This is a special weekend for Chirag, who works at a leading star hotel in Chennai. Since March, he has been at home, helping his parents with some household work and also assisting his father in the family business. After waiting for several months, he has been called back along with his colleagues to work. It is going to be a new life all over again. “After having had a very hectic schedule at work, which is typical of the hospitality sector, these few months were just the opposite for us. I am excited to go back,” he says.
For many months of the lockdown, hotels were only used as quarantine centres. But after the opening up of hotels in the state, things are looking up for the hospitality sector, despite the corporates not having warmed up to full-fledged travels yet. Zubin Songadwala, area manager south, ITC Hotels and general manager, ITC Grand Chola, has been observing the trend of groups of friends and families wanting to spend quality time at the hotels in the last few weeks. “Cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad opened up before Chennai and it is very clear that people want a change of scenery. This has been particularly true of the demand for hotel facilities in places like Mussoorie, where people have driven down from Delhi. But what is interesting is that we have been seeing several people from Chennai wanting to spend time at hotels within the city and the demand has peaked over the weekends in all the cities.”
I will look at more open places with less people. I will also look at its proximity to the city and if I can drive in my own car or if I trust them enough to take their car
A desire for change is definitely the key component of this trend. Travel writer Anubhuti Krishna has been following the trend and feels one chooses a staycation for the experiences at the property. “I will see if they are any different from what I can get at home or in my city. In the current scenario, my safety and the property’s safety processes take precedence over everything else. I will look at more open places with less people. I will also look at its proximity to the city and if I can drive in my own car or if I trust them enough to take their car,” she says.
But social distancing norms mean that hotels cannot run at 100 per cent capacity and the maximum occupancy can be around 50-60 per cent. “One cannot have full bookings at any given point of time as the rooms need to be given 48 hours turnover time after a customer vacates it,” says Anand Nair, general manager, InterContinental Chennai Mahabalipuram Resort, who elaborates further on a few market trends. “The market is polarised in some sense. On one hand you have those seeking the budget packages. They come over on weekdays and might have a major meal at the hotel and enjoy a dinner by the beach. The premium segment is willing to stay the entire weekend. Interestingly, before covid, people stayed for an average of one-and-a-half days but now, two days has become the average duration of stay. Then there is a third segment of customers whereby they come in the evening for an occasion dinner and leave post that,” he says.
In order to ensure space and distance, hotels are also organising dinners outside the traditional spaces. “We are laying out the dinner in a private area by the pool or terrace just for a given set of customers. Also, many are also coming on weekdays and working from of the hotel space. These are new opportunities that have come with the present situation,” says Zubin.
The boredom and lethargy of lockdown is finally being addressed with staycations. As Anubhuti puts it, that fact that the best hotels have slashed their rates and have made their processes very transparent has been encouraging. “Having said that, the tendency is to escape to a place that you have been to before and a place that you trust. Most people are choosing staycations also as working holiday kind of model where they are renting homestays suits and are staying longer to work from there. This trend is going to not only stay but also grow by leaps and bounds,” she says.
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