The Federation of Hotel & Restaurants Associations of India (FHRAI) has written a letter to the Home Ministry seeking six relaxations in its Unlock 4 guidelines so that the beleaguered industry can survive.
Moneycontrol has seen a copy of the letter written to Home Minister Amit Shah by the federation, which is the voice of the Hospitality Industry in India, representing 55,000 hotels and 5,00,000 restaurants.
“We have been repeatedly receiving requests from hospitality establishments spread across the nation which are in deep distress to write to and request the Government to bring some relaxations in the Unlocking Guidelines,” said Gurbaxish Singh Kohli, Vice President, FHRAI, in the letter to the Home Minister.
The government has been unlocking in a phased manner since June 8, with Unlock 3 now underway. Unlock 4 is set to begin on September 1.
What FHRAI wants
In the letter, dated August 26, FHRAI has requested the government to grant permission to open bars / permit liquor services in restaurants.
“In these trying times, when cash flows of most establishments are running in negative, giving permission to open bars and also allowing liquor sale along with dine-in services would immensely benefit the cash-starved industry, which is waging a battle for survival,” the letter stated.
“It will help the government with enhanced revenue and also help in bringing back customers’ satisfaction, which is very crucial for business at this point of time,” it said.
The apex body also sought relaxation of quarantine norms for domestic travellers, with no quarantine for business travellers visiting any city within the country for one-three days.
The association has also requested the Home Ministry to formulate a uniform quarantine policy across all States as the current system of State-specific quarantine norms has created confusion and led to inconvenience for travellers.
Testing of tourists
It has recommended a dual test for arriving tourists, without quarantine. The letter stated that the Ministry should recommend adoption of the two-test protocol for visitors coming to any state:
a) A rapid antigen test for immediate results. The test is said to be reliable for Positive results but only 60 percent reliable for Negative results. The result is available in 15 minutes. All visitors should be administered this test, it indicated, with those testing negative subsequently administered the RT-PCR test.
b) RT-PCR test: This test is 100 percent reliable but needs time. The result, which is normally available in 24 hours, can be made available in six hours. A real time RT–PCR test is a method to detect the presence of specific genetic material in any pathogen, including a virus.
“The dual test can be a way of restarting the tourism sector by instituting a test protocol at point of entry. If cleared by rapid antigen, the arriving tourist should be kept in isolation, say in a hotel room, till cleared by RT-PCR test and testing can be undertaken at all ICMR approved labs,” the letter stated.
Social gatherings and banquets
The hotel industry body also recommended the government revisit meeting norms by allowing 300 people indoor and up to 500 in open areas or commensurate to the size of the venue.
Under Unlock 3, the government has not yet allowed social gatherings.
FHRAI pointed out that the meetings segment is a very vital component of the hospitality industry and its revival will bring a great impetus to the economic revival of the industry.
The last recommendation to the Ministry was to seek permission to open Banquet Halls so that people associated with the segment can have some relief from the economic distress they currently face.
The hospitality industry is going through a very tough time as there has been no revenue during the lockdown even after the unlock phases began.
“There have been no bookings and customers even at hotels and restaurants that have resumed operations. As reported, occupancy is as low as 10-30 percent wherever the sector has opened,” Singh said.
“Yet the rental and salary bills, statutory payments still have to be paid. We have to spend more on hygiene and safety measures to abide by the SOPs and guidelines issued by Central and State governments. Many of our members, including Hotels and Restaurants, have gone into bankruptcy already,” he added.
Further extension of moratorium
In a separate letter to the Finance Ministry, dated August 26, FHRAI urged the government and the Reserve Bank of India to extend the loan moratorium for another three months.
The association has sent a written representation to Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister of State for Finance Anurag Singh Thakur and RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das seeking an extension of the moratorium.
In March, the RBI extended the moratorium in an effort to mitigate the burden of debt servicing and enable continuity of viable businesses impacted by the Covid pandemic. The RBI initially allowed it for three months ending May, but later extended it till August 31.
“For more than four months, hotels and restaurants have remained shut and have earned no revenue throughout the lockdown. Wherever hotels and restaurants have opened, the footfalls are negligible,” said Kohli, who is also the President of the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Western India (HRAWI).
He added that in addition to monthly outgoings and the statutory levies, hotels and restaurants now have to spend more on employing hygiene and safety measures to follow the standard operating procedures and guidelines issued by the Central and State governments.
Due to this, the debt restructuring plan announced by the RBI for stressed MSMEs is not going to help the hospitality sector, Kohli said. Therefore, the industry has sought an extension of the moratorium by another three months, he added.
Many association members, including both hotels and restaurants, have already filed for bankruptcy, Pradeep Shetty, Joint Honorary Secretary, FHRAI, and Vice-President, HRAWI, stated in the letter.
Rising Covid cases
August 27, is the 157th day since India implemented a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
So far, India has recorded 32,34,474 Covid-19 cases, including 59,449 deaths. Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh have reported the highest number of cases.
Infections are also rising rapidly in Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. The good news is that India’s recovery rate continues to rise and now stands at 76.30 percent