What does travel’s reopening look like and how are India’s industry leaders navigating the pandemic? Poonam Makhija, Vice President of East West Marketing India, interviewed two experts on what’s happening in the market and what we might expect moving forward.
Participating in the interview:
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For brevity, respondents’ first names and travel companies will appear alongside responses.
Poonam Makhija: As the lockdown in India is seeing a phased re-opening, when do you think business will start for the outbound tourism industry? How much time do you feel it will take for our industry to come back to normal?
Manish/Baywatch Travels: I see it taking approximately one year to recover. I don’t see any booking coming before next summer, whereby there will be small lots of people travelling from January onwards who will encourage the others.
Neeraj/Peekay Holidays: It depends on when international flights restart and when the embassies are functioning at their full capacity. In my opinion, international leisure travel is likely to resume by Christmas. The time it’s going to take to get back to normal will not be until clients are fully assured of their safety and given the assurance that every country is taking the necessary steps to reassure the holiday experience, which I anticipate by the middle of next year.
Poonam: Which segment in our business will start first and why so?
Manish/Baywatch Travels: Domestic tourism will come first, as it will be easy to take on with not much Standard Operation Procedure (SOP). I see them driving to luxury resorts.
Neeraj/Peekay Holidays: Definitely domestic flight ticket sales followed by road trips and bookings of boutique accommodations with less rooms and peaceful atmosphere. People are now used to living in a confined space and to get out there and face a bigger crowd all at once, especially for a leisure break, could be daunting. Hence, they will gradually adapt to the new normal.
Poonam: What will you check or understand about destinations and what precautions will you ensure before your clients travel?
Neeraj/Peekay Holidays: Number of cases is on top of the checklist along with immigration laws, connectivity of travel, minimise the indoor experiences, boutique accommodations, normality in operations of restaurants, cafes, bars, shopping up to 70-80% minimum.
Manish/Baywatch Travels: I will have to understand the SOPs of hotels and tour companies as well as how transfers and SIC tours will happen. I think we have to wait to see how they maintain social distancing as clients will not take up the tour if these practices are not followed.
Poonam: How do you think the business module will change for the outbound tourism industry after this lockdown?
Manish/Baywatch Travels: Budget travel from India will be impacted as travellers prefer to do local holidays. What may survive is luxury accommodation since they will have SOPs in place and clients will feel safe. I am particularly worried about economy brands like IBIS who may be in big trouble—not because they won’t follow SOPs—but because their clientele will not travel for the longest time.
Neeraj/Peekay Holidays: It’s too early to say. One can know and define that only after the international borders are open as we are dependent on the various destinations to establish their travel norms and rules to plan a business module.
Poonam: Do you see Outbound Travel becoming more expensive or do you envisage attractive deals from both airlines and other suppliers to motivate clients?
Manish/Baywatch Travels: All pricing is based on demand and supply, so it all depends on the clients’ moods and emotions. If they begin to travel, rates may go up, but if they are thinking and worried, rates may keep falling.
Neeraj/Peekay Holidays: The initial phase will definitely have certain restrictions in terms of pricing to regain client confidence. Prices may not go down, but it will not hike up astronomically either. Every aspect of the tourism industry has to work hand in hand to pull its core back together as strong as it was before. Price point will definitely play a very crucial role.
Poonam: What will be the future of the outbound MICE business from India post lockdown?
Manish/Baywatch Travels: Outbound MICE business will not happen for a while as no corporation will want to risk taking 500 of their best employees or customers to a place and chance contracting the virus. So, until the vaccine is available, this will not happen.
Poonam: What will be your expectations from National Tourism Organizations and tourism marketing agencies?
Neeraj/Peekay Holidays: To give us assurance and updates on the local market and what changes the destination is going through in the new phase of travel; to support the travel agents with updated information on safety, precautions and important measures to be taken before recommending their destination. Most importantly, to give the travel agencies an opportunity to visit the destination first-hand and familiarize themselves with the new normal, which will boost confidence in promoting a destination.
Manish/Baywatch Travels: I think they should share how the country and its attractions are following social distancing. Videos and other SOPs will help.
Poonam: Which will be the first international destinations people will choose when the situation starts improving?
Manish/Baywatch Travels: From India, it will be our neighbours like Sri Lanka , Maldives, Nepal, Bhutan and maybe Singapore.
Neeraj/Peekay Holidays: It all depends on the international borders opening up and what each destination comes up with as their travel norms. In my opinion; however, I would guess the island nations such as Maldives, Seychelles, Mauritius, etc. will be first to attract tourists due to access and easy visa formalities. People will initially prefer a direct flight as supposed to a connecting one.