India's Oyo budget hotel chain pledges to house coronavirus frontline staff and those stranded

Key Points
  • Indian budget hotel chain Oyo has pledged to offer free accommodation to frontline health-care workers and foreigners who are stranded overseas.
  • CEO Ritesh Agarwal told CNBC additional sites from its network would be used as isolation units for asymptomatic people. 
  • The announcement comes as the company faces backlash over its payment of hotel owners.

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An OYO Rooms logo seen displayed on a smartphone.
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Indian budget hotel chain Oyo has pledged to do "the right thing" by offering free accommodation to coronavirus frontline workers and foreigners who are stranded overseas, even as the $10 billion start-up continues to battle criticism over its treatment of hotel owners.

Oyo's founder and CEO, Ritesh Agarwal, said selected sites from its international network of hotels and homestays would be designated to house health-care professionals, police and army staff working on the frontlines of the outbreak, including in the U.S. and India. Others would be repurposed as "makeshift" isolation rooms for asymptomatic people, or those who test positive for COVID-19 but do not show any symptoms. 

Meanwhile, the founder said the company had been in touch with more than 15 embassies around the world, including in Thailand and Brazil, to offer accommodation to foreigners who are stranded.

"We believe that the challenge of accommodation is unique, and we are trying to do everything to make sure that we can rise up to the cause while doing the right thing for our company and customers as well," he told CNBC's "Street Signs" Tuesday.

OYO Hotels & Homes hosts frontline staff and stranded citizens amid virus crisis
OYO Hotels & Homes hosts frontline staff and stranded citizens amid virus crisis

The comments come after the company, which claims to be the second-largest hotel chain in the world, faced complaints over its failure to adequately compensate hotel owners in India and China.

"Our priority at this point of time is to make sure that we do right by our team members and take responsibility by being transparent," Agarwal said. 

Oyo, which is backed by Softbank's $100 billion Vision Fund, is currently in discussions with its board to find ways to rebalance its cash balance sheet without laying off staff, Agarwal said. That could include drawing on government subsidies in the various countries in which it operates, he said.

"We're trying to make sure we can balance all of these as we navigate through these challenging times," the founder said.

Last week, Agarwal announced he would forego his full salary for the year, joining a growing line of top executives to take a wage cut amid the crisis. Oyo's leadership team would take pay cuts of between 25% and 50%, he said.