The Indian Hotels Company Ltd (IHCL) — owners of Taj and the country’s largest hospitality chain — has seen business for the March to May period improve over pre-Covid level numbers. While leisure travel continues to be a big draw, corporate travel is also up to “almost 80 per cent” of pre-Covid levels, says Puneet Chhatwal, the company’s Managing Director and CEO.
New launches — homestay brand ‘amã Stays & Trails’ and premium food delivery brand ‘Qmin’ — have been “profitable” and plans are afoot to scale them up. While amã has 75 premium bungalow and will expand to 100 in the “next few months”, Qmin, now in 20 cities, will be scaled up to 25.
“So yes, (in) March, April and May, the business on the books on a daily basis is higher than in the same time in 2019. It is a very good sign. This is on a same store or a like-for-like basis,” Chhatwal told BusinessLine.
“Of course, January was not that great because of Omicron; February was okay; March looks very good and possibly the best March in the last few years. And for April and May, I see no reason to believe that they will not be good,” he said post announcing the company’s framework to drive its sustainability and social impact measures under ‘Paathya’.
Some of the sustainability goals (set for 2030) include elimination of single-use plastic across all hotels, waste water reuse, and business meetings and conferences “going green”.
According to Chhatwal, “the worst is behind” and while geo-political tensions do impact the sector “in an inclusive world”, the effects will be watched for in the next few months. With international travel restricted, the company’s domestic demand has been “very strong” with leisure being “pretty resilient” even though tariffs were higher than pre-Covid level.
Slow growth in international
India will open up scheduled commercial flights to and from the country from March 27 onwards. Currently, bubble arrangements are on.
“International travel, when it opens, will be a (s)low period. The best climate to come to India is between October and March, so there is some time. However, because work from home was really not work from home... it was work from anywhere ,we saw a significant rise in that segment,” he said.
Corporate business “is coming back” across “all ends” — which include the senior and middle management level travelling again. The bottom-of-the-pyramid (consisting of younger people and those with fewer or no comorbidities) was not an issue though. Events are happening again and restaurants are full even on weekdays.
“The long term outlook is far more positive than it was 5 or 10 years ago,” Chhatwal added.