The new normals in a world where Covid-19 unfortunately is becoming a part of our life will bring about many changes in the way businesses will be conducted, and more importantly the way we live our life.
The tourism and hospitality industry is one of the worst-hit sectors because of the pandemic. Businesses in the sector have bled for more than three months now and the way forward also doesn’t look so rosy as leisure travel will be reduced to absolutely nothing.
In this supremely challenging business environment and a cloud of complete uncertainty, the road ahead seems to be very foggy. And to demystify the uncertainties of this important sector we spoke to Ruchika Mehta, Corporate Director – Communications and PR, Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels Limited to understand their post-lockdown comeback strategies and the way forward.
How are you coping with the impact of COVID-19 on THE Park Hotels? How effectively have you used the lockdown period?
This is a challenging period for us. Hospitality is one of the most impacted industries and with the lockdown across borders and states things are only becoming tougher. The situation currently is evolving every day and we have to be agile to continuously keep changing to their environment. When the COVID-19 surfaced in China and moved toward other countries, our focus at Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels (ASPH) was immediately on the safety and hygiene of the employees as well as for our consumers. Immediately strict hygiene and safety measures were adopted as per WHO guidelines, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and local authorities. Once the hotel and the entire country was in a lockdown, we stepped up and helped the communities around.
We started a neighborhood service initiative #THEParkHeartOfHope across our hotels to support senior citizens and the less privileged, who are suffering the most due to the lack of food supplies and essential items. We delivered groceries, medicines, and food to people living within a radius of 5 km of our hotels. We also started offering ration, food and basic necessities to the neediest across the country. We reached out to more than a lakh people through this initiative.
We looked at our engagement in a way of what are consumers’ want and needs in the tough period and how we can support them. We digitally brought alive to consumers’ homes and screens immunity-boosting recipes from the best of our chefs and kitchens, and workout videos from our in-house fitness experts. We received a great response from our digital audience and garnered more than 30,000 views to our online DIY recipes and work out videos. At THE Park Hotels we rule the nightlife and entertainment business in the cities that we operate. We used this time to digitally amplify and entertain our guests who are getting bored at home, by tapping onto the country’s best musicians, music producers and DJs. This has been done in two ways:
THE Park Aqua Sunset – a mixtape series releasing every Sunday at 5 PM on MixCloud and SoundCloud. A specially curated tracklist of a music extraordinaire is introduced every week. The genres range from electronica, downtempo, chillout, house, and world music – by the finest artist collective line-up from across the country. It brings the oomph of the crazy pool parties from the signature alfresco poolside Aqua at THE Park. The first tracklist by Swarup Varma organically made it to the ‘Top 3 tracklist in India for Chillout category on MixCloud.
Someplace Else LIVE – music performances go live at 8 PM on SPE Facebook page with India’s most celebrated musicians and artists. The live sessions have recorded more than 5,00,000 views so far with 40 artists and have received rave reviews from the music revelers for this initiative. The number of followers has been rapidly increasing on the Facebook page and the viewer’s look forward to these sessions. Till now Behram Siganporia from Best Kept Secret, Salman & Zaman, Abha Hanjura, Wagah Road, Nilayan, Adil Rashid (Underground Authority), Kamran and Kolkata’s favorite Kaustav Banerjee, Khurshid (Karaoke World Champion India in 2011), Bubbles from Chicago, Astitva, Abhishek Gurung (Gingerfeet), Faridkot have performed.
As a brand, our engagement plan is currently to cater to what the consumers want. It is important to link it back to what the brand stands for. Brand personality and brand purpose need to come forward. This is the right time to not just give back to society but treat people as consumers and not your customers.
The quest for a solution to a particular crisis helps invent new business opportunities and sometimes leads to a revision of existing business models. What sort of innovation has or will the Covid-19 pandemic bring to your brand/industry/category?
We as an industry are going to face challenges in terms of relooking and revisiting how the business operates. Safety and hygiene are going to become very critical factors for operation, overruling the earlier existing norms. We at Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels have launched S.H.I.E.L.D, an all-encompassing program that brings the best of luxury, design, hygiene, safety and service excellence all under one roof. From the moment guests arrive, to the moment they leave and beyond, we want them to experience the remarkable.
As we have strongly positioned restaurants in our hotels, our guests are confident about the food quality, strict hygiene and safety with which we operate. In the current lockdown, we realized that people are craving for and missing good food. So, we built a strong foothold in the online food delivery business across cities while working with delivery partners; and created a new business revenue model.
We are looking to also launch Chefs at Home services and Bartenders at Home services because we do know that though people may not be able to come to the hotel, we can reach out to them.
We are working on few business models that are in a pilot stage and will be launched soon. Eventually, we want customers to come back to the hotel and spend their time in absolute freedom of knowing that they are being well taken care of. We do see that in in short term, domestic travel will happen faster with more road trips and close by destinations.
We are working towards giving our guests and patrons Anything But Ordinary TM experiences.
While some parts of the country have become Covid-19 free, cities like Mumbai and Delhi are still in a lockdown situation. How are you planning to resume business across cities that are not in the Red?
We have already opened hotels in Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Navi Mumbai and Vizag. Following the government guidelines, our hotels in Delhi and Mumbai are shut. We have used this time effectively to train our employees. Every team member is undergoing mandatory hygiene, safety, sanitization and social distancing protocols training through online and offline modes by training managers and domain experts.
We are absolutely prepared to welcome guests back with great safety, care and warmth.
What will be your communication strategy post the opening of the lockdown? Understandably bringing customers back to you would be difficult. What will be the objective of the communication/marketing strategy?
At Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels safety and hygiene is and will continue to be paramount factors for the guests. We continue to focus on communication on S.H.I.E.L.D, our all-encompassing program that brings the best of luxury, design, hygiene, safety and service excellence all under one roof. We firmly believe that the guest needs to have trust on the brand and any brand which will have a higher trust value will always see guests coming back faster. We are noticing the same in cities like Kolkata, Vizag, and Bangalore.We are slowly seeing guests coming back to restaurants as they have been missing the food, infact even online orders have doubled currently.
We have also launched our campaign#StaySafeTravelLocal– where we encourage people to travel locally both within the city as well as to nearby destinations. It is important that we push the domestic tourism first. We have launched exciting staycations and daycations packages and we see a lot of interest coming in for our hotels in Jammu, Goa, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Vizag, Seerampore – where the COVID-19 situation has been managed well.
How did you keep the morale of the employees during this lockdown period? On a personal note, what kept you positive?
As we have and are still adapting to the new way of life, working and interacting remotely, it is also imperative to stay connected. We have been undertaking training sessions where our team members are encouraged to upgrade their skill sets so that they learn newer things, utilize this time more effectively and efficiently, and come back with greater understanding of the nuances. We have ensured that we use technology in the best way possible and have done a total of 45 training sessions.
Internally, we have held online virtual programs like Antakshari, music sessions – which not only helps to keep the employees in high spirits, but importantly a sense of belonging in them arise. Their active participation reflects that they are happy with the steps taken for them. THE Park Connect group on Facebook is another platform where the teams and the alumni are connected. It is a closed group where an interesting exchange of ideas happen and posts on various activities and initiatives across cities are shared.
Also, if there is mental anxiety, we have created a buddy system, where each person is assigned partner to work and share their concerns. The HR departments across our hotels have a taskforce team where a person can speak to them – to keep their mental anxiety at bay.
For myself, I have created a schedule in a way that I get things to do both at personal and professional level. Certainly, there are days when you feel more down than the others, but there are also days where I am a lot more positive than being down. It’s a mix pack and a new way of working. I take this time rather as an opportunity and a learning curve as the day evolves. I exercise, use this time to spend time with my mother, cook, and read books. This is just the right time to also pick up the hobbies one has left and forgotten.
What are some of the post-lockdown business strategies that you will use to bring the business back on track or at least get it in the right direction and also create demand for yourself?
Like I mentioned earlier, safety and hygiene will continue to be the two most important factors for guests. Through S.H.I.E.L.D, we are transforming ourselves from beautifully clean to both beautifully and clinically clean.
Some of our hotels have opened up and we see some of our guests are slowly coming back to our restaurants, clearly reflecting that they were missing both our food and our service. We are looking to also launch Chefs at Home services and Bartenders at Home services because we do know that though people may not be able to come to the hotel but would like to still avail our services. We will continue to do our online food delivery as well with partners. We are taking this time as an opportunity to innovate in terms of business because tough times call for tough measures.
We have already started talking about our campaign #StaySafeTravelLocal – where we encourage people to travel locally to push the domestic tourism first. We have also launched staycations and daycations packages across all our hotels.