When Sudhir Trehan opened a Bed and Breakfast facility — ‘Essence' — at his Lajpat Nagar home in February this year, he hoped for a booming business thanks to the Commonwealth Games. With 1 lakh tourists expected during the mega event, Trehan couldn't have gone wrong.
Trehan doesn't have a single booking for the next three months. In fact, Trehan has had no foreign guests at all. The only guests he gets are those in transit and sent by his friends.
Trehan's experience is shared by the owners of most of the 422 B'n'B premises in the city registered by the Delhi government. There are no bookings, or enquiries by any foreign guests for October, when the Games will be held. Tired of waiting for guests, some dejected owners have shut shop.
"I have decided to close down as we have no business at all," said R.K. Suneja, who runs a B'n'B facility in Greater Kailash–I. "I might wait till the games but I am disappointed."
Launched with much fanfare by the Delhi government in 2007, the Bed and Breakfast scheme has failed to take off. The government has been able to get on board only 422 B'n'B premises in its programme. That translates into just 1,322 rooms, which falls short of the original target of 3000 rooms.
The registration drive, however, hasn't been coupled with a publicity campaign the lack of which is blamed for the empty B'n'B facilities.
"The government has failed to publicise the scheme and that's why there are no guests," said Trehan.
Till recently, there was no online list of B'n'B facilities in Delhi and the only information available to tourists trying to book a room was through private websites. There was no way to verify the credentials of the premises.
The Delhi Tourism website now carries a list of the premises, along with their phone numbers and email ids. There is, however, no mention of the rates charged by these establishments or the facilities provided.
The security, both of the hosts and the guests, is also an area of concern. Senior Delhi government officials, however, claim it's not a grey area anymore. Police verifies the owners before registration and applications of those with criminal backgrounds are cancelled.
"Thanks to police verification of guests at B'n'Bs, the security aspect has been taken care of," said P.K. Tripathy, Principal Secretary, Tourism, Delhi government.
With less than two months left for the Games, the government is finally planning a publicity campaign to promote B'n'Bs that include signages, radio jingles, guide books, B'n'B maps, information booklets at IGI Airport, dedicated websites and phone numbers.
New signages will come up in neighbourhoods and approach roads where B'n'Bs are located. But thanks to the paucity of the number of establishments, officials say the signage system runs the risk of misrepresenting the actual availability of facilities in Delhi.
Tripathy said the aim was to bring the entire B'n'B network under the Delhi Tourism website. "Most tourists make their B'n'B arrangements online much before landing here. So our idea is to provide that facility at a single space for Delhi's establishments," he said. Most Delhi establishments have not come under the recognition network and the website is yet to launch.
"It's a voluntary scheme for tourist convenience and facilitation. We do not charge luxury tax so cannot force property owners to register," he said.
No bookings for the Games
Rashmi Ahuja, Golf Links
When Rashmi Ahuja started the Bed and Breakfast facility at her Golf Links home, the concept was unheard of in Delhi. Ahuja's is Gold Class accommodation. "I started around the 1982 Asian Games, when people were asked to open their houses to tourists," she said.
She had registered under the Paying Guest Resident Accommodation (PGRA) Scheme. Ahuja has five rooms under the B'n'B scheme.
Ahuja's success lies in the location of her premises. "We have an old facility and that's why we are well established. Plus our location boosts business. Most of my guests work for the UN and they go by my reputation," she said.
But despite her reputation, Ahuja does not have a single booking for the Games. "Usually October is a busy time but this year it is surprisingly very slow," she said.
The experience of having guests has been very enriching for Ahuja and her family. "You learn a lot and in turn educate them about India's culture," she said.
Ahuja has not got much support from the government. "We were to get CWG promotional material packages from the government but nothing has happened so far," she said.
Tariff: Summers: Rs 3,000 per day;
Rest of the year: Rs 5,000 per day
Heritage draws tourists
Shalini Shyam Nath, Shyam Nath Road
She may have started a Bed and Breakfast accommodation just a year back, but Shalini Shyam Nath has seen success in a venture that many are now regretting.
She is among the few people who are completely booked for the Games.
Her Gold Class accommodation is located at Shyam Nath Marg, Civil Lines and has six rooms.
"My home is popular with a lot of tourists because of its location and also because the Shyam Nath Marg is a heritage lane. Guests like the feeling of living in a place that has a lot of history associated with it," she says.
Shalini does not get any guests through travel agents but through her high standing on tripadvisor.com, a popular travel website.
Shalini has had guests from all over the world including Alaska and Holland. "I registered in 2008 and got my first guest in March 2009. Since then there has been no looking back. I have had many Commonwealth Games officials living here for the last few months," she said.
The common rooms in her house have many personal photographs and books about India. "I try to maintain a personal touch in all the rooms and have extensive personal interaction with all my guests. Foreigners, that form 80 per cent of the clientele, are very keen to know about and love Indian food," said Shalini.
Tariff: Summers: Rs 3,500 per day;
Rest of the year: Rs 4,500 per day
Wanted: Tourists for Games
The MDS Lodge in Jasola Vihar is like any other guest house. The ground floor of the three-storey house has three guest rooms with the family living on the other two floors.
The guests are taken care of by a manager who has been in the hospitality business for the last 12 years.
"Our main clientele are medical tourists as the Apollo hospital is near our Bed-and-Breakfast," said Atiq-ur-Rehman, the manager.
The rooms are classified as Silver Class. The facility was started a year back.
Rehman says the tourists who come are willing to experiment with Indian food, especially paranthas.
But Rehman says he, too, doesn't have any booking for the Games. "The travel agents we coordinate with have not confirmed any bookings till now," he said.
The facilities required for a Silver Class license, such as air conditioning, running water and TV, are in place but some furnishings are worn, while the walls have big damp patches.
The Bed-n-Breakfast business hasn't been very good for Rehman.
"A lot of B'n'Bs have mushroomed in the past year and there are not many tourists. This is why the business is slow," said Rehman.
Tariff: Rs 1,200 per day
A good idea not promoted
G.S. Ahluwalia, Defence Colony
A former Merchant Navy man, G.S. Ahluwalia has interacted with people from different countries. This prompted him to open a Bed-and-Breakfast facility in his Defence Colony home.
"I have traveled all over the world and have seen such facilities in other countries. I thought it was a good idea to start one of my own," he says.
Ahluwalia's accommodation has been listed as a Silver Class one.
But his experience has not been a pleasant one and he is planning to close down the facility. "Business has been slow since the 26/11 attack. Plus the red tape in the government makes it impossible to work," he says.
So far, he hasn't got any queries for room availability in October.
He says the government should have pamphlets and booklets at Indian embassies if it wants the scheme to succeed. "Abroad, information about home stay facilities is available at embassies and airports. Delhi should do something like that," he said.
When Ahluwalia ran his Bed and Breakfast accommodation, he fortified his business by making his presence felt online. "DTDC's bed and breakfast listing appears on the sixth page of a Google search," he said.
Tariff: Rs 4,000-6,000