Exclusive Interview with Manav Thadani, Founder & Chairman of Hotelivate

In a candid interview with Hotelier India, he talks about how they are leveraging the virtual platform for their much-looked-forward to HOSI event and why HICSA will be an on-ground conference

Manav Thadani, Founder & Chairman of Hotelivate, Impact of COVID-19 on Hotelivate, HOSI event, HICSA–Live

How have the pandemic-led shutdowns current situation affected the hotel industry?

The current situation is extremely unfortunate. We have gone from being very optimistic (in January of what seemed like a wonderful 2020) to an incalculable disaster that seems to have no proper end in sight. This is a situation of survival of the fittest.

You seem overly pessimistic about the hotel industry?

The answer to this is a yes and a no. Yes, because some hotels/companies may not make it to the other side. The debt burden will simply not allow them to survive, and while we have seen things come to an operational head, the same is yet to happen on the financial end.

The six-month bank moratoriums were helpful to an extent, but with no additional government financial aid, some hotel owners may not be able to restructure their loans. That may mean the end of the road for some of them in the short term. I feel bad because other countries in the region have realized that tourism is one of the worst affected and have taken various steps to directly help hotel owners, employees and also generated demand to encourage domestic travel.

No, because I believe every crisis helps us to learn a few things. Some hotel brands and operators are realising that they can be a lot more efficient. Those hotel companies that will get this right will be able to control costs a lot better and drive better profitability to their owners —which, in turn, will encourage more hotels owners to come up.

Which are the hotel brands that are doing a particularly good job at surviving, then?

I think some brands are doing a better job and others will ultimately play catch up. It would not be diplomatically correct for me to highlight any particular brand.
Fortunately, I am not on any of our hotel conferences or the Manav Thadani Hot Seat, where I need to answer every question.

Do you think the government could have done a better job?

I believe governments around the world could have done a better job. Some countries are certainly doing a better job than others. I am of the firm opinion that it is not just COVID-induced losses that are finally going to get us down; it will be fear.

Look at India—different state governments are implementing their own rules of exiting the lockdown. Frankly, it all appears to be dependent on the whims and fancy of the political class rather than hard facts and scientific reasons. One state allows bars, another bans them. Some even allow spas but no alcohol. Some have quarantine rules and others state there is no need for quarantine. To an outsider, we may seem like a banana republic in the way we are exiting COVID-induced lockdowns across the country.

So, is there any state that is doing a better job than others?

I think you are determined to get me into the hot seat. We want to compliment the Rajasthan government. They have opened up their hotels and state with minimal restrictions and no quarantine. You don’t need a pass to enter Rajasthan, you can get alcohol served, and they are trying to get more people to attend MICE functions. 

Their proactive attitude is encouraging and tourists are willing to drive from Delhi, Gujarat and Mumbai into the state. Other states with tourism potential and proximity to Delhi, such as Himachal and Uttarakhand, have placed so many restrictions that it is extremely difficult to travel to them. One hopes that these decisions will shortly be reversed. The most recent guidelines by the central government that local states will not be able to implement their guidelines will help in the opening up of domestic tourism in India.

How has COVID impacted Hotelivate?

The first few weeks after the initial lockdown saw a complete lull. Since then, our executive search business has continued to do well. Some companies continue to hire and re-jig their senior leadership.

We were also fortunate to pick up two to large assignments in wellness and strategy. In the last 10 days, we have begun picking up many assignments for valuations that are required for the restructuring of loans and such. An important and interesting fact is that we have not seen too much slowdown in feasibilities for new hotel projects either. 

We may have only done one feasibility study in the past five months as travel was restricted, but we are currently sitting on four studies that we will start as soon as my team is comfortable travelling to those destinations. Businesses that were most affected were revenue management and asset management as hotels assets were shut for many months and we see them slowly coming back.

Currently, my attention is towards hosting a mostly virtual HOSI on September 11 and then a live in-person HICSA early next year.

Tell us about HOSI?

HOSI is our operational event and we are hosting our eighth edition. This is our first largely virtual event. We are most excited as we are using state-of-the-art technology. So, this is not a Zoom or Microsoft Teams call. We are using a conference platform called Hopin. We have changed the program to include more international speakers. We have many of the business leaders, some key-note speakers from outside the hotel industry, and then speakers covering F&B, entrepreneurship, sustainability, artificial intelligence and technology, amongst others. We have managed to host the Makemytrip GM of the Year Award and interestingly, this year, we had a record number of nominations from across hotel brands.

We had decided early on that the conference, while mostly virtual, will not be a free event. We were spending on technology and decided to charge a very small entry fee for the event. I am pleased to say that we have managed to cross 2000 in ticket sales. It confirms our belief that the audience does not always want everything for free and customers will pay for good quality products and services.

Can you give us a few details about HICSA–Live?

Since Hotelier India is one of our oldest supporters of HICSA, we are happy to announce on your exclusive platform that HICSA will be an in-person live event on February 24-25, 2021. The conference will be shifted to Delhi from Mumbai and will be held at Hyatt Andaz. 

While we realise that the current government regulations that we cannot get more than 100 to attend, we do believe that this will further be relaxed, and we will be able to attract 300-350 people to the venue. We plan to potentially give some additional delegates an opportunity of attending some part of the event virtually. HICSA has traditionally been India’s premier investment conference for hotel owners and we attract a lot of global attention.

We will ensure exclusivity by keeping the numbers restricted to the live on-ground event and are grateful to all our supporters. However, COVID has created some new opportunities. If our success at holding HOSI virtually is successful, then some portions of HICSA will be made available virtually to a limited number of attendees, particularly our international delegates who may not be able to travel to India.

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