‘Mass vaccination will inspire confidence’

Travel and tourism sector is pinning hopes on vaccine passports, says MD & CEO of Mahindra Holidays

Mahindra Holidays & Resorts India Ltd. (MHRIL), which operates under the Club Mahindra brand, is gearing up for growth, says its MD & CEO Kavinder Singh. Excerpts:

How did MHRIL cope with the downtrend?

As the process of unlocking began in June last year, people started taking holidays as they wanted to travel. They were opting for trusted brands like us who would offer enhanced safety and hygiene features, preferring destinations at drivable distances in the safety of their vehicles.

We focussed on enhancing customer safety; introducing new outdoor experiences; enhancing operational efficiencies; cost conservation and opening new resorts. We emerged stronger due to our unique and resilient Vacation Ownership business model which is significantly different from the traditional hospitality sector.

Our safety protocols and hygiene measures go far beyond compliance levels. We have implemented strict standard operating procedures, which are regularly upgraded. Our ‘Travel with Confidence’ initiative and other measures including COVID-19 Insurance, Travel Insurance, COVID Testing, and Car Sanitation services helped restore confidence.

Our resorts are spread across mountains, deserts, forests, golf courses, beaches, and backwaters, ensuring an unparalleled holiday experience. About 80% of our resorts are at drivable distances from the cities and it helped.

Despite COVID-19 related challenges, we have delivered a strong fourth-quarter performance We witnessed 85% occupancy in the fourth quarter, and strong occupancies of 72% for the year. Member additions grew every quarter to a total of 12,031 during the year taking our cumulative member base to 2,54,431.

We added nine resorts in FY21 to reach a total of 79. As of March 2020, our cash position has risen from ₹781 crore to ₹940 crore.

What is your FY22 outlook?

The resurgence in COVID-19 cases has impacted the tourism sector as occupancies have dipped in Q1 FY22. We will have to just wait and see how the travel situation unfolds.

The travel and tourism sector is pinning its hopes on vaccine passports. We are hopeful that mass vaccination would inspire confidence, lead to ease of travel, and boost domestic and international tourism in the near future. The arrival of vaccines is a great relief; those vaccinated will be able to travel more confidently and this would lead to a rise in travel and tourism.

Our growth plans continue to remain on track as we will keep adding destinations. We have earmarked ₹1,200-1,500 crore for creating new assets and enhancing the existing inventory over the next two years.

We plan to add close to 1,500 rooms in the next 3-4 years and take our room count from 4,197 to over 5,500 through acquisitions, greenfield development in our own land banks, expansion at our existing resorts and by taking resorts on long-term lease.

We are looking for acquisition of resorts in the right locations, and at the right prices. We are exploring parts of western and eastern India particularly, as we see potential to create new destinations.

We are open to opportunities in the north and south as well. We will continue to focus on international markets. We are looking for new resorts in Southeast Asia.

What are the holiday trends that you foresee?

Travellers have become more cautious and prefer to travel and stay with trusted brands. They are visiting destinations that are at driveable distances in the safety of their vehicles.

There is a surge in domestic tourism and people are opting for offbeat, non-congested tourist destinations. Leisure destinations will lead the recovery. There is also a visible increase in the duration of an average stay by our members and guests.

We have also seen members spending time outside the rooms and enjoying outdoor experiences. We also see a rise in trends like workcations and staycations as soon as the country begins to ease lockdown restrictions.

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