Ball in hotels' court as Maharashtra government says 'can open'

Updated: Jul 07, 2020, 07:18 IST | Dharmendra Jore, Phorum Dalal | Mumbai

Industry looks to resume business with caution, as government allows re-opening with 33% capacity in non-containment zones

Sea Palace hotel at Apollo Bunder, Colaba. Pic/Suresh Karkera
Sea Palace hotel at Apollo Bunder, Colaba. Pic/Suresh Karkera

Hotels, guest houses and other facilities that provide accommodation with attached restaurants and are located outside COVID-19 Containment Zones have been allowed to reopen on certain conditions Wednesday onwards. Hoteliers, although allowed to have only 33 per cent occupancy, welcomed the move which is possibly a precursor to further relaxations.

The order and guidelines under Mission Begin Again issued on Monday apply to the Mumbai Metropolitan Region and other parts of the state. The decision was taken after hospitality associations met Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Sunday via videoconference.

The ITC Grand Central in Parel. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
The ITC Grand Central in Parel. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

While restaurants can service only in-house guests (those staying at the hotel), takeaway requests will be allowed. Hotel managements have been told to encourage room service and takeaway instead of dine-in. For dine-in, seating arrangements will have to be reconfigured to ensure social distancing.

Only asymptomatic guests will be allowed in hotel rooms and must wear masks throughout their stay and submit self-declaration forms along with personal information. The guests must have the Aarogya Setu App. In case the hotel has a COVID-19 suspect or confirmed case, the person will be isolated from other guests and local health authorities will be informed. The area will be disinfected immediately.

Sea Palace hotel at Apollo Bunder, Colaba. Pic/Suresh Karkera
Sea Palace hotel at Apollo Bunder, Colaba. Pic/Suresh Karkera

Gaming arcades, children's play area, swimming pools and gymnasiums will remain closed. The managements have also been given specific instructions for cleaning, sanitising and disinfecting the premises and rooms on a regular basis. The guidelines also ask for minimising physical contact between guests and hospitality staff by adopting contactless processes.

All entities will be subject to the provisions in the unlocking order wherein local authorities have been empowered to enforce generic measures and restrictions in specified local areas on the permitted non-essential activities such as hospitality.

Rishi Chhabria
Rishi Chhabria

'This is not a mandate'
Gurbaxish Singh Kohli, president, HRAWI (Hotel and Restaurant Association [Western India]) was present at the meet with Thackeray, the state tourism minister and HRAWI members. "The agenda was the reopening of hotels and restaurants and SOPs. The CM said that he will have a phased reopening so that there is no cause for another lockdown. Anywhere in the world, no hotels have opened up to 100 per cent capacity on day one. Everything is phased out. Even if hotels do open up completely, they won't get that many guests due to travel restrictions. The ball is now in the hoteliers' court. It is not a mandate, they may choose to remain closed," said Kohli, adding that hotels are already being used for doctors' stay, requisitioned by the civic body, and to quarantine travellers.

"With air and some road travel allowed, people coming in need a place to stay and eat. Not everyone has a relative in the city. Usually, three- to five-star hotels have restaurants. Some don't even have a pantry. If air travel is allowed, where people are sitting two inches next to each other, rubbing elbows, surely hotels and restaurants can start. We are hoping they allow us to sell liquor too. For now, it is prohibited by the Centre," Kohli added.

Rishi Chhabria owner of Sea Palace in Colaba, who attended the meet, approved the move. "We had to open at some point. We have 50 rooms. So according to 33 per cent occupancy, 10-13 rooms will be available. We are hoping the government allows walk-in patrons at restaurants soon," Chhabria said.

Chhabria said they will have all SOPs in place for common areas and the kitchen and expects business to commence in the next three to four weeks. "We appreciate the move and are confident this will lead to a positive outcome. Café Marina is extremely popular and we are waiting to start serving."

Atul Bhalla, Area Manager-West, ITC Hotels and General Manager-ITC Maratha, said, "We are all set to start operations of ITC Maratha and ITC Grand Central by July 8. We will resume all-day dining restaurants for in-house guests. As part of the 'WeAssure' initiative, we will social distancing through distanced seating, e-menus and contactless payments."

On the other end of the spectrum, a Juhu hotelier, on condition of anonymity, said, "It doesn't make sense. We are not planning to open until November-December. The vaccine isn't out yet. If we open now, we will incur costs and being a mid-level hotel, we work on small margins and need to run on full-occupancy."

The order says...

Hotels, other entities (lodges, guest houses, etc) providing accommodation outside Containment Zones may operate

Operations at 33% capacity

Hotels being used for quarantine shall continue to do so unless decided otherwise by local administration

Part or whole of the remaining hotel capacity may be used for quarantine

Hotels will be subject to generic measures, restrictions on non-essential activities

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