States must assuage concerns about safety and hygiene, says Souvagya Mohapatra

Souvagya Mohapatra, Executive Director of Mayfair Group of Hotels, Chairman of FICCI Eastern Region Tourism Committee, Co-Chair of CII Eastern Region Tourism Council and Co-opted Executive Committee member of FHRAI has much on his plate. As a senior member of several industry associations, he has been making representations to state governments and the central government, outlining the industry’s pressing concerns. As the chief executive of the Mayfair Group, he has a tough task of getting the ball rolling again, after the two months’ hiatus. In an exclusive telephonic interaction with us, he shared his thoughts on diverse issues, from the changed consumer behaviour to why state tourism boards needed to go back to the drawing board to chalk out a new marketing strategy. He also reflected on the opportunities for the Northeast and Eastern India, amid a transformed consumer preference. Here are some excerpts from an engaging interaction:

An innovative marketing strategy could be the road ahead

As lockdown gives way to a semblance of normalcy, measures to assuage tourists’ concerns need to be taken by both state governments and the central government, said Souvagya Mohapatra. A concerted marketing campaign by state tourism boards, on the lines of the previously undertaken campaign after the devastating Cyclone – FANI, could adequately dispel unfounded fears among prospective tourists about visiting the state, he said. “I have spoken to the Secretary Tourism and other senior government functionaries on the subject, underlining the criticality of a well-defined roadmap to attract tourists. COVID-19 won’t go away in a jiffy. We have to learn to live with it,” he asserted. 

The challenge for both state tourism boards and hotels was to gain the consumers’ faith in the shortest possible time, he ruminated. State tourism boards needed to communicate to tourists about the measures taken to maintain hygiene and tourists’ safety. “Tourists will evaluate destinations based on these efforts and analyse them before making informed decisions. The right messaging must incorporate these elements and address these genuine concerns adequately,” he said. 

The Mayfair Group has taken several measures to maintain the highest standards of safety and hygiene for its patrons to operate seamlessly in the new ‘normal,’ he shared. “We have already reached out to our clientele in our database, to reaffirm our commitment to their safety and well-being. ‘Stay with us, Stay with Nature & Stay Safe’ is our slogan,” he added.

Moving the wheels in states

Various state governments had begun undertaking measures to address the demands of the industry and drive in tourism, he said. Odisha government had already initiated the process, while governments of Sikkim, Chhattisgarh, and Goa were planning measures in right earnest, he insisted. He said that several ideas were being mooted and state governments were also receptive of the suggestions put forth by industry stakeholders.  

Vocal for local 

The hospitality industry, too, seems to be taking a cue from the PM’s clarion call of going local. The Coronavirus crisis has effectively curtailed any possibility of international inbound traffic into India. Tourism, for the foreseeable future, will be driven by local and inter-state movement. Souvagya Mohapatra had similar thoughts. “We understand that there would be apprehensions in travelling in aircraft and we may see car-driven tourism grow. People may drive from Kolkata to Puri, and from Vizag to Gopalpur, and such,” he explained. Mayfair Hotels had already curated attractive short-term drive-in and day visit experiences, eyeing a change in consumer behaviour, he said. He added that he was confident that the yearning to go out and travel after having spent considerable time indoors, was going to fuel some form of travel and tourism. 

Leveraging the crisis: East and the Northeast may finally get their due, hopefully!

COVID-19 may trigger a significant change in consumer behaviour where tourists may prefer less-frequented and sparsely populated destinations. East and North-east India are replete with such locales. Could this crisis be the opportunity that may propel these destinations to their much-deserved pedestal? Souvagya Mohapatra weighed in by suggesting that tourism was going to flourish only at places where safety and hygiene were given due importance. He commended the efforts made by Odisha’s state government, led by Hon’ble CM of Odisha Mr. Naveen Patnaik who had been projecting the state as a safe and hygienic destination. “The state offers a gamut of tourist attractions, from religious, wild-life, tribal and many others. These will help in favourably positioning the state. The state will be a heaven for tourists,” he argued. 

He suggested that a negligible spread of the virus in the Northeast, with almost zero cases in Gangtok, Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Siliguri, could be stressed upon in marketing those destinations, where they could highlight their high-levels of safety and hygiene to make a case for themselves.

Hospitality industry: From survival to revival

The hospitality industry has been in the ‘survival mode’ for the past two months. The fight to survive was going to continue for the next few months, after which the focus was going to shift to revival, he said. He expressed the industry’s desire for government’s intervention and explained that numerous representations had been made at different forums. He remained hopeful of government support in the future but rued the absence of any major relief to the industry, which was in dire straits. He clarified that support was yet to be extended by, both, state governments and the central government. The sector needed short-term loans to address the challenge of liquidity, which was going to enable continued operation of hotels, he suggested. “The show has to go on. You cannot stop; you have to survive and then go for a revival,” he said, exuding tremendous confidence.

The company’s overview

Mayfair Group has 11 hotels under operation and one property is slated to open soon. The Group started operations in Rourkela, Odisha, in 1982, with a small restaurant called ‘Tandoor.’ It has, since then, grown into a formidable corporate entity, with three five-star deluxe properties, two five-star properties and seven four-star properties under its control. The Group has one hotel in Rourkela, one in Gopalpur-on-Sea (bought from the Oberoi Group of Hotels), a hotel in Kalimpong, Darjeeling, Gangtok, Goa and Raipur in Chhattisgarh, and two hotels in Puri. The property at Siliguri in the concept of “Tea Tourism” is nearing completion, but the lockdown has delayed the set schedule. The Group intends to complete the construction process in the next three months and set a new date for its formal launch, we were told. The Group is headquartered in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha. 

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