Oxsana Hospitality is using the current trough of COVID-19 to reassert what it believes matters—faith, cooperation, friendship, pluralism and best practices.
REPORT FROM THE UNITED KINGDOM—The COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on the economy and daily life has shown more than ever the need for closer cooperation and generosity across the hotel industry.
A noticeable reduction in the number of brands, hotels, staff and guests will not bode well for future competition and innovation, sources said.
Membership organization Oxsana Hospitality has found new life in today’s conditions. Oxsana is a group with hoteliers from the Ismaili community under the spiritual leadership of the Aga Khan, which established and developed the hotel and tourism destination of Costa Smeralda on the Italian island of Sardinia.
Al Malik, owner and managing director of Remarkable Hotels and chairman of Oxsana, said the intention is to open up the organization to all hoteliers, not just Ismaili followers.
One recent initiative is a partnership with Accor to allow Oxsana members access to the French hotel giant’s procurement platform.
Malik said he and the other members are very aware of the struggles being felt in the industry.
“For some members, there is no cash flow whatsoever,” he said. “There definitely is a feeling of (post-traumatic stress disorder). The situation is traumatizing and individually it is very easy to feel paralyzed. It is just fire-fighting right now.”
Malik said the voluntary organization ranges from hoteliers with one property to those with 50 or more, and members come from the United Kingdom, Canada, India and East Africa, among others.
“The Aga Khan guides us spiritually and on worldly matters. It is a very organized community, and there has been economic planning board for many years,” Malik said.
He said the community started its economic cooperation with a pharmacy alliance but has developed into other spheres such as dental and care-home businesses where group purchasing and shared knowledge are helpful.
“Now there are inter-disciplinary conversations,” he said. “There is a definite synergy between care homes and hotels. Care homes understand very well issues about bed contamination, for instance, more so than the hotel industry.”
North America will soon set up a division of Oxsana, Malik said. He noted that Majid Mangalji, founder and president of Canadian firm Westmont Hospitality Group, which has more than 500 hotels, is an Ismaili, too.
Malik said the need for cooperation has come to a height with the pandemic.
“I looked at our database, and saw we had small hotels that did not have much of a future, some with 25 rooms, and I came from that background starting with a 25-room B&B in Nottingham,” he said.
Nadeem Boghani, owner and chairman of Splendid Hospitality Group, is an Oxsana member. His company has 21 hotels, including the 292-room Hilton London Bankside, the 107-room Grand York Hotel & Spa, York and the 336-room Holiday Inn London, Wembley.
Boghani is the former chair of the Ismaili economic planning board.
“Our whole ethos is the quality of life of our community and the wider society based on the principles of our faith. Together we are stronger,” he said.
He said that purchasing consortiums are an easy way of cementing the bond with hoteliers.
“Best-practice thinking emerges, certainly in a constantly changing world. It is about lifelong learning, evolving across the times,” he added.
Malik said the organization has made idea sharing much easier.
“Revenue management for our members is now critical,” Malik said, “and we now need to get to a stronger level, trying to do a global deal. For instance, in Canada, all members are with the same insurance company, so right there you get a better deal, a bigger voice.”
He sees more cooperation on insurance, credit-card processing, education, mentor-student matching, macroeconomic and revenue-management events and best practices with government.
“We are looking to invest in global technology hubs and booking engines, and we will be opening up membership to associate members,” he said. “Our religion is a pluralistic religion. It is open to all, and we need to look after everyone.”
Precis Investments, which among other businesses owns Montcalm Hotels, also is an Ismaili group and also originates in Canada, Malik said.
Oxsana’s other initiatives include support and sharing knowledge around business-interruption insurance, a quarterly action plan on online travel agencies, covenants and capital-repayment holidays and lobbying government bodies such as the Financial Conduct Authority for more hotel industry aid and advice.
“If one lesson has been learned, it is that as an industry now everyone has to work together,” Malik said. “There is no choice but to collaborate to help lift this industry up. There is no other way. Just us 50 (members) together have helped each other in many ways.”
Amin Merali, owner of Capital Hotels, which has three hotels in London, said Oxsana has relayed critical up-to-date information to hoteliers and what they should be looking out for.
“The networking is brilliant. If you have one finger there is only so much you can do, but if you have five you can grasp something,” he said.
Boghani added sharing the pain is necessary when everyone is hurting.
“It is especially good for smaller hoteliers, with many on furlough, who might lack strategic direction and need guidance,” he said. “We have seen so much help already, via tools such as WhatsApp, and others (non-Ismaili hoteliers) wanted to be part of that.”
“We’ve opened up to a slow trickle. It is slow in London and in some key cities. There is some staycation business. Everyone is opening to 0% occupancy,” Boghani said.
He added it might take three years to stabilize.
“Bankers make reference to that (projection). The circumstances now are totally different to what the industry has faced before,” Boghani said.
He said development, rebranding and repositioning opportunities are still available.
“We’re using this downtime to consolidate planning applications and obtain construction consents, to look at the construction environment to seek better prices and the right partnerships with firms that have the right balance sheets. This is an excellent time to value-engineer,” Boghani said.
“Inevitably, we have staff on furlough. There was no other choice,” he added.
Capital’s Merali said his hotels have reopened, too.
“Occupancy is slow. The hotel we have with a car park is doing better,” he said, noting that guests feel more assured driving their own cars than they do taking public transport.
Merali said he is focussing on positives such as the technology of so-called HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters that can remove 99.7% of all particles, including COVID-19, in airline cabins.
“We have to work on the positives,” Merali said.
Malik has one hotel, the Best Western Plus Nottingham Westminster, which he said has housed asylum seekers as part of a government contract.
“That is more profitable, with housekeeping costs going down,” he said. “My place was sorted, and I hope the deal can be extended through August. Nottingham is not seeing any pickup in demand, so I lose money if I open and do not hit at least 45% occupancy.
“Time is well-spent now focussing on Oxsana and helping the hotel community,” Malik added.