Two years on: Hospitality industry reflects on lockdown-led job loss and revival

“I do not see myself heading back to the hospitality industry,” says a Mumbai-based hospitality professional, observing that travel-related professions may never be the same again in a post-pandemic world. A year after the Covid-19 outbreak, the Andheri resident, who wished to remain anonymous was let go when the five-star property they worked at in the city shut down in June 2021. “During the first year, we were asked to stay at home because all hotels were shut. Our company did not lay off employees, however, employees had to stay at home without pay,” they reveal. It was a plight that many people across industries have faced since then. While some dealt with layoffs, others like the 30-year-old were furloughed due to the uncertain future. 

It’s been two years since the first lockdown was announced in India due to the Covid-19 pandemic, hitting many businesses including the hospitality industry, which is slowly getting back on its feet. While the restaurants and hotels are now functioning, many employees still don’t have a job, some have given up on finding one in the same industry, and still others have moved on to new professions to survive and earn for their families. Several of those contacted for this story did not want to relive the horror of the last two years or were not comfortable talking because the subject touched a nerve. Both experienced professionals and freshers were still coming to terms with it.   

The former hospitality professional didn’t immediately start searching for a job and instead took the time to re-evaluate what to do next. “Up until hotels reopened in June 2020, there were not many positions available and all major hotels operated with minimal staffing at the time,” says the Mumbaikar who worked in the industry for eight years before switching to a sales position in a start-up. “I switched to sales in September 2021 because it seemed like a more stable option because I have to earn to meet expenses for the family,” they added. 

Hiring for the future
While employees haven’t had it easy, hoteliers too are battling re-hiring and management challenges. Ishaan Bahl, founder of 145 Café & Bar, which has multiple venues in the city, approached hiring in two phases during the pandemic by calling their employees back and hiring new professionals. He says, “Hiring after the pandemic has been extremely difficult, despite the fact that many restaurants wanted to rehire their employees. But many employees had returned to their hometowns and established small businesses or found work and were also quite content with that situation because they were afraid of another wave.”  

There has been an influx of business ever since restrictions were relaxed, and that has created a demand for skilled employment, says Gorav Arora, the general manager at city-based five-star property Novotel Mumbai Juhu Beach, another professional who has been in the midst of it all. “Considering the pandemic also created opportunities for many hoteliers to find career paths in other industries, it is a prevailing challenge to convince them to return to hospitality. With newer talent, more training is required as compared to our seasoned talent.”

The lack of skilled and experienced labour in the market has put a load on human resource managers and increased the cost of hiring, agrees Barbank founder Mihir Desai. He explains, “Hiring is back to pre-pandemic levels now that the restrictions have eased completely. Considering the scale at which we operate, we had to hire a lot of freshers in the system and that increased our cost of training.” Since many of them are now looking for accommodation because they had given up their previous housing facility means that the restaurant has to cover accommodation costs too. 

While Desai believes that finding good, experienced talent is the biggest constraint now, he is hopeful about new talent and has tied up with city colleges to extract the best. “The industry now needs an influx of a new generation of talent after the mass exodus that happened due to the pandemic.” Arora believes the infusion of technology in lifestyles is actually encouraging the newer generations to pursue hospitality and tourism and that is a good sign. 

However, Bahl says the uncertainty in the industry still looms large. He explains, “On one hand, people are unsure about the future and are afraid of another wave coming in. At the same time, the demand for these professionals is extremely high, as there are many new restaurants and top food chains looking to recruit and acquire good talent. Demand outnumbers the supply of quality professionals, following the pandemic..” 

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