New Delhi: The founder of the Tree of Life Resort and Spa, Himmat Anand, says he’s in a fix. He doesn’t know whether to seek a three-star classification or the five-star deluxe rating from the Union ministry of tourism for the resort of 14 “super luxury” villas he is building in Kukas village near Jaipur.
The ministry’s detailed guidelines—the rules even specify the cutlery that can be used—for hotel ratings set the minimum size of a five-star hotel bedroom at 200 sq. ft. Anand’s plan for his villas spread it to more than 1,000 sq ft. But, without a banquet hall, in-house laundry or two-three speciality restaurants—all mandated under the guidelines—his property will not get a five-star rating, the highest provided by the ministry.
“The world is opening up and the guidelines have not kept pace with the hospitality industry, which has seen dramatic changes in the last five-six years,” said Anand, a veteran of 30 years in the tourism and hospitality industry. “Classification must have international value.”
As the hotels industry booms and attracts global chains and local entrepreneurs with new formats, industry experts say there is a need to revise standards set by the ministry. “As more international hotel brands come into India, other global agencies should be able to participate in setting standards,” said Ankur Bhatia, executive director of the Bird Group of Companies.
The department of tourism is listening. It is discussing an overhaul of these guidelines, last updated in 2003, with industry groups such as the Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations of India or FHRAI, Hotel Association of India, the Indian Association of Tour Operators.
At a meeting with these associations on 6 August, the department asked for recommendations. Items on the checklist include money changers, shops, beauty parlours, laundry, cutlery and facilities for disabled guests.
Proposals before the department include redefining the budget category hotels to limit the room size of three-star and four-star hotels to not more than 199 sq. ft. “We are also looking at defining a hotel as a classified vegetarian hotel, giving the choice to the customer to live in a totally vegetarian accommodation,” said M.N. Javed, deputy director general tourism (hotels division) at the ministry.
Other proposals include a new set of guidelines to classify resorts, the yardsticks for which are different from city and destination hotels.
Some of these plans irk the industry. “We have said that the government proposal to fix the maximum room size in a hotel will hamper any upgradation plans the hotels might have in the future. Also, a vegetarian hotel should be made optional depending on location,” said Harish Sud, secretary general of FHRAI.
Yet, most hotels—1,461 of 1,725 in India are rated, according to government data updated until 30 June—still seek a star rating to take advantage of incentives the industry has enjoyed for decades.
These include a tax holiday for five years for new budget hotels coming up between 1 April 2007 and 31 March 2010 in the New Delhi and surrounding districts clubbed under the National Capital Region. Or, a subsidy of up to Rs1 crore for one-star to three-star hotels. All approved hotels are also eligible for import of elevators, air conditioners and other equipment at 5% customs duty under what is called the export promotion capital goods scheme.
“Our standards are 20-40% above the guidelines necessary for a five-star deluxe rating. We perfunctorily go and apply for a star rating because we get these concessions that help higher range hotels that use expensive products,” said Vivek Nair, vice-chairman and managing director at The Leela Palaces Hotels & Resorts, India.