Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Tuesday, Aug 26, 2003
Industry & Economy
Next 24 hours a test, says Taj Hotel
Mumbai , Aug. 25
NOT far from G. Alfanso, debris swept into a drain on the road near the Taj Mahal Hotel and Gateway of India and appeared a metaphor for questions raised by today's bomb blast. A pile of dust, glass pieces, a tricolour and a dead pigeon.
Alfanso, a driver with the Taj's taxi fleet, recalled the blast, so powerful that it flung him down. Hit by a glass piece on his right cheek, he ran for safety to the hotel's portico. "It was dead silent thereafter,'' he said. Alfanso's hearing took a full 20 minutes to return.
Will serenity come back that fast, to the Taj's image?
To be specific, and as Mr Ravi Dubey, Senior Vice-President (Corporate Affairs), Indian Hotels Company Ltd (IHCL), said, the blast was outside the hotel. Damage to property was very little (by 3 P.M., they were removing shattered stained glass from a few windows facing the Gateway and repairing the false ceiling at the main entrance) and guests were apprised of the matter, only one of them needing assistance.
Security, he said, is adequate at Taj properties, the blast in the public parking lot between Taj Mahal hotel and Gateway requiring staff to be vigilant. "We are determined to maintain our operations as usual,'' IHCL's official statement said.
The hotel has 546 rooms. Of available rooms, 80 per cent were occupied. What worries is that the first bomb explosion close to any of IHCL's properties coincides with a hard earned revival in business, financial year 2004 poised so far to being a good year. Across properties, IHCL's occupancy rates were improving at first quarter end. Sectorally, the recovery follows prolonged downturn after the 9/11 attack, Indo-Pak tension and SARS scare.
It is too early to talk of booking cancellations but Mr Dubey conceded, the "next 24 hours'' will be a test. Over that time, feedback should emerge on how travel markets abroad react to the bomb blast, particularly what they make of it from media reports.
To be fair, the Indian hotel sector has the benefit of not being in season at present. "It is not like November, when many tourists arrive,'' Mr Pradeep Madhavji, former chairman, Thomas Cook (India) Ltd, and Vice-Chairman, SAARC Tourism Council, said.
But given a bomb blast, the aftermath of which may have been seen by hotel guests, it is critical that the trade moves fast to ensure correct perception abroad. Make sure, for instance, that adverse travel advisories are not issued.
By evening, the Gateway's pigeons had returned and the Taj's lobby was back to feeling calm. Alfanso however, may never forget this day.
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