January 30, Thiruvananthapuram – As we enter 2024, all is not well for the hotel industry in Kerala with the sector facing a plethora of issues ranging from to attaining of license to waste management regulations to labor issues leading to many stakeholders in the verge of downing the shutters and switching the business entities to neighboring states. The general mood of the hoteliers who took part in the HORECA (Hotel Restaurant Catering) meet at Thiruvananthapuram felt that the state government has been averse to the tradional hotel and restaurant sector which has been contributing to the state’s economy for the past few decades.
One of the primary concerns raised by the stakeholders of the industry is related to licensing and attaining certificates such as pollution certificates from the food and safety department.
“There are no proper channels to obtain a pollution certificate. Food safety department has different criteria for hotels. Even though they point fingers at the cleanliness factors and waste disposal systems, they themselves don’t have any solution to address the menace. Most of the small hotels have been given strict instructions to make their own arrangements for waste management failing to which they will have to pay a heavy fine. This has become a major challenge for most of my colleagues who are into this industry”, said Rahul SL, owner of Annies kitchen, Udhiyankulangara, 30 kilometers from Thiruvananthapuram.
Hoteliers point out that the small vendors do not have the financial capacity to set up such waste management systems. Many establishments that provide food at affordable rates will be forced to close down. This might also pave way for large-scale food distribution companies to take over the market.
Many are of the view that mandating health cards for health workers in the small and mid-sized eateries is also not viable as the employees are required to renew the cards every six months after paying a hefty amount to the food safety department.
The hoteliers in Thiruvananthapuram while speaking at the HORECA meet have met the union finance minister earlier and have also written to the ministry multiple times to implement the request.
“We have addressed the matter multiple times with the finance minister earlier. If we are included in the MSME fold, we get a lot of benefits including to avail loans for which there is no collateral. Also, this step will be a major relief to the small scale and mid-scale hoteliers who are struggling to run the business”, said B Madhusoodhanan Nair, owner of hotel Heavens, Kowdiar, Thiruvananthapuram.
Another major concern raised by the restaurant owners are the safety standards and the cleanliness factor in the road-side eateries. Many feel that the cleanliness drives being taken up by the health squads in the hotels should be applicable to the road-side eateries as well.
“In the food production industry, it should be the same rule applicable for all stakeholders, be it a 5-star hotel or a 4-star hotel and an ordinary eatery. When it comes down to the right to eat clean food, it should be applicable for everyone and not just the ordinary hotels and thus maintaining a level-playing ground for all”, said A Radhakrishnan, owner of Hotel Gowri Nivas, Medical college, Thiruvananthapuram.
The interactive session that came up with different issues, concerns and solutions raised concerns regarding the ‘accountability factor’, especially during an unfortunate incident when the consumer falls sick and files a complaint after dining from a restaurant. Restaurant owners feel that in all the recent incidents reported in the state, it is the owner who is facing the heat of the law and not others.
“Why should the owner face all the brunt in such exceptional cases where a customer falls sick and is hospitalized. In most cases, the owner will not be present in the locality when the food was consumed, but the legal burden falls directly on the owner. The food is essentially prepared by a cook in the kitchen and the mistake could have happened from his or her side”, said S Krishna Kumar, owner of Sri Udupi Hotel, West Nada, Fort, Thiruvananthapuram.
The HORECA meet witnessed 25 hotel and restaurant owners meeting at the Horizon hotel on January 24th.
Hoteliers who spoke during the occasion stated that the government should take up the issues raised by the hotel and restaurant owners seriously and find an amicable solution, else a majority of the eateries will be forced to down the shutters and thus affecting the economy of the state.
In the past few years, the hotel owners are also being targeted after unconfirmed reports surfacing in the media where customers who had dined in the restaurant fell sick or died. Hoteliers alleged that in most of the cases, the owners have to face the brunt when an FIR is registered against the hotel owner.