Destination India spoke with Anuraag Bhatnagar, COO, Leela Hotels and Resorts on how they are coping with these times. At Leela, they have used this time to look inwards towards their associates and first ensure their well-being.

How will your company cope with this stress? Any new re-imagining for the immediate times ahead?

The second wave is an unprecedented reality that all of us are battling both on a personal as well as a professional front. 

At The Leela, the safety and well-being of our guests and associates is paramount for us and it is important that our associates feel safe when they come to work. Recently, we announced our commitment to vaccinate all our associates across all our hotels and the corporate office in line with government directives and cover the cost of vaccinations not just for our associates but also their families. We are working with healthcare partners to implement this across the cities in which we operate and hope to complete this entire process by this month end. 

We are also looking at bringing on board a counsellor to be available for our associates as they cope with the stresses of the current situation and ensure the mental health of our associates is as well taken care of as their physical health. We are in the process of instituting a recovery program for those that have been directly impacted by COVID- 19.

Keeping our associates motivated and engaged has been our focus. With the opportunities that our new openings have provided, our emphasis has been developing talent and providing exposure as well as facilitating internal transfers and promotions to high performing associates. 

We continue to invest in our people, in technology and in bringing in greater operational efficiencies across our portfolio. We have been reimagining our business and our processes while also working towards rolling our new initiatives for our guests and associates, all under the ethos of Leela Cares.

What does this second wave mean to our business? What is the kind of impact it has created, not just in daily business, but in the overall understanding of your business going forward in the next few years. 

The past few months have shown us how volatile our business is and yet how resilient the industry can be. We know that there is huge pentup demand and that when all of this is over and people are ready to travel again, business will, like last time, come back very quickly. Our view is that occupancy levels that we have known will probably return in 2022 and ADR in 2023. However, we are quite confident that bouncy in business will return quickly. In fact, across our resorts in Q1 this year, we clocked an occupancy of over 60% which was very encouraging.

The format and type of business has changed dramatically. Lead times have become shorter. Staycations have become more popular. Work from anywhere is a concept that we have all learnt to live with. We have seen that the first segments to come back are retail with resorts and drive to locations leading the way to recovery. 

There is also an emergence of wellness focused travel wherein personal wellbeing has become ever so important. Privacy is the new luxury and villas and larger suites have become more popular. Weddings as we have known them have changed forever with smaller more intimate  and muted celebrations becoming more popular. People have naturally gravitated towards sustainability and a sense of purpose. And this is here to stay.

Given all of the learnings in the last one year, at The Leela our focus these past few months has been on four things – safely operating our hotels carefully planning resources and scaling  back up as the environment improves; gradually and slowly rebuilding consumer confidence and trust and engaging with our customers and associates, reassuring them with a relentless focus on the highest levels of sanitisation to ensure our hotels are sanctuaries of cleanliness: devising  strategies and initiatives that will help  elevate the guest experience and strengthen the positioning of  the brand as a leading luxury hotel brand true to its Indian heritage; driving demand through compelling and meaningful offers with inclusions and value additions built in around what matters most to our guests.

We are confident that with all this, we will be ready to own the upswing when it comes.