Postpone, don’t cancel: how to save the boutique hotel

You are at home, into the 18th day of lockdown, looking at a future devoid of getaway plans. Meanwhile, your favourite resort has called to let you know that your booking has been rescheduled and that you can either cancel or let them keep the advance for later.

As it turns out, the latter is one of the ways that you, the guest, can help a brand to stay afloat during these troubling times. The tourist season differs across the country. The hill stations in the East, North, West and South have a great run in the summer, with the beach resorts picking up at the fag end (and when the Southwest monsoon sets in). While the future is unclear, there’s an immediate crisis for smaller resorts that don’t have huge cash reserves to dip into to support their eco-system: drivers, guides, cooks, cleaning staff. Most have disbursed salaries for March, but April is going to be a long haul.

  • More road trips?: People may prefer to go local, when travel does come back on our agenda. And many small resorts believe driving holidays could pick up. “In such times, people will want to look at vacation options closer home and Karnataka has enough options, what with our beautiful coastline,” says Krishnan.
  • Mind the curator: Deepa Subramanian of Chennai’s Shakti Holidays, is known for her curated trips. “This time, everyone has taken a hit. So when it comes to advances, I’d not want to deprive my client, but I also have to consider the artisans and guides in the hinterland. The hope is that I can get everyone to agree to reschedule.”
  • Seven-month advantage: Hardip Paul, of Casa Da Praia, a B&B in Goa, isn’t too crushed. “We are normally booked years in advance. Though I’ve lost a few weeks this season, about 70% of my bookings for the next year are in place. My situation is different because I open only for seven months.”

How are resorts coping?

From running a full house at the beginning of the season to sliding to zero income, properties across the country have taken a huge hit. “We are in the same position as those stranded in the desert with just a bottle of water,” says Jose Dominic, co-founder and former CEO of Kerala-based CGH Earth. “Sharing is the only way we can tide over this and survive. We’ve paid our March salaries, and in the hospitality industry salaries form 1/5th of our outlay. Going forward, we’ll ensure every employee has food on the table and can sustain his/her family. This is a global phenomenon, so we all are in this together.”

Make an advance payment

If you’ve already paid for a holiday, request to defer it (unless you’re badly off too and need a refund). At The Ibnii Coorg, a deferred credit note has been given to guests. “We are looking at offering guests an advance booking window of six months that they can use [to book at prevailing rates] for future use,” says Shreya Krishnan, CSR and Marketing Advisor. At present, the staff are drying turmeric and making paper bags and our home-made fig-based face packs and scrubs. Ibnii also has the advantage of being “a three-six-hour driving distance” from cities such as Mysuru, Bengaluru and Mangaluru.

Postpone, don’t cancel: how to save the boutique hotel

SerendipityO runs three resorts in the Nilgiris, including 180 McIver Villa, where much of the Karan Johar-produced film, Kapoor & Sons, was shot. Owner Ambareen Junaid says that most of their guests are regulars. “They’ve been kind and told us to keep the advance because they will return sometime,” she says, adding, “Resorts can’t be abandoned. Someone has to stay back to oversee things. We cannot cut our staff; we are mutually dependant. For those who pre-book, we are looking at showing them our thanks in the form of giftables like high-grade tea and coffee or homemade jams.”

Shift in guest profile

Dominic of CGH Earth, which manages close to 20 resorts, knows first-hand the impact of the lockdown. The tourist who jumped quarantine at a Munnar resort and boarded an Emirates flight to Dubai from Kochi had initially stayed at a CGH property. “We sanitised the premises and our staff was quarantined. We took care of them,” he says.

Travellers to the rescue
  • Pre-book a holiday
  • Agree to fund the livelihood of an employee
  • Buy from the curio shops attached to small resorts; they are usually made in-house or locally
  • Support a local enterprise in and around the resort, such as bamboo weaving or mat making

In fact, resorts in Kerala faced the initial brunt, as the State was an early actor and clamped down on foreign tourist arrivals. The CHG Earth Group handles about 300 rooms on an average, across its properties in Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. In some resorts, more than 60% of its bookings are by foreigners. “Our Marari Beach Resort is one such. It is almost like an alumni meet every year, with so many guests returning. But we will have to rethink our strategy whenever we open for business again. Of course, there will be fantastic deals offered. And we expect a paradigm shift in the way people see travel — I expect a lot more Indian guests than before.”

Postpone, don’t cancel: how to save the boutique hotel

What the future holds

Helene Menezes of The Secret Garden, a quirky three-room ancestral homestay in Saligao, Goa, says she has not returned deposits, but has made them all redeemable for future use. She receives a mix of Indian and foreign tourists. Will deals be part of their future packages? “I don’t see the benefit of slashing rates; our standards, including our staff, would inevitably suffer. It would not attract like-minded clientele who are in tune with our philosophy. However, offers for long-stays or midweek stays will definitely be on offer once things return to normal.”

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Printable version | Jul 30, 2021 3:14:42 AM |

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