Bengal’s retail and hospitality sectors plan new models to sidestep Covid-19 crisis
The retail sector and hospitality industries which have been badly hit during the lockdown are keen to resume business with safeguards against the Covid-19 pandemic.
With business virtually at standstill, retail and hospitality industries have planned new models to keep going in a controlled environment during and after the lockdown to check the spread of coronavirus.
The Shopping Centres Association of India (SCAI) has prepared a standard operating procedure (SOP) and approached the administrations in several states, including West Bengal, seeking resumption of operation with limited manpower and restricted entry of shoppers. The industry provides livelihood for 12 million people across India.
“The retail industry contributes over 10% to India’s gross domestic product (GDP), the second largest after agriculture. It employs over 8% of the overall workforce making it the third largest in the country,” Amitabh Taneja, chairman and founding director, SCAI, said in a summary to the SOP that was sent to chief minister Mamata Banerjee on May 1 along with his letter.
The SOP mandates, among many other things, 50 per cent occupancy of common areas and gross leasable areas, distance of five feet between customers at eating outlets, Installation of plexiglass at checkout points, 50 per cent use of parking capacity, restricted washroom usage, no promotional activity and sensor-based sanitization points at entry and inside stores and outlets.
State government officials were not willing to comment but a senior bureaucrat said that SCAI representatives were told that the government would wait for the Centre to take a call on opening malls.
“It will take India quite some time to turn into a green zone. Shopping centres and malls cannot be shut down till then because billions of lives depend on the manufacturing industry which has taken a hit. If the government can allow offices and airports to operate with limited staff, something can be tried at malls as well. Look at the streets. I am quite sure there would have been complete order at liquor stores in the malls had they been allowed to open,” Rahul Saraf, managing director of Kolkata-based Forum Group and director SCAI, told HT.
“A mall provides a formal and regulated environment. One should not wait for normalcy to return,” he added.
The amount of business in a mall works out to be around ₹10,000 per square feet a year and the space used for business in some of the big malls in and around Kolkata adds up to around five million square feet, said Saraf.
“Let there be caveats but thousands of frontline and back-end workers should be allowed to earn their livelihood,” he added.
With the number of Covid cases on the rise, the hospitality industry in Bengal is going through an equally rough time and many are trying to work out new models.
Rishi Jain, executive director, Jain Group, which owns Holiday Inn Kolkata Airport, has started renting out the top floor of the property to people looking for a quarantine facility that is more hospitable than a government building.
“Entry and exit to the top floor are not used by other guests and the floor below it is kept empty to act as a buffer zone. Only disposable utensils and containers are used in the top floor,” said Jain.
“In our hotel, retail selling has come to a zero with no one coming in to have lunch or dinner or ordering food from home. Luckily we have some guests of foreign origin and supply of raw materials is unaffected till now. We are operating with 30 per cent staff strength,” said Jain.
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