Impact of COVID-19 on the hospitality industry

To comprehend the impact of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdown, Pramita Sakya Director of Sales ACE Hotels shed some light on some key pertaining issues and the future that lies ahead for tourism and hospitality sector.

Impact of COVID-19 and the lockdown on your business and how are you mitigating the current situation?

The coronavirus pandemic, which started in late December 2019, has disembarked us at unchartered territories; something we have never experienced before. Both our hotels Club Himalaya, Nagarkot & Ambassador in Kathmandu were seeing healthy and sustainable growth in 2018 & 2019. March 2020 the gross reality of the pandemic hit us hard. We saw our occupancy drop from 92% in November 2019 to 50% in February 2020, 22% in March and currently are running on single-digit occupancy. While hotels have chosen to shut down, we chose to continue to serve our long-term guests. However, the decision has been bittersweet. On one hand, closing shop makes more fiscal sense; but continuing to serve our guests is what keeps us going and gives us hope for the future.

The only thing we can vaguely compare the current turmoil in business due to Covid-19 was the height of the Maoist insurgency era where a number of big hotels had to shut down as Nepal was labelled as an “unsafe” destination due to the insurgency and we were seeing less tourist arrivals. The case today is completely different now as we are harder hit today and this is a global problem.

In terms of steps taken by us to mitigate risks, in summary, our basic aim is to survive this turmoil. First and foremost, health, hygiene and safety standards of the guests, employees and physical spaces have taken as number one priority. I do not want to go into financial risks and details of the pandemic here. All I would like to say is the organization has to survive to take care of its stakeholders. Every decision we take henceforth is keeping survival in mind.

Key areas to focus on after COVID-19

To each his own: for us, survival is the key. Secondly, health, safety, hygiene of our employees and guests is our number one priority. We have already designed new protocols for when we open full-fledged. We will make masks, gloves, sanitizers the new normal (until required). I do not want to go into what the government should do; the list is endless. We will focus on what we can do and survive these unprecedented, unplanned, & unimagined phase.

The future of tourism sector

I am an eternal optimist. I am an avid traveller. I am already dreaming of future travels.  Therefore, I personally believe that people will never stop travelling. It is but human to travel either for business or for pleasure. Therefore, there is no doubt that travel will resume slowly but surely. However, the way we travel will defer immensely at least until the vaccine arrives. Travellers will definitely look for service providers that are going above and beyond to minimize the risks of contamination. All previously, unromantic notions of travels like sanitizers, gloves, masks, air purifiers will become criteria in choosing service provider. Price and the view from our hotel room may come at the bottom of the list for some time at least. Therefore, to answer it simply the future of travel is still bright: there is adequate light at the end of the sanitized tunnel.

The above Expert Speak edition is based on the conversation with Ms. Parmita Sakya Shrestha. She is the Director of Sales at ACE Hotels.