In the general run of things, a steady stream of chatter buzzes across the lobby of the Pan Pacific Sonargaon, as the upscale hotel in the heart of Dhaka hosts more than five events a day.
The lobby, however, was wearing a deserted look yesterday as there were no events like wedding ceremonies or business conferences taking place at the hotel — a cascading effect of coronavirus outbreak that has taken over almost all sectors.
“The occupancy rate of our hotel has plunged to below 30 per cent. The outbreak has taken a huge toll on our business,” said Md Alamgir, managing director of Hotels International, the owning company of Sonargaon hotel.
In the last six days, Sonargaon, which has about 278 rooms, has not witnessed a single event in its ballroom.
Similar scenarios are prevalent at almost every luxury hotel in Dhaka as the pandemic has led to the cancellation of numerous events and flights as well as travel restrictions.
The global death toll surged past 5,000 yesterday, with the total number of confirmed cases worldwide having crossed 140,000.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia earlier informed that it would suspend all international flights for two weeks in an effort to stem the outbreak while US President Donald Trump on Friday declared the situation a national emergency.
Europe is now being considered the epicentre for COVID-19, according to the World Health Organisation.
Sonargaon’s losses were amplified manifold when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi cancelled his plans to visit Dhaka and attend the ‘Mujib Borsho’ celebrations on March 17. Around 100 suites had been booked for two days to host the Indian premier and his entourage.
Bangladesh’s hospitality industry was late to realise what kind of impact the novel virus would leave.
“This week alone, occupancy rates dipped to 30-40 per cent,” said Md Mohsin Hoq Himel, secretary of the Bangladesh International Hotel Association.
“In Bangladesh, business hotels are the worst hit because of the on-arrival visa cancellations,” he said, adding that occupancy rates should have been about 80 per cent to 90 per cent during this time of the year.
Since mass gatherings are discouraged amid the lingering threat, restaurants at luxury hotels in Dhaka have also been dealt a serious blow.
“We had to temporarily stop our regular buffet lunch but anyone can have lunch if they make orders while the buffet dinner is still on,” said an official of the InterContinental Dhaka hotel.
Similarly though, the 226-room hotel’s occupancy rate has dropped below 30 per cent.
Only 10 to 15 rooms were booked per day in the last five days at the Renaissance Dhaka Gulshan Hotel, another upscale hotel in Dhaka with 211 rooms, according to an official of the hotel.
“The crushing impact of the coronavirus on the travel industry has had a devastating effect on hotels in Bangladesh,” said Abu Hanif Bari, company secretary and head of admin at Sena Hotel Developments which owns both the Radisson Blu Dhaka Water Garden and Radisson Blu Chattogram Bay View hotels.
The 200-room Radisson Blu Dhaka currently boasts a 45 per cent occupancy rate. Usually, the hotel witnesses an average occupancy rate of 80 per cent this time of the year, he added.
Meanwhile, the Radisson Blu Chattogram’s occupancy rate is now just 30 per cent.
The somewhat dire situation for the hotel industry may continue as flight frequency of both domestic and international airlines have dropped significantly.
“Qatar and Turkish airlines’ crew members regularly stay at our hotel in Dhaka. However, this almost never happens anymore because of all the flight cancellations,” Bari said.
He also urged the government to provide cash incentives and slash the VAT and supplementary duties to help the country’s hospitality sector stay afloat.
The global travel sector is expected to lose about $820 billion in revenue, according to a Global Business Travel Association survey that was published on Tuesday.
The Six Seasons Hotel, which has 85 rooms that are mainly reserved for foreign clients, already lost Tk 1.5 crore since the outbreak began.
“Most of our guests come from China, Japan and Italy and these countries are the worst hit by coronavirus,” said Md Al Amin, general manager of the hotel, adding that the business will suffer the most between March and June.
The occupancy rate at Amari Dhaka sank to just 10 per cent, said its chairman Ashok Kejriwal.
Kejriwal believes that the business will not recover until August due to the upcoming Eid festivals as few foreign guests visit the country during that time.
“The impact of the virus will only add to the woes.”
The hotel regularly provides lodgings for Air Arabia crew members. However, that too has been on hold at the 134-room hotel due to the epidemic.
Occupancy rates at Le Méridien Dhaka have dropped from 90-95 per cent to about 60 per cent, according to officials of the hotel, which has 304 rooms.
Flight crews of Saudi Arabian Airlines, Kuwait Airways and Emirates regularly stayed at the hotel but after the coronavirus outbreak, almost all the airlines cancelled their bookings as there were fewer flights going in or out.
“Since the virus is spreading all over the globe, business at the Dhaka Regency Hotel & Resort is deteriorating,” said Shahid Hamid, executive director of the hotel.
The occupancy rate at the 220-room hotel is now at 30 per cent, he added.
If the virus continues to spread, it will force the hotel industry to cut down on jobs, according to industry leaders.
“When hotel owners will have to pay staff wages for the month of March, they will face a harsh reality. I don’t know how they will pay the wages without cutting down on workers,” said HM Hakim Ali, president of the Bangladesh International Hotel Association.