Think big, search for a window of opportunity and still keep a very transparent personality – these are the three basic traits Pramod Rane personifies in abundance. For a first-generation entrepreneur who grew up in a license regulated era, creating a business empire was not an easy task.
The journey was not smooth. He has to start the journey of his life as General Sales Head of British Airways and gradually became the MD of North West Airlines for India. With a sharp acumen, he was able to create an empire when he ventured out to become an entrepreneur. Pramod Rane, Chairman and Managing Director, La Cabana Beach & Spa Resort, has achieved several recognitions in the travel industry including the National Platinum Tourism Award from Australian Tourism for his outstanding contribution to the nation. Being one of the oldest IATA AGENTS with four offices spread out in Goa, besides offices in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai & Sydney – Australia, Airsonic has evolved as a total Travel Management Company. In a freewheeling chat with Indian Economy & Market, he spoke at length about the present hospitality scenario amidst the Covid pandemic and his future plans.
There is a collective view that post-Covid-19 people across the continent will undergo a lot of change; disruptions in the entire segment will be observed including hospitality and entertainment. Your take?
I fully agree with this view. The hospitality sector is dependent on travel, trade, and tourism for its sustenance. The pandemic has decimated the operations of major sectors like the hotel industry, and also affiliate branches like tour guides and lodging. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the massive rates of cancellations of bookings and trips have badly affected the ability of hotels to operate across India. As per Hotelivate, a hospitality consultancy, the hotel industry could have faced losses in the range of $1.3-1.55bn this year. Currently, 15-25% of employees in branded hotel chains are either contractual or regular employees who would be the first victims of any mass lay-offs. In India, a million jobs were lost in the hospitality sector.
The coronavirus has also had a devastating impact on occupancy rates on hotels. Towards the end of March 2020, when nationwide lockdown began, Indian hotels registered an 80% YoY decline in Occupancy Rate and 12-14% decline in average daily rates (ADR). The number one consideration post-Covid-19 will be on health and safety which translates into hygiene and sanitation issues of the hotel. The key is to provide physical evidence of the hotel’s concern for health and safety. In the aftermath of the terror attack on the Taj Hotel, hotels responded assuredly to security fears by erecting security checks at the gates of the hotel along with self and baggage screening in the portico prior to entering the hotel. This time, the checks and screening will have to be erected for health purposes. The security will check for fever with a remote thermometer, shower a light sanitizer mist, and keep hand sanitizers at the reception, elevator lobbies, and guest rooms.
We have made a list of Do’s as we have now to do a soft-opening with one floor or two with only essential facilities and staff. The essential services will include housekeeping, a section of the kitchen, the coffee shop/dining room, a bar, engineering, front desk, and security. The staff positioned has to be experienced, multi-skilled and loyal employees. It will be a while when other regular staff will be required. All my staffs have to wear surgical gloves and masks to give confidence to the guests. Secondly, food menus must be choices of Table d’hote menus each day instead of a full a la carte menu. It will save the cost of having high food inventories. We keep tables in the restaurant spaced out. We try to encourage self-service as far as possible to reduce human contact. From a marketing standpoint, it is vital to keep communicating with loyal guests, especially the domestic market, through digital marketing and social media during the lockdown and after. These are some of the precautions we are taking and I’m sure the industry as a whole is very much aware of its responsibility.
Please tell us about the journey of the company so far?
Initially, La Cabana was established in the year 2013 with a very less inventory of 24 Rooms. Slowly we increased the capacity as domestic & International travelers liked us a lot having premium exclusive locations in entire North Goa. La Cabana has become the most popular beach wedding destination in the entire Goa. Now we have an inventory of 64 Rooms which includes Wooden Cottage, Beach Facing Chalet, Beach facing Villas & a Portuguese House. Our focus is to provide the highest amount of Guest satisfaction. We hope to project a few more units in a couple of years under our banner.
What is the current status of the Indian hospitality sector on the demand and supply front?
Since 95% of accommodation lies in the low-priced sector like Bed & Breakfast, budget hotels, and guest houses, the country can ride on India’s large domestic tourism to kick start the industry. Inbound traffic on the other hand is bound to be slow because of fear of travel and recessionary conditions restricting disposable income. Corporate travel will perhaps revive the chain hotels though the lockdown has shown that corporate travel can be limited with technology-aided communication. They may encourage domestic corporate travel. We can think of positivity in the coming months once Corona Vaccine is distributed.
Do you have any specific strategy to adopt after the Covid crisis gets over? And, an expansion plan?
Companies that have gone digital are adapting to the crisis better than their peers. My view is that we should continue to use technology to augment, not replace, people. It is necessary that companies embrace the cultural and behavioral shifts that COVID-19 introduced. Business leaders today are rightly focused on the huge business continuity challenges posed by COVID-19. I feel first and foremost they must ensure that employees are as safe as possible, securing financial sustainability, assessing the resilience of supply chains, and reinforcing crucial systems to support unprecedented levels of remote working and online trading – while withstanding an upsurge in cyber attacks.
Unsurprisingly, the organizations that were furthest down the digital transformation journey before COVID-19 struck are tending to adapt to the crisis better than their peers. Their business models and working processes meant that they were able to pivot more rapidly or accelerate changes already underway. The businesses that lack a robust digital backbone or an online presence have struggled. Meanwhile, software companies providing collaboration tools, software-as-a-service, and cloud capacity are seeing high levels of demand to meet rapidly changing customer and business behaviour. However, businesses, no matter how digitalized, need to try and look beyond the immediate business continuity or liquidity issues caused by the pandemic. As more focus turns to the loosening of restrictions in place by governments, we should all be thinking about what the future may look like. What lessons should we take from this pandemic to prepare for the “new normal” following COVID-19?
With increased disposable income domestic travel had been on the rise. This was a sudden break. Do you agree?
Yes, absolutely. Now many experts and foreign agencies worldwide are taking the stand that the coronavirus pandemic is the most challenging crisis the world has faced since the Second World War. This has caused an unpredictable market crisis that any of the sectors has ever witnessed. Undoubtedly, the hardest-hit industry is aviation, hospitality, and tourism which are interdependent on each other. Hoteliers anticipate the following months might be tough for the hospitality industry with no definite vision of recovery.
The prognosis for revival does not look especially promising as of now-considering we have no knowledge of when the restrictions on travel will be lifted. The impending worldwide economic recession is a very real threat since it’s unlikely that people will have the disposable income to travel even after the crisis, besides this the fear of infection will persist. The ongoing lockdown till July 2020 in the country has impacted all domestic and international travel segments and all verticals – leisure, MICE, heritage, adventure, and niche. The crisis has put the tourism business activity to an unimaginable halt. As per the Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism and Hospitality (FAITH), around 70 percent out of a total estimated workforce of 5.5 crores (direct and indirect) could get unemployed (around 3.8 crores).
The domestic and the outbound, the summers – their key months – are completely wiped out so the losses can be upwards of 40 percent. The impact of the traveler is yet to be gauged but there will be a real fear for health and hygiene. Confidence levels are very low, and it may last till January.
What makes La Cabana different from other groups of hotels & resorts?
The USP of La Cabana is obviously the premium exclusive location with a private beach view with a very vibrant charming Operations Team. La Cabana Beach and Spa is renowned for its exclusive beach, modern facilities synthesized with relaxation and comfort, a combination often sought but rarely achieved. Blending superbly with the natural beauty of the Ashwem beach area, this secluded hideaway offers a great selection of tastefully decorated wooden cottages, Beach facing Chalets, and Beach Facing Villas.
You’ve been constantly pushing your own benchmarks. What is the secret behind this sustainability?
The credit goes to our dedicated unit team & their countless efforts. We are growing day by day as our set goals are always been achieved with a vibrant leadership under unit GM Harihar Mahamal. We are dedicated to guest satisfaction; we believe every single guest who is coming to la cabana should take away with him good memories.