Recent air-quality numbers in Delhi, India, have reached hazardous levels, affecting tourism and causing hoteliers to adapt.
REPORT FROM INDIA—Hotels in Delhi, New Delhi, and the National Capital Territory benefit from a historic heritage tracing back to 1000 B.C., a ranking of 28th worldwide by number of foreign tourist arrivals (approximately 23 million in 2018) and a domestic tourism industry of numbers equaling or bettering that number, but things are looking foggy, according to sources.
The reason is smog, a type of air pollution that is threatening health and scaring off guests, especially during the city’s peak tourist season, which runs from October through March.
According to the World Travel & Tourism Council report “City Travel & Tourism Impact 2018,” tourism earned the region $4.5 billion in 2017 and provided direct and indirect employment for almost six million people.
City officials put into place a “graded response action plan” to the crisis on 15 October, following the AQI (air-quality index) breaching the “severe category” on several days, with 16 November seeing a recording of 505.
Recordings in the mid-300s, noted several times in the last month, are deemed “hazardous,” according to the AQI. One reason touted is agricultural practices, notably the burning of stubble in fields.
The scenario is making hoteliers fret, even though there are glimmers of light.
“The problem was terrible last year since Diwali happened in November. So it compounded the problem. This year, Diwali was over in October so comparatively it was easier. But we have had a respite in the weather with good days as well,” said Rattan Keswani, deputy managing director of Lemon Tree Hotels and chairman of its subsidiary, management company Carnation Hotels.
There’s no data available on the effect of smog on hotel cancellations, but there has been an effect in the leisure luxury segment, according to Achin Khanna, managing partner, strategic advisory, at business consultancy Hotelivate.
“There has been an impact, depending on the class of hotel and purpose of travel,” he said. “It is likely to be more pronounced in the upper-upscale and luxury positioned hotels and (meetings, incentives, conferences and expositions market) compared to business and mid-market hotels.”
Hoteliers in the area have seen guests cancel because of the smog, sources said.
Saibal Maitra, director of sales and revenue at luxury hotel The Claridges, New Delhi, said the property has seen a lot of cancellations this year, adding that a group of high-end luxury travelers canceled at the last minute.
The media has reported Delhi as being the most polluted city in the world, which has made travelers “very concerned about traveling here,” he said.
Jaideep Dang, managing director, hotels and hospitality group, at business consultancy JLL, said, “pollution is man-made but it can have similar deep impact on tourism.”
“The leisure traveler is the one I am very worried about. … They will stop coming to North India in this season, (reducing) our peak tourist season to three months from the existing six months. If you do not have stable occupancies in the peak season then (revenue per available room) will certainly come down,” Dang said.
Maitra said 99% of inbound tourism is through travel agencies, which will likely cancel or curtail the region from their itineraries.
“Now, many just check in here and immediately start their onwards journey. So we lose out on business for a day,” Maitra said.*
Keswani’s company has midmarket chain hotels that cater to business travelers, so business has not seen much of an impact from travelers concerned about the pollution, he said.
Dang said businesses are now seeking answers from the government.
“Another segment which could get affected is medical tourism. Many people from the Gulf and some war-torn countries come to Delhi for medical treatments,” Dang said.*
Khanna said the smog would affect tourism in many other areas of India, as Delhi’s international airport is the gateway to the entire north of India.
“Delhi and up north will get affected. Delhi is a gateway to important tourist cities such as Jaipur, Udaipur, Agra, Amritsar and Shimla. If the gateway suffers, its hinterland also suffers,” Khanna added.
Sources said hotels, especially luxury ones, are putting in place their own measures such as providing masks, moving events indoors and adding air purifiers.
“We provide air purifiers within the hotel (and) have cars fitted with air purifiers for pick up and drop off, but these are temporary measures,” Khanna said.
Khanna added that a “solution has to be found.”
“We all know that stubble burning is a major issue, and the farmers need to be provided a way to stop doing that. As an industry, our voice is limited. I think all stakeholders across various sectors should come together to find a holistic solution urgently,” he said.
*Correction, 12 December 2019: This story has been updated to correctly attribute quotes to two sources.