28 ASIAN LEGAL BUSINESS – JULY 2023 WWW.LEGALBUSINESSONLINE.COM ROUNDTABLE ALB: With travel demand expected to reach pre-COVID levels, what specific legal challenges or issues do you anticipate your department will face in the next 12-24 months, and how are you preparing to address them? MISRA: The travel demand for the hospitality sector has far outpaced preCOVID levels, and the hospitality industry has seen tremendous growth. We are negotiating and signing new hotel deals; on the other hand, we are today opening more hotels than ever, which means increasing number of operational issues to address. Further, the concept of Bleisure – Workation – Homestays gained momentum during COVID and continues to remain popular. We continue to sign more homestays under our brand ãma Stays & Trails. Facilitating this growth and keeping pace is our priority. With increased business, the challenge of effectively managing multiple guests related operational issues arose. Further, latest developments in the sector in the form of new digital advancements and artificial intelligence, though at their nascent stages, are challenging, and yet we see an opportunity to thrive with their learnings and adoption. We, as a team, periodically scan the environment and brainstorm so that we are future-ready. Challenges are identified, probable solutions are worked out, and after careful evaluation, solutions are effectively implemented, enabling us to keep going and delivering. HOU: It is believed that the gradual popularity of AI will be reflected in the daily operation of hotels, and thus there may be more intelligent scenes in hotels, which will lead to more new legal issues worthy of our attention and study. I don’t expect to be able to recruit legal talents who are also proficient in AI, although I believe there are such talents, but it is few and far between. To deal with these challenges, stay open and keep learning. SIMPSON: In addition to supporting our sales and business development teams in adding new hotels to our portfolio, we’ve noticed mindset changes in both the hospitality company and the hotels themselves coming out of COVID-19. These mindset changes include relooking at old processes, procures and structures and evaluating if they continue to be effective. This places an increased demand on the in-house legal department as the business reaches out to ask the legal reasoning behind old processes and the potential legal implications if processes were changed. As a result, we are focused on re-evaluating our processes and redistributing resources to ensure that we continue to operate effectively with the resources we have. ALB: As borders reopen and travel resumes, are there any regulatory/ compliance concerns that your legal department is focused on, and what measures are being taken to ensure adherence to these requirements? MISRA: Today, there is an increased focus on “wellness.” Taking care of one’s health was never taken this seriously; the pandemic has taught us that quite well. So, the focus has changed significantly to ensuring that our deliverables add to the wellness and well-being of everyone around us, be it our guests, our employees, or the community at large. Our offerings are now focused to ensure that wellness is a key concept. Further, today, more than ever, compliance management is an area of focus; and we are continuously engaged in ensuring that our compliance management system is robust enough to ensure compliance management and assurance. We have also embarked upon conducting training sessions for non-legal employees. These trainings are focussed on effective implementation of hotel management contract rights and obligations, as well as on nuances of competition law, etc. HOU: Due to the promulgation and implementation of data-related legislations in various jurisdictions, we focus on data security and privacy protection. Relevant measures taken include, without limitation to trainings, government filings, necessary improvement and rectification of system and process, and so on. SIMPSON: We’ve noticed some changes to visa policy and travel requirements across the Southeast Asia and Pacific Rim region. Certain countries have made changes to lending policy, foreign ownership policy and land controls. All these factors affect the tourism industry, from inception of hotel projects to the international attractiveness of the assets and industry. In terms of particular focus, our inhouse legal team continue to work with the business to monitor the changes that we think will have the most impact, including the continuing trend on privacy and data compliance. ALB: In light of the evolving landscape in the hospitality sector, what strategic initiatives or plans has your legal department implemented or is planning to implement to support the “Following the pandemic, a resurgent India backed by travel hungry travellers aided in a speedy recovery of the industry, evidenced by the growth numbers delivered. The industry was revived, and we were back in action once business started coming back on track. The increase in business also saw an increase in operational issues where the legal team is engaged in addressing them.” — Rajendra Misra, The Indian Hotels Company Limited