Hospitality with Religious Festivity

By Swarnendu Biswas

India is a modern nation with an ancient vibrant civilisation. Ours is a land of diverse languages, religions and cuisines, which are integral part of India’s essentially pluralistic culture. The country celebrates most of the religious festivities with grandeur and fervour. It goes without saying that religion and festivities are the soul of India.  

In fact, besides Bollywood and cricket, religious festivities are the only other abiding passion of India which garners massive and enduring popularity, year and year, through out the country. The awesome popularity of all these three facets are even not much influenced by three potent forces of India’s recent economic and political climate — inflation, corruption and election — which otherwise have wide ranging influence in India.

The only difference is that India’s passion for Bollywood and cricket are twentieth century phenomenon and are integral part of its modern and post-modern culture, whereas India’s passion for religious festivities dates back to millennia, and are part of its perennial cultural cosmos. All these three have awesome revenue earning potential, which many a time are reflected into business realties.

It would be pragmatic for the hospitality industry of India to further explore India’s enduring passion for religious festivities to generate handsome revenues. By doing this exercise, the industry can counter its lean phases.

“At Hyatt Regency Delhi, we aim to ensure an exquisite festive experience for all our patrons from overseas as well as domestic guests. A lot of festivals make a difference to the revenue game in India. For e.g. on Eid, we had a package for guests from UAE and Arab countries. Because of this, we saw a sudden increase in business as a lot of people visit their families and plan a staycation with us,” asserted Aseem Kapoor, General Manager at Hyatt Regency Delhi.

“All our guests are given a home away from home feeling, especially on festive occasions. For example, on Diwali, a lot of corporates are working and staying with us so we create Indian festive sweets, rangoli, marigold décor all over the hotel,” pointed out Aseem.

However, though Hyatt Regency Delhi’s endeavour during festivities is welcome, but I think our hospitality industry’s association with religious festivities should be much more extensive than this.

In the feature, we are considering the  revenue earning potential of housing religious festivities in the case of hotels and resorts only.  

It is about time more numbers of high-end leisure hotels and resorts in India host Durga Puja, Diwali, Holi and other celebrations within their precincts. There are perhaps already some resorts in India which are hosting Durga Puja celebrations within their property,  but this trend requires gathering more momentum.

For example, during the Durga Puja celebrations, which are generally celebrated outside West Bengal and within India for four days, and are nowadays being celebrated within West Bengal for close to ten days with  great euphoria, the high-end hotels and resorts could use their green area/s to install the idols and construct a pandal. People can stream in and pay their obeisance to the idols and partake prasad and bhog

If these hotels and resorts develop an innovative theme associated with these Durga Puja celebrations, as is customary in many Durga Pujas celebrated in Kolkata(for example, environmental protection, women empowerment, the cultural diversity of India, etc.) and create the ambience of the Puja in relation to that theme, it would attract a great deal of crowd.

The savvy hoteliers may ask that the green area of the property which could have been allocated for banqueting or marriage parties otherwise would not lead the desired revenue on the Puja days. Apparently, they may be correct. But the people streaming in thousands in pandal for darshan are most likely to partake delicacies from the food stall, which could be introduced in the lawn area, in the vicinity of the pandal.

The management of the hotels and resorts can charge a good amount from these food stalls of various companies as daily rent, and they would be most likely to accept the deal, as the sale of the food items would be extremely brisk during the Durga Puja days.

Anybody doubting me on the food sales can easily enquire about the sea of crowd at some of the famous Durga Puja celebration destinations in Delhi, Mumbai or Kolkata(for example New Delhi Kalibari, Mela Ground in CR Park, New Delhi, Muhammad Ali Park Durga Puja in Kolkata,  Santosh Mitra Square Durga Puja in Kolkata, Chetla Agrani Club Durga Puja in Kolkata, etc.) to get their doubts dispelled.

And of course, if huge crowd stream in these Durga Pujas hosted in high-end hotels and resorts, the management of the hotels and resorts can also collect huge revenues from advertisements, as many companies would be interested in putting their banners in those Pujas.

So the main thrust should be to bring in crowd in huge numbers, and for that the hotels and resorts should weave innovative designs and themes with the Durga Pujas hosted by them.

Moreover, on one or two twilights of the Puja, the management of these hospitality properties can also bring some celebrity singers or other performers to perform in their cultural programmes. Here it deserves a mention that many Durga Pujas in Delhi and other places allocate some hours (usually between 8 pm-12 pm) of the four-day celebrations to cultural programmes. This can also bring in huge crowd.

Besides these there could be latent or potential revenue sources for hotels and resorts hosting Durga Pujas. Many guests who would make a beeline for these Pujas (say about 5 percent of the total crowd visiting the Durga Puja housed in a given hotel or resort), can also partake food & beverage at one of the restaurants of the property or go for a spa session at the property to get rejuvenated for more pandal hopping through the night.

Another latent benefit would be that through this exercise, the huge purchasing power of middle class India would get exposed to five-star or four-star hospitality in a big way. This could have long-term benefits for many hotels and resorts as after this exercise many middle class people would realise that they too can afford to dine in a five-star hotel’s restaurant or avail its spa once in a while(say once in three months) without unduly jeopardising their monthly budget.

However, for the crowd coming to visit the pandals housed in hotels and resorts, the management of the concerned hospitality properties should have a separate entry and exit point for the crowd, so that the other regular guests of these properties are not unduly disturbed, unless of course they want to mingle with the crowd and take part in celebrations.

Similarly, more numbers of hotels and resorts in India can host Diwali, Holi, Christmas and other religious festivities within their precincts in a big way, with much glitter, fun, gaiety and creativity. If celebrity/ies are invited to the Diwali or Holi celebrations in hotels and resorts and they celebrate with the crowd, it would generate even more crowd. The business model can be the same; the advertisements through banners, and rents from food stalls. Besides these, the potential and long-term benefits from hosting Diwali, Holi and other religious festivities for hotels and resorts is similar to those mentioned in the context of hosting Durga Puja celebrations in hotels and resorts. 

The type of venue should also be similar to that of hosting Durga Puja celebrations; lawns or gardens in the property. Of course, resorts located far from the madding crowd would be more suited to host these religious festivities than a conventional hotel located in concrete jungle, as the later may be faced with space constraint towards hosting such festivities. 

However, for taking part in Holi celebrations a fee needs to be charged from the crowd, and the quality of the crowd needs to be strictly screened by the security personnel, as sadly the festival of colours in India has potential for hooliganism. So a screening process would be necessary. And the bouncers should keep a close vigil on the festive crowd to prevent any untoward incident.  

I think If done with passion and creativity, the short-term and long-term benefits of hosting religious festivities within hotels and resorts can easily cover the additional infrastructural cost of hosting such festivities, the cost of bringing in celebrities, the cost of additional bouncers and security personnel which need to be outsourced, the potential loss of revenues of not using a part of the hotel’s infrastructure on other revenue generating activities during three-four days, etc. 

It is because not only religious festivities are a huge draw in India as has been mentioned before, but also many aspirational middle class Indians of post-modern India would like the idea of taking part in religious festivities housed in classy hotels and resorts.

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