What are the challenges as we ease out of lockdown?
We cannot stay locked down for a long period of time in a poor country. Lockdown in India is worse than making people go out---because you have people staying two to a room, four to a room—it makes no sense. We are not like the west, where everyone has a room. We need to cope and develop an ability to move on. We need to have a mature understanding on how to handle things and a greater ability to handle things when they go out of grid.
The hotel industry has been one of the worst affected. What is your best-case and worst-case scenario?
I am operating 20 out of my 83 hotels in India. Some are running commercially, a few have long-stay guests. Some [hotels] are housing doctors, some are providing testing facilities for the government. They are operating, though on low occupancies.
Do you think business will be back to normal by Diwali?
I would say 50 per cent. Typically, we do 80 to 90 per cent during that time. It won’t be normal, but it will even out to be the new normal.
With international travel likely to be subdued, will the domestic traveller make up for the deficit?
The domestic traveller will keep the business afloat. Both business and leisure.
China has reported an upsurge in tourism once lockdown was lifted. Will we see an upsurge here as well?
China is already doing 50 per cent occupancy today. [But] I don’t think we are going to get back to normal for a year or two. [Maybe] semblance of normalcy.
Like your group converted some hotels into Covid-19 facilities, are there any other innovations you think you could look at?
People are not going to come to the restaurants, so we are doing more deliveries. What we could do is engage guests, ask what they want and tailor their stay accordingly. Also, demonstrate to them what we are doing about hygiene and sanitation as those will be real worries. We have videos ready on what we are doing behind-the-scenes. But can I convert my hotel into something else? Honestly, I am not looking at it right now. I want to just get my hotels up and running again, and see how best I can take care of people and preserve as many jobs as possible.
What do you think the government can do for the sector?
[We need] a loan waiver for a year. No principal and no interest. That is our sole request to the government.