Shoba Mohan, Founder RARE India, pens her views on how dexterous small hotels will revive faster from COVID-19 crisis
The most important part of small hotels is the regular cash flow, especially during the season, which ensures that in the low and offpeak months the operations run smoothly, including paying the staff that mostly comprise of people from the local communities
There is a certain pride, joy and beauty in being a boutique hotel, almost like an artist and his chef-d'oeuvre, his masterpiece. The COVID19 life disruption has given the entire community of RARE Hotels, and indeed many others who have created a ‘meaningful’ space to experience and travel, a moment in time to stand back and away, to look at what they have created. To assess the ‘why’ of their business of boutique hospitality and in the answers they come up with, their response to the disruption and in the vision forward is hidden a blueprint, not just for their businesses but also some answers to the future evolution of travel. Suddenly, there is relevance to what we have been quoting, promoting and advocating all these years.
Without doubt, the disruption meant a swift loss of business for some, depending on their geography, for the last two to three months of their season, and some before their season even began. For others, their prime season may never happen. The immediate concern was to ensure the safety of guests, to call out in case of any suspected cases and, in the face of an eventual lockdown, to ensure that they are safely sent back to the nearest international airport so that they can travel back to their home countries or cities.
PHOTOGRAPH: STOK PALACE HOTEL, LADAKH
Post that, one of the biggest challenges was to derive a fair reworking of the cancellation policies so that unused and cancelled room nights can be refunded, but not before a request for #postponedontcancel. The most important part of small hotels is the regular cash flow, especially during the season, which ensures that in the low and offpeak months the operations run smoothly, including paying the staff that mostly comprise of people from the local communities.
The nature of the disruption ensured that refund demands couldn’t be ignored, even if they fell within the policy timeframe. It was a plea, and that over 60% of travellers agreed to leave the money with the hotel to rebook or return to complete their journey is a great case in point.
PHOTOGRAPH: STOK PALACE HOTEL, LADAKH
There are several reasons why small hotels will and can be a potential blueprint for post- COVID19 tourism models. The smallness in terms of keys and distribution ensures that they are dexterous enough to change, and at a short notice. Many of the RARE hotels and other owner-run projects have a very healthy land-to-key ratio, which is sustainable and gentler on the environment by being energy and resource-efficient.
Boutique, off-the-beaten-track hotels provide work opportunities for the local population, which in the developing coronavirus scenario, made for quicker closures so that the staff could be sent home to cut
on operation costs, without impacting their incomes adversely.
Revival in a post-COVID19 world
Revival will also be quicker. It is simpler to assemble local teams to come back to work at the first sign of recovery. Some of the stories stories that have come to light from the community of boutique ‘conscious luxury hotels’ is how they have prepared for exigencies, and how they can last out at least for a season.
PHOTOGRAPH: GLENBURN TEA ESTATE, DARJEELING
There is also a personal commitment to the project and the people who are dependent on the hotel for their livelihood. It is clear that the situation will bounce back when lockdowns are released and some semblance of normalcy is restored. This has to be accompanied by a build-up of confidence in travel, leisure travel especially, which is always a ‘happy time activity’. Many trends are going to be reversed, but the one that may be seen as a valuable insight in a world ravaged by coronavirus: many would look at travelling to secluded destinations, to avoid crowded destinations.
They will look out for meaning in travel as the next luxury experience, as they explore destinations and hotels differently. Not always from a price-point but as a place that is accessible, stress-free and contributes to their wellbeing, helps in transformations and provides value, both personally and for the destination one is headed to. I must mention the unsung heroes during the COVID disruption, the travel agents, who have offered quick action and valuable advice. I hope this also signals the return of the ‘travel designer’, both with the hotels and travellers—your friendly agent, who can make travel a celebration of your time and the destination.