It was bureaucratic bungling on a grand scale. As the tumult of the IX Asian Games subsided last fortnight it became vividly clear that the Asian Games Special Organising Committee (AGSOC) never really knew how many guests it would have to put up. As a result most of the rooms,It was bureaucratic bungling on a grand scale. As the tumult of the IX Asian Games subsided last fortnight it became vividly clear that the Asian Games Special Organising Committee (AGSOC) never really knew how many guests it would have to put up. As a result most of the rooms it booked were not used. In the private hotels built with special concessions for the Asiad only 160 rooms out of the 872 kept aside for AGSOC guests were actually used.The new public sector India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) hotels which received preferential treatment from AGSOC were somewhat luckier – AGSOC used 523 out of the 576 rooms it booked in ITDC’s newly-constructed hotels. The AGSOC had reckoned that it would be needing 2,800 rooms in all for Asiad but in the event it needed only about 1,400 in all the hotels. Wild Estimates: On the face of it, there was little excuse for AGSOC officials getting their estimates so wildly wrong, AGSOC was under an obligation to provide shelter for certain categories of guests, ranging from technical delegates, sports officials, cultural troupes, the foreign press and VIPs.These were all people who would have planned their journeys in advance – not trippers who made plans on the spur of the moment. In the normal course of events, AGSOC should have known how many people to expect.Admits Jitendra Bhargava, AGSOC’s officer-on-special duty (accommodation): “Our demand was based on the estimates given by the technical directorate of AGSOC which fell short by over 40 per cent.”advertisementThe unfinished Capital Park hotel in central DelhiAGSOC officials, blame a combination of factors, ranging from adverse publicity about dengue fever and the Akali agitation to plain bad marketing, the inability of travel agents to bring in groups and uncertainty about the completion of hotel projects kept people away.Says Tarlochan Singh, director (publicity) AGSOC: “Till the last moment we were not sure about the actual room availability, and foreign guests wanted confirmed bookings.”Criticism: Understandably, private hoteliers were extremely annoyed. Says Narinder Suri, 39, executive director, finance, of Surya Sofitel: “We have been badly let down by the AGSOC. They kept saying that they would be sending us guests who never arrived. It was with great difficulty that we were able to organise over 170 rooms for the Asiad.” Adds Om Munjal, executive director of Siddhartha Hotels in a similar vein: “We are terribly disappointed with AGSOC. Some of the bookings they gave us at the last minute finally never turned up.” Officials counter such arguments on the plea that many of the privately run hotels were far from ready to entertain guests.Some guests moved from the Surya Sofitel, Hyatt Regency and Hotel Centaur because the facilities were hopelessly incomplete. Says K.P. Singhdeo, chairman of the Asian Games Accommodation Committee: “We would have flooded all the hotels with guests but unfortunately there were no takers for some of the hotels. Even hard selling on the part of my boys didn’t work.” Adds Bhargava: “People who came for the Asiad didn’t want to stay in the semi-finished hotels with limited number of five-star facilities.”There is little doubt that on this score at least AGSOC officials are on firm ground. Most private hotels opened temporarily only to avoid adverse publicity and the penalty clauses that the Government might have imposed had they not been ready.Even hotels like Meridien and Bharat, which made it in the nick of time, wrote to the AGSOC saying that they were in a position to provide 100 rooms each.Technically they may have been right but the heaps of mud and machinery that were lying at both sites were hardly calculated to help provide a congenial atmosphere for guests.In fact, it is no secret that the hotels were obliged to honour their commitments, even if symbolically, because they had received preferential treatment in the matter of loans from financial institutions, allotment of cement, foreign exchange and speedy disposal of their other needs. Admits a senior official of the Finance Ministry: “By writing a letter to AGSOC that a certain number of rooms we’re ready for Asiad, some of these hoteliers have been able to escape public criticism. It’s another matter that they have no guests for their rooms.”Unreal Estimates: Ultimately, the blame for the hotel fiasco must be shared by AGSOC and Tourism Ministry which made hopelessly unreal estimates about the number of additional tourists who would be attracted to India by the Asiad.Six months ago, the then tourism minister, A.P. Sharma told Parliament that Delhi would need 2,500 hotel rooms beyond the 3.801 already in existence. He also said that the 12 new hotels under construction would add 2,650 rooms in time for the Asiad. However, only 1,448 rooms were actually ready in time; but this did not prevent the ministry from recommending preferential treatment for the hotel projects.advertisementAs the Asiad loomed closer, ministry officials soon realised that they had been over optimistic in their estimates. In May 1982, AGSOC had booked 2,800 rooms. By mid-October the booking was scaled down to 2,100. In the end, AGSOC actually used only 1,180 rooms in the ITDC hotels and slashed their bookings with private hotels to just 300 from an original 1,150.Now that the Asiad is over, most of the private hotels have abandoned pretences and gone back to being the construction sites that they really are. Admits Subir Bhowmick, the general manager of the Taj Palace: “We are closed for renovation. To meet Asiad requirements, the rooms were temporarily done up.” Adds Mrs Suri of Surya: “We will resume our business only after two months.” The rooms in other hotels were being offered at less than 30 per cent of the actual room tariff of Rs 600.”As and when the new hotels do open, it seems only too likely that Delhi’s new innkeepers will have trouble keeping their noses above water. The actual turn of events during the Asiad appears to indicate that there will never be any real need for so many new hotels in Delhi. More than 80 per cent of the Asiad rush was accommodated in existing hotels or the projects which were started before 1980.And when all the 4,300 rooms are ready by 1984 there will be more than 7,000 rooms available in Delhi. Unless the number of tourists arriving in Delhi rises by at least 50 per cent, occupancy rates are likely to tumble to around 40 per cent.But as the hotel owners try to figure out how to make their great stone edifices paying propositions, the bureaucrats who once foresaw a roaring trade are busy thinking up explanations for having spent Rs 250 crore on projects which now hardly seem necessary.
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