hen the Covid-19 induced lockdown was announced, we were plunged into a period of uncertainty. One of the fundamental pre-requisites for any business to operate and flourish is to have a reasonable amount of visibility into the future and to have some amount of control over its actions so that favorable outcomes can be achieved. Covid-19 was a challenge like no others. In March 2020, we had no idea how long the lockdown would last. Once the lockdown ended in May 2020, hotels were not allowed to operate. It was only in late August that hotels were permitted to operate with severe restrictions. Restaurants were closed until October for dine-in. Restrictions on banquets continue even to this day.
The hospitality industry is capital intensive. Promoters invest enormous sums to build properties. Further, fixed costs such as staff salaries, bank EMIs, lease rent on the property account for almost 60% of a hotel’s expenses, due to which the breakeven point is rather high. Just to meet operating costs, a hotel such as ours needs 50% occupancy. A complete halt in the cash flows makes it impossible to meet financial obligations beyond a month.
As the lockdown began and the pandemic continued to spread across the state, we wanted to offer all possible assistance. Pramod Convention and Club Resort, Cuttack partnered with Cuttack Municipal Corporation and offered our property as an institutional quarantine center for non-resident Odiyas returning to the state. Soon after that we partnered with Ashwini Covid Hospital and became a quarantine center for doctors treating Covid-19 cases in Cuttack. It was a proud moment for all of us to play a small, yet significant role in combating the disease. Our staff and associates stepped forward and took turns in ensuring availability of services to Covid warriors. To ensure seamless services, our staff were divided into three teams – one in service at the hotel, second in isolation and the third ready to serve. Thanks to the relentless and dedicated efforts of the staff – we were able to provide services to doctors without any cases of infections at the hotel.
The pandemic brought culinary innovations at Pramod. Lots of our customers were not ordering food online due to hygiene concerns. The guests who ordered home delivery would often be disappointed as the food would reach cold and lose the restaurant grade taste. To address both these concerns, we launched a new service called FreshBox – in which a selection of our most sought after items would be packed and delivered to guests in a hygienic and easy to cook format. Customers could order a FreshBox, fry the contents and enjoy safe and delicious food without leaving the safety and comfort of their homes. The concept became an instant hit and was a great way for us to connect with our customers during the lockdown.
Finally, the pandemic has permanently changed our approach to services. In order to meet service demands while meeting Covid restrictions, our staff have become multi-skilled across departments. It is no longer possible for hotels to have specialists in each and every role due to the uncertainties brought by Covid-19. The pandemic has also provided an opportunity to identify more efficient practices, cost effective sourcing while having the highest focus on customer and staff safety. In the days forward, we expect demand to reach pre-Covid levels. The introduction of vaccines has given the much-needed confidence to customer sentiments. With that, we expect more customers to dine out, travel for work and leisure, host banquets for social events. 2020 was a tough year for all of us. In 2021, we believe that the best is yet to come.
Durga Prasad Rath is the Managing Director of Odisha Ford and Pramod Hotels and Resorts.