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‘The crisis has taught us that we can master this difficult time with humanity and cohesion’: Neelu Singh, Managing Director, HRS

Saturday, July 18, 2020, 10:05 Hrs  [IST]
Asmita Mukherjee | Hyderabad

The business travel industry is enduring sales reductions exceeding 90 per cent in many locations including India. While other countries are showing consistent signs of recovery, India is yet to see that. However, Neelu Singh, Managing Director, HRS sees the positive side in that there is a great engagement with corporate buyers preparing towards recovery. Asmita Mukherjee spoke with Singh to gauge the repercussions which the pandemic has brought about on corporate travel hotel bookings, globally and in India.

In your opinion, how will the industry bounce back from the impact of the pandemic?

All of us, including HRS and its customers and hotel partners - are in the same boat, navigating through rough seas. Corporate travel program leaders are not letting the COVID-19 crisis go to waste; many are recalibrating their priorities around enhanced duty of care focusing on COVID-19 safe offerings, supplier reduction and reducing the complexity of their travel processes. Digitisation of the entire traveller journey is becoming the focus of procurement leaders. The new normal is moving towards a win-win for all. According to a McKinsey report published in March 2020, the recovery of the hospitality sector to the 2019 levels is expected in the first quarter of 2022. Historically, India has been highly resilient and it has the ability to bounce back quickly. The recovery, however, will be seen first in the domestic transient category followed by the domestic M&G category. The last to recover will be the international transient category. 

With the rising awareness about health and safety concerns among guests and staff, which applications of technology can we expect in the near future of the hospitality and travel industry?

The redefined duty of care is leading hotels to adopt strict cleanliness measures. Practices like medical checkups for all team members, thermal checkups of anyone entering the premises of the hotel, usage of sanitizers at all levels, and the usage of PPE is being made compulsory for the hotel staff. Many hotels have also re-designed their public areas (lobbies/restaurants/meeting rooms, etc.) to accommodate new social distancing guidelines. Automated check-in and checkout processes, additional services sale during the stay of the traveller and virtual payments are already being discussed and implemented by hoteliers and travel buyers catering to the redefined duty of care.

Kindly enumerate on the HRS and SGS new cleanliness programme.

HRS, the leading global corporate lodging platform, and SGS, the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company, has introduced a cleanliness-focused program for the hotel industry, ‘The Clean & Safe’ protocol. The protocol provides corporations and hoteliers with a well-defined standard at a time when property hygiene is the leading factor of revival. Hotels earning the designation as a safe property, gain access to a new label for use in HRS procurement and booking channels, their own corporate website, and on-property displays at entrances, lobbies and in-room marketing. HRS will display this label on its proprietary desktop, mobile and agent booking solutions, as well as, on corporate online booking engines, such as Concur and Cytric. 

The Clean & Safe Protocol is based on a comprehensive catalogue of measures that includes recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as, guidelines for meetings and groups as defined by the Research Institute for Exhibition and Live-Communication (RIFEL). Measures include:

Im ved hygiene services in public areas, guest and meeting rooms
Extended infection prevention measures
Guaranteed minimum distances
Implementation of revised training programs for employees and suppliers
Regular control and monitoring, and
Other measures that illustrate consistent, recurring practices enhancing safety

Many hotels worldwide have already enhanced their hygiene measures to address the new reality, with chains leading the way. HRS and SGS are committed to helping all hotels – multi-national chains, regional groups, and independent properties – ensure that their cleanliness and distancing investments pay off via accurate representation in procurement and shopping channels. By conveying each hotel's enhanced practices, business travellers and hotel program leaders will quickly gain confidence as they look ahead to re-launching travel activities. By incorporating internal processes and employee security, the Clean & Safe Protocol also demonstrates the hotel's focus on both employees and guests.

What advice would you give to the Indian hotel industry in these times of distress? 

For decision-makers in corporate travel, a comprehensive list of new challenges awaits in the post-corona period. Digital solutions and end to end lodging platforms like HRS have become inevitable to demonstrate confidence in an open and transparent environment. Despite these difficult circumstances, we remain here to support our partners and look ahead optimistically. It will certainly take some time before we can speak of a predictable, new normal. But the crisis has taught us that we can master this difficult time with humanity and cohesion. Let us hold on to this cooperation and together we will experience a better future.

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