[Wayanad Matters] Wayanad would be the first destination in Kerala to recover from the downturn: Prasad Manjali
The State and Central governments should support the tourism sector by offering moratorium on loan repayments for a period of 24 months, says Prasad Manjali, Director of Contour Group of Hotels & Resorts. They could also look at supporting salary payments of the hospitality and tourism employees, notes Manjali, who is also the Managing Director & CEO of Citrine Hospitality Ventures. He says the cost of property maintenance including basic salaries of staff, lease payments, generator fuel expenses and electricity was tough to deal with. The staff panicked as they realised that the pandemic had created instability, he says in an interview, as part of TNL’s mini-series called Wayanad Matters. In Kerala, Wayanad would be the first destination to recover from the downturn primarily due to the location advantage, he says. Excerpts from the interview:
Q: Can you please give us a sense of how difficult the lockdown period was?
It was a very tough period. There was considerable revenue loss and the operations came to a standstill. Many of the resorts were shut. On top of that, the fixed expenditure remained the same. I feel the scenario can be best judged by the large number of cancellations and refunds.
Q: Can you tell us one particular problem that you faced, which was tough to surmount?
The cost of property maintenance including basic salaries of staff, lease payments, generator fuel expenses and electricity have been tough to deal with. Considering that no revenues were coming in, the expenses hurt a lot.
Q: How did the staff respond to the crisis? What sort of issues did they encounter during this period? Were you able to motivate them and if yes, how?
The staff panicked as they realised that the pandemic had created instability. They were worried about their jobs. Many of them struggled to meet their daily living expenses due to minimum salary or no salary.
During this period, we trained the team on multi-skilling, for example, the front office staff were trained to handle housekeeping tasks and F&B staff were asked to do food production as well. We have managed to motivate our team members by restarting operations in shifts of 15 days each in two batches which has kept the entire team going. At least that way they could handle the basic domestic expenses to pull along.
Q. Which is that one step that the State/Central governments need to take immediately to help the sector?
They could have come up with an interest free instant loan with 24-months moratorium on repayments. They could also look at supporting payments of salaries of hospitality and tourism employees.
They should look at bringing down the electricity tariff, while also providing moratorium for GST and electricity bill payments. The Central and State governments can also encourage local tourists to travel by giving appropriate advertisements and marketing promotions to indicate that hotels and resorts are open and safe.
Q: What kind of financial/marketing measures do you propose to take, to improve the business of your resort?
We have created a strategy to promote ourselves on the social media initially for the local markets within Kerala, then move on to the domestic markets in south India, rest of India and later the international markets as and when they open up. Contour Island Resort & Spa, Wayanad, is offering an Onam package wherein guests will be given one night’s free stay on a 2-nights package.
Q: What kind of future do you see for Wayanad tourism? What is its real potential?
Wayanad has tremendous potential as a tourist destination, which is still unexplored by many. It’s a large district with multiple destinations like Vythiri, Banasura, Meppadi, Mananthavady, Sulthan Bathery, Kalpetta, Lakkidi and Thirunelli, which are distinctive in their own ways. This means your usual 3-night visit to Wayanad would still be incomplete, as many people feel each holiday to Wayanad has something new to offer. It has been a popular driving destination for the last three decades now. With airports like Kannur, Mysore and Kozhikode nearby, the connectivity to Wayanad has improved significantly.
Q: What do you think is the USP of Wayanad Tourism?
Forest bathing, an ecotherapy popular in Japan since the 80s (known as Shinrin Yoku) is being introduced in Wayanad. It’s where you tune into nature, with all its smells, textures, tastes and sights of the forest. This practice is an immunity boosting, mood elevating and a stress reduction strategy. It is a health trend gaining popularity across the world and has positive effects on the physical and mental health of a person. This makes perfect sense in the current COVID scenario where people are forced to remain indoors. People are longing to fill their lungs with some pure air.
The psychological impact that the pandemic has created on the minds of the masses is triggering an urge to get away from it all. In Kerala, Wayanad would be the first destination to recover from the downturn primarily due to the location advantage. As part of the responsible tourism initiatives, Wayanad will soon be seeing a growth in the number of nature activities like bamboo rafting, coracle rides, village and plantation tours which would lead to a true Wayanad experience.