A cyclist rides on a deserted road in front of the Taj Mahal Hotel during a weekend lockdown imposed by the state government amidst rising Covid-19 cases in Mumbai on April 10, 2021. Photo: AFP/Punit Paranjpe

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has put India’s hospitality sector again under heavy strain. It was one of the worst affected sectors last year when Covid-19 led to lockdowns and a halt to travel, but had shown signs of recovery after September.

Hotels in cities like Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore and New Delhi are expected to take the biggest hit, as these cities are seeing a steep rise in coronavirus cases and local governments have imposed lockdowns and other curbs.

Hospitality consultancy firm Hotelivate says the operational performance of hotels in India across all categories is expected to remain depressed for more than two years. In its Indian Hospitality – Status and Pulse Report, the consultancy firm says “recovery is likely to take a little over two years and the pace, across positioning, may appear to be largely similar,” the Business Standard reported.

Since September, the industry was witnessing month-on-month growth in occupancy. This revival, for a major part, was driven by leisure travel. Even a couple of months ago hoteliers were expecting this recovery to gather pace, but the second wave of Covid-19 has proved to be a dampener.

The business travel segment continues to remain affected as many corporates have adopted remote work through the lockdown to ensure the safety of employees. With the advent of the second wave, these companies have further postponed their plans to return to their offices. The ban on scheduled international flights has hit also business travel.

However, the leisure segment had shown signs of growth during last year’s festival season. People were taking frequent holidays to destinations that require only a few hours’ drive. Many young professionals were even working out of these hotels to break the tedium of working from home.

Market experts, however, point out that leisure travel forms a tiny component – about 10-15% – of the entire inventory in the branded space. So a buoyant leisure travel segment may provide little relief to the industry as a whole.

Last year when the government announced incentives to industries affected by Covid-19, the hospitality sector was ignored. Market experts feel that hoteliers are running out of cash reserves and the impact will be long-lasting.

Meanwhile, in order to step up the vaccination drive, the Indian government on Monday announced that people aged above 18 would be eligible for Covid-19 jabs from May 1. States and Union Territories have been allowed to procure additional coronavirus vaccine doses directly from the manufacturers. The drug controller has also given permission for the emergency use of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.