Hospitality, travel sectors will suffer in short term: Industry (Lead)

November 28th, 2008 - 9:49 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Nov 28 (IANS) The meltdown-hit travel trade and hospitality industry will have to weather another storm, thanks to the terrorists’s siege of two hotels in Mumbai since Wednesday night. But industry watchers and captains predict that it will only be a short-term assault on business. The terrorists scoped out iconic hospitality landmarks like the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel and the Oberoi Trident in the country’s financial capital unlike previous attacks - sparking fears that the tourism and hospitality sectors will have to grapple with the crippling blow over a long period.

“The situation is almost like 9/11,” Anil Bhandari, former chairman-cum-managing director of the Indian Tourism Development Corp (ITDC), told IANS.

“Obviously, people will not like to travel. But domestic travellers will be around,” he said.

“Cancellations of overseas bookings have already started. The fate of travel trade and hospitality business now depends on how we send the message across that everything is normal. Several countries have already issued advisories against travelling to India,” Bhandari said.

India, explained Mumbai-based Sunil Gupta, the chief operating officer of travel majors SOTC and Kuoni Group, is a complicated destination because of the size of the country and the multitude tourism circuits.

“Tourists book in advance. I think the attack will affect holiday bookings for February and March. People coming to India will avoid Mumbai. The fact that Delhi has the largest inbound airport will help travellers reschedule their itineraries,” Gupta told IANS from Mumbai.

“It is the last straw on the camel’s back.”

Since North America and Europe, the two largest inbound tourists contributors to India, are fighting economic slowdown, bookings have already borne the brunt. “The attacks have only made it worse,” Gupta said.

However, he said the silver lining was winter - especially Christmas - is always a subdued season for inbound travel and trade. “People in the West want to celebrate Christmas with their families. That might cushion the impact.”

The SOTC kept its South Mumbai offices closed for the past two days. Bookings will resume Monday.

Sources at Cox & Kings said it was a “wait-and-watch situation”. “It is too early to speculate the impact,” a senior Cox & Kings official said.

Owner of restaurant chain Moti Mahal and the author of the Moti Mahal Cookbook Manish Gujral is concerned about the impact of the attack on his business.

Gujral’s eatery chain has properties spread across the country, including Mumbai.

“The Moti Mahal restaurant in Mumbai is located next to the Oberoi at the Inox Mall. It has been closed for the past two days. On the night of the attack, the employees were trapped inside the premises. I am worried about the impact on my business,” Gujral told IANS.

“Why are our police not equipped to battle terror?” he said, arguing that if the country was unable to provide security to its people and ensure a safety along the border, it was not possible for hotels to protect individual customers.

There is a very perverse logic to terror, said travel trade and hospitality writer Bhisham Manshukhani, associated with Paprika Media owned by the Essar Group. “People forget and Mumbai has the ability to recover. It can reduce the damage,” Mansukhani said.

According to him, domestic tourists will remain. “But it will take time for foreign travellers to return. Add to it the recession. Hotels are going to see a major crash in the short term,” he said.

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