N. Chirag Photo by Seth Doyleon

Q+A Interview: Outbound Tour Operators Association of India

Rati Dhodapkar
August 3, 2020

How are India’s travel leaders staying engaged with their customers and how are they preparing for a recovery? Here’s what Mr. Riaz Munshi, President of the Outbound Tour Operators Association of India (OTOAI) had to say about top business challenges, new priorities and the future of tourism.

N. Chirag, Mr Riyaz Munshi, President of Outbound Travel Association of India
Mr. Riaz Munshi, President, Outbound Tour Operators Association of India
  • Riaz Munshi, President of OTOAI and Managing Director, N. Chirag
    N. Chirag, based in Delhi, designs tailor-made holidays and luxury trips around the world and extraordinary travel experiences

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Rati Dhodapkar, East/West, CEO India: What have been your top business challenges navigating COVID-19?

Riaz Munshi, OTOAI, President: Biggest challenge is the shifting dynamics of how we conduct business. We have to be flexible in adopting the new norms, enhance product knowledge and focus more on developing experiences suitable for our respective customers.

We, as travel experts and consultants, are consistently looking at ways to adapt to changing consumer preferences, safety guidelines and social distancing norms to remerge post lockdown. I have no doubt that responsible travel and sustainable practices will now move up in priority. The travel industry is highly dependent on the health of the environment and interaction with the local communities and cultures around the world. Once travel resumes, it is only natural to expect the industry and travellers to embrace slow and sustainable travel, not just for the environment and local people, but also for their own well-being.

Photo Courtesy of N. Chirag, JA Manafaru Maldives

Rati: How are you staying engaged with your customers?

Riaz: Virtual destination tours and inspirational social media content are ways we keep customers engaged and motivated to travel. We also send regular emailers for new itineraries and destinations. We want to help them choose their dream destinations. A recent survey found that 80% of our customers are willing to go on vacation as soon as it is safe to travel.

Rati: What are your current priorities? And how are you preparing for a recovery?

Riaz: The current priorities are to use finances smartly and diligently to hang around. To prepare for the recovery, we’re investing in training and enhancing the product knowledge of our team. We’re creating itineraries with new norms and with new and innovative ideas for product development. It’s important to keep the team motivated and in a good state of mind so we’re ready to bounce back. We want to go full strength as soon as international flights start commencing from India.

Rati: When considering the first outbound journeys post-virus, what do you predict travelers are looking for? And where do you think they will go?

Riaz: I think recovery will happen, but at its own pace. It will start with nearby domestic destinations until international flights resume. Initially, travelers will go for short-haul outbound destinations which have direct connectivity. However, travelers will be a lot more cautious and mindful. They will demand utmost assurance and visible measures undertaken to make travel safer for them. There will be greater inclination towards wellness retreats, isolated island getaways and scenic countrysides over visiting crowded places. This will steer tourism in a direction that is more impactful, meaningful and responsible. We anticipate more remote getaways, staying longer in a single place and stepping away from typically crowded places to support local more than ever.

The pandemic has had people locked up in their homes for too long, and travel is a great stress buster to revive and rejuvenate. It is a way of life and will not stop.

Outbound Tour Operators Association of India (OTOAI) is one of the youngest Travel Associations in India that has been formed for the benefit of the members in the outbound travel trade. It is a national, non-profit organisation comprising India’s Outbound Tour Operators and Travel Agents, who are into serious business of selling outbound.