Travel and Tourism is one of the vulnerable industries that has taken the possible worst hit in the present pandemic of COVID19, not just in India, but on the global scale. This is because, like any other industry, this industry is also built up of many small operators and service providers, each supporting and feeding the larger one. Each level has suffered a setback, which has been passed on to the larger or smaller one, below or above it. It goes without saying, larger the service provider, greater the losses. The COVID19 has like a sky high barrier that has set-off a domino effect that has not spared a single tour operator his loss of business.
The ET on April 3, 2020 reported
The coronavirus pandemic would have a debilitating impact on India's tourism sector with the industry estimating an overall loss of Rs. 5 lakh crore and job cuts for 4-5 crore people.
Of the total losses, the organised sector in the industry -- branded hotels, tour operators, travel agencies which are the mainstay of the sector - may be hit the hardest with an estimated loss of around Rs 1.58 lakh crore, according to Confederation of Indian Industry estimates.
On the global scale the picture is even more demoralising. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) reports that up to 50 million travel and tourism jobs are at risk!
Crippling blow on every front
Tourism in itself is of many kinds, suited for the hobbies, passion, interests of the travellers. There are people who have a travel fantasy of visiting the Pyramids, others may want to take up trekking every weekend to a historical fort. Some may want to visit beaches, others pilgrimage places.
Every type of Tourism- Adventure, Wild-life Festival, Music, Regional, Medical & wellness, Cruise tourism or Heritage has its own set of followers. Each type if tourism is is driven and followed by different age groups. There are summer and vacation camps for school children, adventure trips are a rage for teenagers because of activities like rock climbing, trekking, river rafting, camp fire, tent stays. Those following a hobby plan for trips like musical/ dance festivals, nature-lovers take regular wild-life tours at sanctuaries or for birding, retired people and businessmen, tired of their busy schedule prefer to travel to luxury resorts, or hill-stations to relax or to islands and beaches to get the sun-burn, scuba dive and unwind. Locations of religious important attract for pilgrimages to get peace of mind. Others focus on exploration of places rich in tradition and culture different from the local flavours.
These avid travellers are constantly planning their next tour, researching about it and in dialogue with various tour operators and travel agencies. But in a pandemic scenario like today, all these dialogues have all come to a screeching halt. There is only silence at the other end of the call…
Success and flourishing of the Tourism industry is always subject to many factors. Hence it is always on the edge of a sharp sword. One change in any parameters can topple the entire tour’s plan, resulting in sudden cancellations, loss of refunds and Customer dissatisfaction which is the worst type of loss. Hence the travel agents are already wary of the circumstances when any trip is under planning.
But this time the circumstances exceed all the unforeseen! The lockdown clamp came down so quickly, without a warning, that all the Tourism enablers came crashing down, all together, and doors to all tourism closed with a loud bang! It is believed, this abrupt and unexpected stalling has taken the Tourism industry back by 3 full years!
International travel has already taken a plunge now. All flights have been grounded. All borders have been sealed. Now the main questions are-
> What will travel and tourism look like in the post-COVID19 situation?
> How long will it take for Tourism industry to bounce back? and
> How will it influence the domestic economy, once the things settle and being able to travel is safe again?
Where will the oxygen of hope come from?
By now it is obvious that the great lockdown has impacted not just people in the travel industry, but also those who want to travel- for various reasons- pleasure, work assignments, business, social service etc.
But like they say, need is the mother of invention, the Tourism industry must start thinking ahead instead of crying over spilt milk. The curiosity and thirst to travel will never dry up for hard-core travellers. Man has travelled and overcome all obstacles of nature and disease since ancient times. Taking inspiration from Hiuen Tsang, Ibn Batuta and Marco Polo, who were determined to explore and travel, we can look at the following few options, that may be light at the end of this dark tunnel:
To the maximum possible extent. Digitization offers a range of possibilities and options to tap places, resources and potential prospects.
Keep your customers interested in their travel plans and goals. Curiosity and desire to learn gets charged as you feed more interesting facts about locales, cultures, traditions, travel routes and their pictures to your customers, even if they have to experience it from home. For this regular mailers can be sent to Customers based on their preference of tourism and age groups.
> Share short video clips that will display teasers, and give a taste of experience of different types of tourism through virtual tours and webcams or GoPro recordings.
> Share excerpts from well-known travel books, travel blogs with prospective Customers, who want to gather more information about a particular destination.
> Travel agencies can go one step ahead and even share recipes from local chefs from a particular region (gattey-ki-subji from Rajasthan or chicken chettinadu from Tamilnadu or aalu poshto from West Bengal). Generate interest in local cuisines so that your Customers anticipate the pleasure of tasting local delicacies can connect with local community when they plan their travel.
Stay informed, as the news changes on a regular basis, by checking in with a trusted source like the World Health Organization or the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and local administrative authorities as well as
Riaz Munshi, President, Outbound Tour Operators Association of India (OTOAI) remarks. "We need to channel our energy towards innovative ideas, attend webinars and enhance our knowledge and skills.”
Travel agencies can use this time to explore cost-effective travel options in terms of pricing and travel time as well as exposure to pandemic. There will be more demand for the less crowded destinations and people would most likely avoid the crowded, popular spots. Short-haul travel packages can be readied to be offered, because it is quite likely that people will want to do this kind of travel first, once the lockdown is over.
- Collaborate and communicate
Communicate and contact your agents, facilitators, reservation channels and hotel sources, share the sound your problems with them and offer free assistance to support. This is also good time to negotiate new commercial terms, join hands with other agencies and expand the domain of operation, where you lack expertise and experience.
In the present scenario, it is not just the Travel companies that have been affected. Travellers who have invested in travel tickets, hotel reservations, payments to the Travel agencies and insurance are also miserable and confused.
Travel agencies need to stay connected with their Customers, and offer option of complete cancellation, or part with best possible refund policies. Alternatively, an option to reschedule the tour with add-on actual expenses to be incurred at the time of next booking can be presented.
It will be relatively easier for established Travel agents to bounce back to normal in the post-COVID19 era, as compared to independent players and small agents. This is because larger organisations always have a spare budget for marketing and promotion strategies. It will also be challenging for small scale companies to deal with destination associates, and refresh the earlier contracts.
The impact of COVID-19 on travel and tourism industry is enormous and unmatched. The entire machinery has been derailed. This is because the Hospitality and Service industry probably does not have a very comprehensive work from home set-up. This is an industry whose success entirely depends on the ability of people to travel. The more people will travel, the faster will be the growth of this industry. The best strategy for today is keeping the interest in the destinations alive so that consumers have a desire to travel there once the restrictions are lifted.
Devendra A. Vetal
Tour Manager at Veena World
Devendra has been dedicated and passionate about the tourism and travel industry for more than 20 years . His deep study of the regional specialities- the culture, heritage, cuisines and traditions is his forte. His particular expertise in the North and North-eastern and South Indian regions is acknowledged in the industry with regard. An avid traveller of the country, he is always enthusiastic about experiencing and learning the culture and art of various Indian states. His also enjoys trekking and camping with small batches of eager and energetic teenagers over weekends.
Although his shoes and sac take him in all corners of the country most of the year round, he is at the moment very much indoors, safe in his hometown, Pune and reading and writing about his experiences.