Hospitality industry raises concerns over requisitioning of hotels as COVID-19 facilities
The latest trigger for concerns arose as Delhi government authorities on Tuesday issued an order asking Indian Hotels Company Ltd's (IHCL) iconic Taj Mahal hotel at Mansingh Road to have its rooms and premises be placed at the disposal of Sir Ganga Ram Hospital (SGRH) for using it as an attached COVID-19 facility.
The Delhi government had earlier passed orders requisitioning other hotels for use as COVID-19 care units.
Apex industry body Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations of India (FHRAI) on Tuesday wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi raising concerns regarding the orders by the state government for requisitioning of hotels for attaching them to hospitals and converting them into extended COVID-19 hospitals for patients.
It said the infrastructure of hotels is not equipped to provide the specialized and critical care environment required by COVID-19 positive patients and hotel staff is neither skilled nor trained as healthcare professionals.
The letter also mentioned that the hotels which are overtaken as an extension of COVID-19 hospital will face a significant economic and business impact.
"We are quite surprised and wonder why government owned hotels like Ashoka, Samrat and Centaur are not yet requisitioned, whereas they should have been the first to been taken over, rather than making a beeline for privately owned hotels, given the number of issues involved with doing so," FHRAI Vice President Gurbaxish Singh Kohli said in the letter to the prime minister.
Highlighting that government-owned large facilities such as Vigyan Bhavan would have been a better choice for requisitioning into hospital, the letter said that the state must requisition nursing homes, medical facilities and other hospitals, polyclinics, among others, with beds before requisitioning hotels.
"There is no mention of responsibility by the concerned dept/government of any liability or eventuality subsequent to the requisitioning," it added.
The letter also said that there was no specific time period mentioned in which the compensation is to be received by the hotels. This will cause a huge delay in settlement of bills and push the industry into further problems.
On its part, IHCL in a statement said that while it would continue to cooperate with governments in their efforts during these times, its Taj Mahal hotel is in the midst of a renovation and is uninhabitable, especially for patients and doctors.
"IHCL has been at the forefront of helping fight this pandemic. The company has extended all support to various states across the country including hosting doctors, medical fraternity and providing over 2 million meals till date. A number of our hotels are being used for quarantine facilities," a IHCL spokesperson said in a statement.
In the case of Taj Mahal Delhi, the hotel is in the midst of a major renovation, which commenced much before lockdown started, and is uninhabitable, the spokesperson added
"We will continue to cooperate with the government in their efforts during these challenging times," the statement said.
Industry body CII's National Committee on Tourism & Hospitality had earlier said that the notification requisitioning hotels for purpose of hospitalisation of COVID-19 patients and as an extension of designated hospitals has caused deep consternation within the industry and has come as a major blow to the hospitality industry that is already reeling under the pressure of revenue and job losses.
On Tuesday's development, CII National Committee on Tourism & Hospitality Advisor Dipak Haksar said, "We are at a loss to understand how a hotel under renovation with rooms that are not habitable including access to public areas will be used by patients and doctors".
The criteria to attach a hotel that is undergoing renovation is baffling to say the least, he added.
On Delhi High Court's order for hotels to operate as COVID-19 care units, CII said that while it respects the court's decision, it believes that conversion of hotels is not the best solution.
Converting large spaces like stadiums as temporary hospitals/COVID facilities with pooled resources is the best solution to handle this, it added.
"There are also concerns about the criteria for selecting some of these hotels which are quite far from the hospitals. A clear distinction must be made of hotels that are within 3-5 km radius, such hotels may be considered to be extensions for hospitals, but others at greater distances can be declared as best as quarantine facilities," Haksar said.
The state government should also consider giving relief to the hospitality sector at this juncture by measures such as reducing electricity tariffs, deferring statutory dues and auto renewal of licenses including excise for the year, he added.
The CII's Committee on Tourism and Hospitality also said that GST on hotel rooms needs to be waived off for hotels notified as extended hospitals, as rooms are occupied by patients for health care.It also pointed out that the tariff fixed for rooms, at Rs 5,000 including all meals and applicable taxes, is very low and shall result in additional losses. AKT RVK
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