning their industry. They hope this will end soon and they can begin to rebuild their industry, estimated to take about five years to get back to the pre-pandemic level.