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    Covid presents opportunity to acquire new talent: Anuraag Bhatnagar, COO, Leela Palaces Hotels & Resorts

    Synopsis

    "Two of our hotels will open around the end of first quarter next year and the third hotel may open early on in quarter two. There has been rightsizing at a few levels but we also need more people and we are one of the few companies which is still recruiting," said Anuraag Bhatnagar.

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    NEW DELHI: The hospitality sector has been among the worst hit due to Covid 19, but luxury chain The Leela Palaces Hotels & Resorts is recruiting talent as it needs over 1800 associates for its three upcoming hotels in Gandhinagar, Bengaluru and Hyderabad, Anuraag Bhatnagar, chief operating officer of the chain, which was acquired by Brookfield Asset Management, told ET in an interview.

    "Two of our hotels will open around the end of first quarter next year and the third hotel may open early on in quarter two. There has been rightsizing at a few levels but we also need more people and we are one of the few companies which is still recruiting. Covid has given us an opportunity to reach out to amazing talent which has been unfortunately impacted by the pandemic. Brookfield has a long term plan for The Leela. We are well positioned in the luxury segment and globally recognised through accolades and the intention is to grow further," he added, referring to the chain being ranked as the number one brand in the ‘top hotel brands in the world’ category this week by Travel+Leisure USA World’s Best Awards Survey 2020.

    In October last year, Hotel Leelaventure announced that it had completed its sale transaction with Brookfield at a total consideration of Rs 3950 crore which included sale of its four hotels in Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru and Udaipur, the sale of its hotel operations business and its 100% shareholding in Leela Palaces and Resorts Ltd (its wholly owned subsidiary) which holds licenses for the development of a hotel in Agra. The promoters and promoter group companies had also transferred the Leela brand and trademarks in the hotels and hospitality space to Brookfield at a consideration of Rs 150 crore.

    Bhatnagar thinks some assistance still needs to provided by the government or the RBI to help the sector, severely hit by the outbreak.

    "Business was decimated in the April to June quarter for hotels. There is a lot of ambiguity. We are getting queries for weddings but there are restrictions around the size and number of guests one can take. There are restrictions in terms of producing the Corona certificates. Corporate travel has stopped. Some states have the mandatory seven day quarantining policy. So all that is affecting our business,” he said.

    “Starting from help with restructuring of debt to looking at waivers for license fee and other mandatory charges, especially when hotels have been unable to operate, would be welcome moves," he added.

    Bhatnagar hopes business will pick up gradually in the last quarter of this year through segments like weddings which will stay inbound. "The Indian outbound travel segment is unlikely to pick up this year so the destination weddings which were planned for locations like Bali or the South of France will not happen. So, all that demand is going to come to our hotels in India. We are hoping we might hit occupancies in the mid 40% range for our portfolio in the October to December quarter,” he said.

    “We have seen good traction for our work from hotels business in markets like Gurgaon and Bengaluru for business continuity. We realised a large number of our guests did not have the wherewithal to productively work from home for various reasons, and they were not in the space to work from office either. We will continue with it and expect it to grow," he added.

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