Mumbai faced the heat from Coronavirus, the iconic Taj Mahal Palace stepped up and did its bit.
Mumbai: The impact of COVID-19 on businesses not just in India, but across the world has been massive. World’s biggest economies have racked up unfortunate numbers for the financial year amid unprecedented lockdowns and disruptions caused by the Coronavirus pandemic that has killed close to 1.2 million people worldwide already.
One such sector, which has seen a massive derailment of processes and mechanisms that had been running smoothly for years, day in and day out, is the hospitality sector.
And if you talk about hospitality sector in India and do not mention The Mighty Taj Mahal Palace in the heart of India’s financial as well as fashion capital, Mumbai, you are missing out on something.
For most Mumbaikars, The Taj Mahal Palace is a symbol of hope, a symbol of freedom. From being the ground zero of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack to offering a sense of identity to every trespasser, the hotel is almost an institution in itself. And when Mumbai faced the heat from Coronavirus, the iconic hotel stepped up and did its bit.
We spoke to Taljinder Singh, the Senior Vice President Mumbai Hotels – IHCL about how the exotic hotel has dealt with the challenges thrown by COVID-19.
Speaking exclusively to TIMES NOW, the SVP said that The Taj Mahal Palace never closed down. The only thing that changed, Singh said, was that the hotel started having doctors and other healthcare workers as guests.
“We had to adapt quickly. Once the pandemic began and our regular guests left, we stepped forward to offer out assistance to doctors and other healthcare workers. This was the case with our hotels in multiple cities. So, there was no closure of hotels and we continued to operate. Which also meant that we learnt quickly. We were able to understand what the new requirements were, what the new challenges were and with that understanding, our ability to be agile, take decisions and change our policy was spontaneous,” the SVP said.
Singh clarified that while Taj Hotels at several places had been home to doctors and healthcare workers, at no point of time was any of the hotels used as a makeshift hospital.
In reference to Delhi’s Taj Mahal being attached with Sir Ganga Ram hospital for usage, if the load on the hospital increased, Singh said, “there was one hospital in Delhi which had the requisition for some time, but since there was no demand so that was quickly released back to us.”
But the real challenge for hospitality majors began when the lockdown was lifted, and they started expecting guests. When they had to restructure their experience to accommodate the new safety measures that were put in play by the pandemic.
Singh spoke at length about the measures taken by the Taj Mahal hotels in dire times of COVID-19.
“We have taken proactive measures to make sure our experience is both safe and as enjoyable as ever. Right from the reservation point, the standards and changed requirements for guests, targeted at their safety are visible. We have made physical distancing, wearing of masks as mandatory practice, Aarogya Setu app is mandatory, self-declaration of travels by all guests is mandatory,” he said.
Singh further added, “On arriving at the hotel you will find all these measures are available for the guests to experience firsthand, right from the airport itself. We have fleet assured services, vehicles will be disinfected, there will be a screen between the chauffer and the passenger seat.
The chauffer, who will regularly be subject to the COVID-19 test, will underline the safety measures that are available inside the vehicle. When the guests arrive at the hotel, we have provisions for feet disinfectant tray as well as temperature checks.
“Special provision has been made for disinfecting baggage. This includes not being flexible for guests who say their luggage is ‘designer’ or ‘very expensive’, we need to educate the guests that the virus does not differentiate between expensive and inexpensive baggage. Quiet assertiveness is being followed to ensure that our set standards are being maintained. At this point of time, safety is at the core of our functionality because without safety we cannot create trust and without trust, we cannot revive a business,” he said.
What if a guest, while his stay at Taj Mahal Palace, tests COVID-19 positive?
“Since we were operational throughout the pandemic, for medical workers, we have faced such situations. There are very tight processes. Who in the crisis team will speak to the guest firstly when such a case comes to light? How is a guest spoken to, what are the first instructions he gets about staying in the room, not stepping out? How do we engage with the doctors, the hospital? What is the pathway the guest has to follow to the quarantine rooms in the hotel, which are specifically cordoned off for such guests? Answers to all these questions have been specified. The self-declaration signed by the guests includes the provision that if they test positive during the stay, they will agree to go to the appointed medical facility and not insist on continuing to stay in the hotel because we are not a hospital. We have a proper pathway and an alert system that once the guest is escorted to the ambulance with proper measures like PPE kits, nobody uses that pathway until proper disinfection process has been carried out. It’s a very tight system. The processes around sanitizing the rooms are very tight.
We have a system where several executives and staff members are appointed as COVID marshals. They have a checklist with them about areas they must audit every single day. They ensure that all the processes that are there in the checklist are being followed. The COVID marshals are also instructed to ensure that no guest can roam around without masks.”
Now that lockdown has ended, how is the hospitality sector coming up?
“There is no foreign traffic at the moment. But there is movement in the domestic traffic. In most driving destinations and holiday destinations, the inflow of guests has reached almost 80 per cent of what it was last October. In some cases, it has exceeded that mark. As big cities go, we have seen numbers of about 40-50 per cent as compared to last October. We are confident that with the holiday season coming up, this number will continue to show an upward growth trajectory. The number was suppressed initially because of the restrictions on interstate travel. Since they have been lifted, we have got positive traction.”
Singh referred to the Trust You – Independent platform which aggregates data from platforms including guest reviews, Google, amongst other places – and said that The Taj Mahal Palace has been the recipient of the highest amount of feedbacks while assuring people that “In Taj, they can trust.”