AB Khan    -   It is a given fact that the economic meltdown post Covid-19 assessmentpaints a very gloomy picture in the business world.  We come to hear about many businesses shutting down for good, umpteen layoffs of Human Resource, huge salary cuts, so on and so forth. It is a bitter truth that many business houses have crumbled like house of cards, entrepreneurs have lost hope and do not see themselves back into the game but let’s meet a person who finds silver lining in the sky amidst the dark clouds and believes that there is light at the end of the tunnel. 

 “When Covid-19 pandemic hit Pakistan in March 2020, the occupancy rate in Serena hotels all over Pakistan plummeted and came trembling down from 80 % to 20 % and then to 10 % within a span of 15-20 days,” informs Aziz Bolani, Chief Executive Officer Serena Hotels Pakistan as we settled down for a chat on how badly the hospitality industry suffered and how are they planning to get back on their feet. 

Hospitality industry all over the world is directly connected with aviation, health and home departments of the government. As soon as the pandemic hit the world, the countries, sealed their borders, cancelled flights, evacuated hotels and other commercially run accommodations and issued healthalerts. Pakistan too was no exception. The government took prompt action and imposed a lockdown.

Conferences, events, seminars and wedding bookings all got cancelled and rooms vacated thus forcing all the hotels to shut down without any notice. “It was a dominos effect and we were at the top of the line.  Our biggest dilemma was how to run the hotel for the 30% of the long stayguests at Serena Hotels as we could not simply ask them to leave,” Bolaniexplains.

The stressful period lasted for a couple of months but then once the realisation dawned that this  is it, the corporate minds started brainstorming sessions after sessionsto come out with a solution. “Hotel industry as a rule of thumb has two major costs to incur. First the cost of staff in terms of salary and perks and secondly the cost of utilities in the shape of electricity, gas, generators, fuel cost etc. We fortunately did not press the panic button and instead of taking the option of layoffs, we looked for the pockets that were responsible for cost savingduring and due to Covid-19,” he explains with a sigh of relief visible on his face. Serena hotels saved approximately 30% of the incurring cost during the pandemic.

New and innovative ideas from umpteen brainstorming sessions bore fruit and the management in the depression time introduced weekdays and weekendfamily packages to ease out the stress level of people confined within four walls for months. 

“So we thought how and in what way the Covid has affected the lives of the people who have locked themselves in the houses and how we can help the community.  This was the trickling point. So we came up with different ideas and to start with: we launched very subsidised family packages which included room stay, morning walk, Yoga classes, aerobic sessions, Spa treatment, Hi-Tea and a big hearty breakfast all inclusive and the response was beyond our expectation. One could see the space coming alive after a long spell of lifelessness. Encouraged by this overwhelming response we opened up our outer spacious lawns and seating arrangements  attached with the restaurants with freedom to move and offering the guests to enjoy rain, sunshine and breathtaking view of the manicured gardens,” informs Mr. Bolani with certain amount of calmness.

Now, there was no looking back. After the success of the introductory packages, Serena hotels launched Azadi Package commemorating 14th August, Independence Day, with guests driving down all the way from Karachi, Faisalabad, Sialkot and Kashmir. 

Knowing well that business will not be the same as of last year in the times to come and that it will take a lot of effort to stand up and face the challenges, this example of will and courage may serve as a booster for the many business hubs  and many more entrepreneurs.