COVID-19 spike | Malls, multiplex owners upset over new restrictions, localised lockdowns

No business can survive if they continue to bleed for 12 months and this is what multiplexes and single screens are going through now, say market experts.

April 05, 2021 / 06:29 PM IST
 
 
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With coronavirus cases increasing in Maharashtra and new restrictions coming into force, owners of malls and multiplexes were hoping that there wouldn't be another lockdown; because another lockdown means further losses in business.

Devang  Sampat, Director, Multiplex Association of India (MAI) and CEO, Cinepolis India, said cinemas were dried out for around eight months and with another lockdown, he couldn't even imagine how businesses would survive.

"No business can survive if they continue to bleed for 12 months and this is what multiplexes and single screens are going through now. Many (theatres) have opted not to reopen cinemas due to lack of content."

He further said theatres had reopened only to infuse confidence in the film industry. "Members of MAI came forward and said that they will take a hit but will reopen to gain confidence of producers and help them release their films in theatres."

Despite reopening, theatres have been facing losses because the operational costs remain the same but revenue through ticket sales is low.

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Bollywood so far has not released any big-ticket films as the coronavirus situation has not been improving in Maharashtra, which is a key market for Hindi movies contributing around 26 percent of overall box office collections.

It was the Tamil film industry that released a big venture Master, starring south superstar Thalapathy Vijay. While Master brought more people to theatres, occupancies have dipped for other Tamil films due to uncertainties around the coronavirus situation.

According to Karan Taurani, Vice-President, Elara Capital, after Vijay's Master, Tamil films have reported a weak performance due to COVID fears with families not stepping out in large numbers and lack of large-budget films.

"We don't know how the business will survive with further lockdown," said Sampat.

As for other players, Taurani pointed out that the current cash burn of multiplex majors like PVR and INOX is Rs 25 crore and Rs 50 crore per month due to a revenue share arrangement on rentals and a low occupancy of five percent. He further pointed out that this may continue in Q1FY22 or increase further if occupancy does not move up significantly despite higher rentals coming in.

Sampat also said that another lockdown will impact employment. "As an association, we employ 200,000 people and another lockdown means employment of these many people will be at stake."

But it looks like the scenario for a lot of businesses will get worse as the Maharashtra government on April 4 announced a weekend lockdown and night curfew during weekdays from April 5 to April 30, in addition to a slew of other restrictions like the closure of private offices, theatres and salons to curb the surge in COVID-19 cases.

Like multiplexes, even malls are in a critical state because footfalls were dropping due to additional restrictions.

New restrictions like COVID RT-PCR testing in malls have been impacting overall footfalls.

Rajneesh Mahajan, Director, Shopping Centres Association of India (SCAI) and CEO, Inorbit Malls, said that different municipal corporations have been following this order (COVID RT-PCR testing) in different ways.

"In some places, it is random testing and in others it is mandatory. Wherever there is random testing there is a drop in footfalls of 15-20 percent. In certain municipal corporations where the test is mandatory, we have seen a drop of close to 80-85 percent in the footfalls and business becomes financially unviable for that day."

Be it additional restrictions or lockdown, all this is coming at a time when both malls and multiplexes were seeing some recovery in business.

"We saw week-on-week growth since the time of reopening last year in June. This year the recovery has been in the range of 55-68 percent. We saw an increase in per-person spend. So, people were coming less frequently but they were spending more. Consumption recovery was 85 percent. Multiplexes situated in malls in southern parts of the country saw strong recovery rate which was beneficial for overall mall footfalls and also for restaurants and food court."

But now with more restrictions and another lockdown, there is a tough road for those who are working in the mall and multiplex space.

Mahajan said most of the retails in malls are run by individuals and they are barely being able to survive. "Operational losses are far more. Inventory gets stuck because of closures making it difficult for individuals to survive. Already with night curfew, the F&B (food and beverage) business is the worst hit. While businesses are braving the current losses hoping to see recovery in six to eight weeks, another lockdown will break many backs."
Maryam Farooqui
first published: Apr 5, 2021 06:29 pm

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