A surge in tourism business before the 2nd wave saw stakeholders in Punjab rejoice. But, the state still has a long way to go.
In Punjab, while the second wave saw business dropping for most hotels and tour operators, things were not that bad before March, especially in the domestic sector. Rupjeet Saggar, Owner, Sagger World Holidays (Ludhiana), agrees, but adds that business was nominal as people were getting better rates directly. The same thought is echoed by Kuldip Sondhi, Partner, Sondhi Travels (Jalandhar). “Domestic hotels are giving better or similar discounts to customers directly, leaving us with zero or thin margins,” says Sondhi.
Explaining this further, Manmeet Singh, Chairman, IATO Punjab Chapter and ADTOI Haryana & Chandigarh Chapters, says, “Before the second wave, bookings were mainly for surrounding hill stations like Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir. Our loyal clients trust us for their holidays. However, general customers initially opted for self-drive and booking of hotels. It was only when they reached hills and found it difficult to find a good hotel because of overcrowding that some of them started calling travel professionals.”
Paramveer Singh, General Manager, Taj Swarna, Amritsar, shares, “Post the phase-wise unlocking across the country last year, green shoots of travel began to emerge driven by an increase in demand for domestic travel, with people keen to explore all that India has to offer. Further buoyed by the festive season combined with facilitation of interstate travel, leisure domestic travel saw a steady growth, and our hotel saw a significant increase in bookings.”
Narayan Tharoor, General Manager, Holiday Inn Chandigarh Zirakpur, also says that they were getting domestic bookings at the hotel before the second wave. “Chandigarh attracts a lot of transient travellers. Hence, we have seen a good demand for the hotel in the market. Zirakpur is a convenient location for a halt for pre and post-travel to the northern belt of India. Hence, we host a lot of leisure travellers at our hotel,” he shares.
Speaking on behalf of Radisson Blu Hotel MBD Ludhiana, Sonica Malhotra Kandhari, Joint Managing Director, MBD Group, says, “The roll-out of vaccination did bring back the confidence of travellers for staycations, leisure and business trips during the second wave in Punjab. It was good in terms of the road to recovery, as 50 per cent occupancy was good in the new normal during the second wave.”
Impact post second wave
The second wave of the pandemic has impacted lives and livelihoods across the country severely, says Paramveer Singh. “With many states across the nation undergoing various phases of lockdown and varying travel restrictions being implemented, business was definitely affected. We witnessed cancellations, with people wary to travel unless necessary,” he opines. Sondhi agrees. Manmeet Singh puts forth a pertinent question – “Whenever there is a lockdown or curfew, how can any business or work be possible barring groceries and medical or essential items-related business?”
Tharoor says that while business was slow for a few weeks due to the second wave, Himachal opened and they started seeing good demand in terms of rooms business, and with the relaxed guidelines even started getting enquiries for wedding and related events.
At Taj Swarna, Paramveer Singh brought in some changes. “We extended our signature services by bringing hospitality at home. We identified the changing requirements of our customers in the ‘new normal’ and relooked at our business and services to cater to the same,” he shares.
Green shoots 2.0
“After the second wave, queries for banquets and corporate bookings started flowing in. Even the restaurants could operate at 50 per cent capacity that brought the regular guests back to the hotel,” claims Kandhari.
Even Paramveer Singh accepts that the recent phase-wise unlock and ease in travel restrictions has seen domestic travel begin to resume. “The recent relaxation in government rules in the state are encouraging for travellers looking to visit the historic and beautiful city of Amritsar, and we have been getting increasing queries from guests. With many people looking to travel to drivable locations and boundaries between work & home increasingly blurring, people are looking for ways to break away from the routine while enjoying with family and loved ones in a safe manner, even if it is a short getaway. Staycations are, hence, seeing growing popularity among guests,” he says.
The same goes for Radisson Blu Hotel MBD Ludhiana. “There are a lot of queries that have been converted into confirmed bookings. The queries for rooms, social events, corporate events and business meetings are there in the market and people are showing faith in the brand for following all the new normal safety protocols,” adds Kandhari.
Holiday Inn Chandigarh Zirakpur has started receiving wedding, transient and corporate enquiries again. Tharoor shares, “We foresee that the trend will continue for the next few months before it starts getting stable and consistent over a period of time.”
Queries have also started trickling in for travel agents and tour operators, but Saggar says, “I don’t think that it is going to start significantly by next year.” He also adds that tourists are not as attracted to Punjab as they are to other states, like Goa. Kandhari explains the reason. “Being an industrial town, most of the travel is for business purposes. Business travellers prefer hotels here because of its strategic location,” she says, adding, “The state is doing its bit to promote tourism by promoting heritage locations.”
How to lure tourists
While Tharoor suggests actively promoting local attractions amongst domestic travellers to encourage more tourism in the state, Paramveer Singh recommends a vigorous vaccination drive and creating relevant awareness about it. “This, combined with flexible travel guidelines, gradual ease of travel restrictions and favourable policies, will boost the sector’s economy,” he believes.
Kandhari says, “The government can help in boosting business by reducing property taxes, electricity rates and excise fees, and by introducing one window for all compliances. The long pending demand is that the government should grant industry status to the hotel sector.”
Tharoor also hopes for continued support from the government to recover from the drastic impact on the hospitality sector, including providing one-time waivers in terms of property tax, various licences and fees. “Incentivising travellers for visiting local destinations is also expected to give a boost to the tourism sector,” he says.
Saggar adds, “If people start getting vaccinated, other countries will open doors for our country. MoCA had said that commercial flights will not resume before March 2022 except some air bubbles and special flight corridors. By that time the country should run the vaccination drive aggressively.”