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Akshay Kumar

Akshay Kumar

Right from the advent of the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (CSMIA) has left no stone unturned in aiding the nation towards a seamless and efficient transport. Since then, CSMIA has facilitated the distribution of a total of approx. 43 million doses of vaccines catering to 8.5 million doses in India and 34.5 million doses across the globe. The SOPs implemented by the airport in anticipation of the vaccine distribution saw the terminal register an average cargo processing time of just 10 minutes for domestic delivery and 25 minutes for international, right from goods acceptance to dispatch at the ramp.

CSMIA has facilitated the distribution of approximately 113 tons of the vaccine to over 57 destinations; this includes over 29 international and 28 domestic destinations. CSMIA witnessed the highest export of the vaccine to Dhaka with nine million doses, Morocco with six million doses and Brazil with four million doses. On the domestic front, a total of 2.1 million doses of vaccines were distributed to Raipur, Cochin and Guwahati. The airport has supported over 18 airlines for the vaccine distribution across the globe. Air India, Emirates and Royal Air Morocco emerged as the top three airlines operating the highest number of vaccines to international destination with  15 million,  6.1 million and six million doses respectively whereas SpiceJet, Indigo and Go Air were the top airlines catering to the domestic destinations with 3.1 million, 2.7 million and 1.5 million doses respectively.

As a pharma hub, CSMIA is a veteran in transporting vaccines across the world and has placed a well-defined process for the faster turnaround of the vaccine and transshipment movements. The airport deployed a dedicated COVID-task force in order to reduce dwell time and facilitate advanced planning and collaboration between the airport and all stakeholders in this process - the airline customers, supply chain partners, regulatory and governmental bodies, and vaccine distributors. It has also initiated a full-time 24x7 Customer Service Cell for COVID-19 vaccine EXIM consignments, in order to address customer queries, pre-alerts and status updates.

Moreover, the air cargo is equipped with state-of-the-art facilities such as Asia's largest temperature-controlled Export Pharma Excellence Centre and Pharma-dedicated Import Cold Zone, a first-of-its-kind - 'Cooltainer' facility and the largest hub for Envirotainer movements with over 60 power outlets for processing pharma active containers. Additionally, it has an exclusive station dealing with storage and maintenance of both e-type and t-type active containers that facilitate the seamless distribution of vaccines across India.

In the wake of the pandemic, CSMIA has been relentlessly operating its cargo handling activities to cater to the greater need to mobilize and supply essential life-saving commodities across India and the world. The airport continues to undertake precautionary measures such as thermal temperature reading, social distancing, sensor-based hand sanitizers, wearing PPE, and regular sanitization of cargo facilities. As the first airport in India and third in Asia to achieve the IATA CEIV certification as well as being the only Indian airport in a strategic partnership with Pharma.aero, CSMIA is well-positioned to support, maintain and optimize pharma-dedicated corridors globally.

In order to give exposure to craft communities post the pandemic, Craft Village for the third chapter of the India Craft Week (ICW) has invited RARE India, a community of some of the best conscious luxury hotels and experiences in India and the subcontinent, as a valuable partner. ICW 2021 will be held in partnership with the British Council India from February 18-21, 2021 at the British Council Building and Bikaner House in New Delhi. RARE India’s aim under this partnership is to bring into limelight the craft and textile heritage and traditions of various states of India through curated tours to the small towns and villages where these crafts and textiles are handmade.

Shoba Mohan, Founder, RARE India, said, “When we speak of the cultural heritage that India possesses, more often than not, we find ourselves picturing massive forts that have been an inherent part of our visual understanding of heritage for a long time. But as much as these tangible sources of cultural heritage narrate tales of the land and its people, several layers of culture remain hidden in the intangible aspects of life that eventually complete the picture of culture in totality. Art, craft, textile, food, festivals and folklore speak volumes about the ways of life practiced by people of a particular region and over the years, all the hotels in the RARE India Community have contributed significantly towards the conservation and promotion of these intangible elements of our culture.”

At ICW 2021, RARE India will be highlighting and promoting curated craft and textile tours drawn by experts to some of the destinations in which it has partner hotels, including West Bengal, Rajasthan, Kutch, Kashmir and Madhya Pradesh. These crafts include Phad, Pichwai, Akola Print, Mughal Miniature and Minakari of Rajasthan; Kantha, Patua, Kalighat, Chhau Mask and Pattachitra of West Bengal; Maheshwari, Gond Art, Dhokra, Bagh and Chanderi of Central India; and Phulkari, Wood Inlay, Chamba Rumal, Patiala Work and Kangra Painting of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. All the RARE India Community hotels in these regions aim at the preservation of the art, craft and textile of the region by creating experiences where the travelers can see the skill of handmade crafts and gain first-hand experience of the rich and engaging art of the community.

Lords Hotels and Resorts with presence in 40 cities 11 states and two countries is aggressively promoting destination weddings.

The group is promoting Ideal destinations like Aarya Lords Club & Resort at Rajkot, Lords Four A Resort at Birpur (Jammu), Vishal Lords Inn at Gir (Gujarat), Lords Resort at Chotila, Lords Plaza at Nathdwara , Lords Resort at Bhavnagar Aakar Lords Inn Saputara. Lords offers variety of indoor and outdoor spaces at these locations will let you host your grand affairs with panache.

Shyam Pratap Singh, Corporate Sales Manager, Lords Hotels and Resorts, said, “People want to enjoy special locations while taking precautions. All our hotels has not only met but exceeded cleaning quality requirements and completed the COVID 19 check list and hygiene audit. All the venues are thoroughly sanitised prior to the event, ultraviolet (UV) hand sanitisation stations have been installed. The staff wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kit, thermal screening of guest at the time of arrival. Different colour and designer face mask for Bride and bridegroom side are some the new innovative measures introduced by us.”

Rachel Bremer, Global Travel Trade & Destination Development Manager, Utah Office of Tourism and Film speaks about the pandemic impact, tweaking strategies and film tourism opportunities.

One of the novel entrants, Utah, a state in the western USA is aggressively looking to harness the potential of Indian outbound. The destination earlier this year has appointed IndiJo as its representative in India market and has been increasing its brand awareness alongside forging partnership with the travel trade.

What is the magnitude of the impact that you are witnessing globally and from India market during the coronavirus pandemic?

As with other destinations, the global impact of the pandemic has negatively impacted Utah’s visitor economy. Global flight restrictions and border closures led to a very abrupt halt of Utah’s visitor economy in the spring, although, in some areas in the state, including National Park gateway areas, we have been able to partially rehabilitate the local economies due to lost International visitation with domestic/regional visitors. Focusing on this domestic visitation has helped us to rebuild and gain market share. Comparatively, our visitor volume over the prior year is down 32 per cent while the Western US is down 52 per cent and the US is down 44 per cent collectively.

And although we are not welcoming International visitors right now, we have maintained our brand presence, and stayed engaged and supportive of the industry. We know that what we do now impacts travel a year from now, and beyond. Rehabilitating the industry will not only help our travel trade partners in markets such as India but also gain market share.

Our forecasting data for our core/markets of focus via Tourism Economics, (Oxford Economics) reflects a small recovery in 2021, (by spring of 2021), with slowed growth through 2023, and a 6.2 per cent projected growth from 2019 to 2024. Much of this growth is led by our Asian markets including India.

How prepared is your destination to restart tourism post coronavirus issue? Have you come up with a new SOP of guidelines for the industry?

Our Utah Office of Tourism team has held stakeholder webinars on industry best practices/visitor readiness, with tools, resources, and guidelines for the industry. The Utah Office of Tourism is a department with the Governor's Office of Economic Development. The Governor’s Office of Economic Development launched a ‘Safe IN Utah’ grant, extended to local businesses to support and respond to new industry standards. This grant provides businesses with the purchase of personal protective equipment, (PPE), implementation of workplace redesigns, new technologies, and other public health guidelines for the industry.

How are you tweaking your marketing strategy to attract visitors post the pandemic? Also, how is the destination working to instill confidence in travellers?

We have revised our messaging strategy to support inspirational messaging, while also supporting responsible tourism stewardship, and responsible recovery of Utah. We often hear visitors share experiences of the healing power of Utah, and it’s that special, quiet power that we expect will call to people even more in the future, and that lends itself perfectly to long-awaited travel experiences rooted in wellness.

The pandemic will lead to many people looking for a destination that offers respite, and scenic beauty, which is what they will find in Utah.

As a general opinion, long-haul markets will be the last ones to get back the normal business, your take on this? Also, will India be one of the top priority markets for you post the pandemic?

Long-haul markets will indeed have a slower recovery for Utah, although, despite this, it is important we continue to invest in our long-haul markets. We see a higher spend per visitor and a longer length of stay from our long-haul markets and remain vital to Utah’s recovery.

India will remain a market of focus alongside our other top inbound source markets including Canada, China, UK, France, Germany, and Australia.

What will be the upcoming trend in long haul tourism? Do you see an opportunity for slow tourism, which will in turn increase the length of stay?

We do see an opportunity for slow-tourism, which works well for Utah. We are a road-tripping state, and a large state, best enjoyed taking your time. We have 5 National Parks, (known as the Mighty 5), and 44 State Parks, (many of which could be National Parks), but, that is only the beginning. We are also home to The Greatest Snow on Earth, with 15 ski resorts and 10 within an hour’s drive from Salt Lake City International Airport, we are a true year-round slow-tourism destination.

How are you engaging with the travel trade fraternity in India?

Working with Indijo Consulting, and via Brand USA partner opportunities, we have hosted several webinars to train and engage with the industry. We are meeting with operators and DMC’s to develop product, create new itineraries, and forge partnerships. We are fairly new to the market, but I am optimistic that with the right messaging, partnerships, and education we can increase visitation and visitor spending from India.

Are you looking at film tourism from India market? Do you have any specific incentive programme?

We are looking at film tourism for India. Park City is home to the Sundance Film Festival, and Utah has a rich film history including Forrest Gump, Star Wars, Independence Day, Indiana Jones, High School Musical, West World, and many more. We have developed film tourism itineraries and inspiring film tourism content. We work alongside the Utah Film Commission to engage with the film industry and refer production companies to their team for film incentive opportunities.

Globally, 2020, the beginning of the new decade was looked upon as the milestone year and was set to begin with a bang. The travel, tourism, and hospitality sector has witnessed tremendous growth in the last 8-10 years and India market has been looked upon as the most promising market in terms of both inbound and outbound. Novel destinations, airlines, hotels, DMCs, cruise liners, etc ventured into the India market with aggressive promotional strategies in last one decade, only to reap the benefit in present and beyond.

With all set-in place, late 2019, the globe, more specifically Asia started witnessing a new viral outbreak which spread rapidly and by early 2020 was declared a pandemic. Countries across started closing borders, restrictions on international flights, hold on visa applications.

According to UNWTO, International tourism numbers went down by 65 per cent in the first eight months of the year which translated into a loss of 700 million international arrivals and about US$ 730 billion in export revenues from international tourism. This is more than eight times the loss in international tourism receipts recorded in 2009 amid the global economic and financial crisis.

“This unprecedented decline is having dramatic social and economic consequences, and puts millions of jobs and businesses at risk,” warned UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili. “This underlines the urgent need to safely restart tourism, in a timely and coordinated manner.”

By regions, Asia and the Pacific, the first region to suffer the impact of the pandemic, saw a 79 per cent decrease in arrivals in January-August 2020. Africa and the Middle East both recorded a 69 per cent drop this eight-month period, while Europe saw a 68 per cent decline and the Americas 65 per cent.

Starring at the crumbling tourism segment, governments and private stakeholders have shifted their focus towards domestic market in most of the countries. International travel, barring a few short-haul, will take long to recover.

But there comes silver lining amidst dark clouds as few vaccine trials have been successful to a great extent. With a vaccine in place, the global economy including the tourism sector will recover much rapidly than forecasted by experts.

The year that was

The year deterred growth for almost all sectors of the industry with aviation being the first and most impacted as international and domestic operations came to a sudden halt. Despite these challenges, airlines tried their best to stay afloat and adopted a whole new strategy. While some of them filed for bankruptcy, few with deep pocket and right strategy, tried to generated business through cargo and rescue flights.

Willy Boulter, Chief Commercial Officer, IndiGo, stated, “The year 2020 has indeed been a very challenging one for not just the aviation and travel industry but the global economy, and it is the economy which drives demand for our business. The difficulties of 2020 allowed us to explore uncharted territories and emerge stronger with more result driven strategies in place – for instance our ‘CarGo in cabin’ operations contributed to generating revenue, in an otherwise slow phase,  helping us to come out stronger from this situation and optimise our cash flow. During the initial lockdown, we operated over 30 relief flights, transporting medical equipment and other requisite resources across the country at our own cost. Since then we have operated over 3000 CarGo flights, which have opened up a strong stream of revenue. By earmarking 10 aircraft for CarGo charter flights exclusively, and reworking our strategy, we were able to turn CarGo into a much bigger player internally. With this example, we can say that the aviation industry must rethink its strategies to survive and thrive when faced with future “black swan” type events – like Covid-19.”

Similarly, the hospitality sector also suffered a major blow, reinvented and restructured itself quickly to adapt to the new normal. Most of the top hospitality players created quarantine facilities, entered the food delivery business, converted rooms to workstations for corporates, etc.

Speaking about the year 2020, Vijay Dewan, Managing Director, Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels & Deputy Chairman of CII - Eastern Region, stated, “This year has been a huge learning curve. Given that the travel, tourism and hospitality sector particularly was the most affected by the challenges of the pandemic, it also picked up and adapted to the odds. The industry relooked at its cost structures, created different and new business models from scratch, used the agility and nimbleness which helped to work almost as startups this year. Considering the evolving nature of business environment owing to the current situation, the industry has adopted and embraced technological innovations to keep things afloat. While COVID-19 had just hit the country, we quickly created a revenue stream for take-away and food delivery, and further upskilled our employees during the lockdown with online and e-learning modules.”

The travel and hospitality industry have witnessed a tremendous impact with well over five crore job losses in India alone due to the pandemic.

“The COVID 19 viral outbreak has created a crisis brutally affecting almost every industry barring a few. The travel and tourism industry has been one of the worst-hit sectors due to the global pandemic with an estimated 70 per cent job loss of the total workforce. With sealed international borders, suspended flights, compounded further by countrywide lockdown with intercity and interstate travel forbidden for months – travel and tourism had come to a complete standstill & we are staring at a loss of Rs. 150 lakh crores and about five crore job losses across the entire country,” Jyoti Mayal, President, Travel Agents Association of India, shared.

Recovery path

Initially, the industry was clueless about the way of recovery and everyone started singing the songs of survival and revival without any strategy. There was a total chaos and confusion. Gradually, some clarity poured in and stakeholder started restructuring their business model. In India, domestic tourism resumed in a phased-wise manner. The Ministry of Civil Aviation has allowed airlines to resume operation from May 25 with restrictions on capacity for airlines and now airlines are allowed to operate at 80 per cent of pre-covid capacity. There has been a steady increase in demand for leisure post unlock.

Speaking about the recovery graph, Christoph Schnellmann, Chief Executive Officer, Delhi Noida International Airport, explained, “We foresee a stable recovery for the sector backed by various factors including strong domestic demand for travel, coupled with the fact that flying is the safest mode of travel even in a Covid world. The air traffic has already recovered to 42 per cent of the pre-covid levels and we expect the traffic to strengthen going forward from here. Also, the expected release of COVID-19 vaccination and the replacement of localized quarantine procedures by a robust end-to-end testing protocol as proposed by ICAO, ACI and IATA, will bring about a strong revival in travel demand.”

Experts feel that once the vaccine is in place still it may a longer period to recover. Pronab Sarkar, President, Indian Association of Tour Operators, stated, “Travel and tourism was the first industry to be brought to a halt to contain the spread of the coronavirus, and will possibly take longer to recover given that holiday plans have been put on hold, while the health situation remains a priority, coupled with economic and business uncertainties. We have to project a Covid free environment with proper sanitisation of our vehicles, hotels, monuments and airlines etc to project that we are safe to travel. A positive and innovative approach, creative marketing and optimistic thinking will help the industry to revive at faster pace.”

PP Khanna, President, Association of Domestic Tour Operators, said, Efforts are being made by the Centre/State Govts. and the stakeholders to bring back the activities to pre-COVID period. Domestic flights have been restored partially and with opening up of some state boundaries for the tourists to visit destinations, things are moving slowly.  Building confidence among the people to travel is the need of the hour. Similarly, hospitality sector is also ready to receive the tourists for a safe and secure stay by strictly following the SOPs as per the guidelines of WHO/ICMR/Government to guarantee the safety of the guests.”

Road ahead

The key focus segment in 2021 is the domestic market which is expected to provide some cushion to the sector. Suggestions are pouring in to divert the outbound traffic into domestic. However, the key criterion remains instilling confidence amongst travelers to thwart of the fear created by the pandemic.

Major state tourism boards have started promoting their unexplored destinations across potential markets within India. Domestic airlines getting a nod to operate at 80 per cent of pre-covid capacity will further boost the domestic travel market.

Pradip Lulla, President, Travel Agents Federation of India, added, “The green shoots currently is the resumption of domestic flights to 80 per cent levels to pre covid and in the immediate future would have to look into domestic tourism for sustenance. The current resurgence of covid in India and hopefully the wave not gaining momentum will provide succor. The good news of vaccines coming shortly will be a confidence booster for the international borders opening up. Domestic tourism will gain in substitution of International travel but proper and standardised safety operating measures will give it a fillip.”

Khanna added, “With the relaxation in lockdown in a phased manner by the government, some of the services have got reinstated. People are moving out of their homes slowly. Unless the people take to travelling with confidence and move out of their houses, which is happening slowly now, scenario will not change for better. Let us hope that the 2021 could be a resurgence of ‘Domestic Tourism Year’ and bring a fortune to all stakeholders of the industry and the revival of tourism.”

One of the major demands by associations to the government have been to incentivize the domestic tourism. India, with an array of products, can grow multifold in terms of domestic if marketed through effective channels.

“We need to prioritize products and destinations that would be of interest in the target market and ensure that these deliver value for money. New segments such as Rural, wellness, Tribal, Adventure, MICE, Desert and Religious can be developed with a strong focus on the new norms. India has a robust domestic market which could soften the impact as compared with nations that rely largely on international tourists. India receives 11 million foreign tourists and around 26 million Indians travel abroad each year, spending an estimated US$25 billion. We must incentivize domestic travel to retain these high- spending tourists, which should not be difficult given the international travel restrictions in place. We need to incentivize MICE, get tax free holidays, rebates and moratoriums on domestic travel.” Mayal suggested.

Outlook

Despite challenges, industry stakeholders are bullish about the Indian travel and tourism sector. Experts feel that due to the nature of this market it can recover much quickly.

“India is a country with close-knit families and friend circles, and hence we believe people will continue flying and moving from one place to another to meet their loved ones. Therefore, leisure travel will see an increase towards the end of this month and early 2021, while corporate travel will remain subdued until we overcome the fear of the virus completely. There are also newer trends that we have witnessed such as ‘Workations’, which have picked up as a promising domestic travel trend, people moving out to newer cities and destinations to work remotely. With this we are optimistic with the overall growth and demand for domestic travel and we look forward to achieving pre-covid levels of traffic within a few months,” Boulter opined.

One of the major takeaways from the crisis is the upgradation of technology. To create a seamless and a contactless experience, every player are adopting tech-driven solutions.

“There is no denying to the fact that crises can also give rise to opportunities for doing things differently. One of the most pertinent shifts that COVID-19 has brought about, is the movement from physical to digital interface to ensure seamless and safe operations. Airports and airline companies have adopted ways and means to offer a contactless experience with facilities such as web check-ins, technology to self-print bag tags, UPI payments etc. If we talk about Delhi Noida International Airport, we will consider this in our planning,” Schnellmann added.

Echoing similar opinion, Sarkar said, “It is certain that the future of tourism will strongly rely on digital and technological discoveries such as the use of chatbots to make reservations, mobility patterns to manage visitor flows, artificial intelligence, the IoT, 5G, service-oriented robotic, gamification methods for emotional monitoring, etc. These innovations are going to shape the new tourist experience.”

Also, the hospitality industry has been successful in reinventing their business with new innovation never-seen-before concepts.

“Innovation has come out more strongly and has paved way for more technological adoption for the coming years. We have introduced digitalized interaction touchpoints: contactless check-in and check-out process, QR-based menus – both in the restaurant spaces and in-room dining, digital payments; rolled out workation, daycation, staycation packages that received impressive response. We took THE Park to guests’ home through Chefs and Bartenders at Home services, online food delivery services, and have even pruned our menus to make them leaner among introducing immunity boosting recipes, cocktails, and welcome shots the moment guests step into our hotels. Everything boils down to safety and hygiene which will supersede all the previously existing wants and desires. And technology will help to attain this in a big way,” Dewan informed.

With tour operators and travel agents being out of business since the outbreak, the industry has several suggestions for the government. The segment has not yet received any direct relief package despite several appeals.

“As we have not received any tangible benefits from the government some fiscal rebate to corporates in terms of tax not being charged on certain travel and tourism spend would be a booster. Even a reduction in GST with no inputs on airline tickets and travel agents service charges will be a good demand booster,” Lulla said.

Sanjay Datta, Chief — Underwriting, Reinsurance and Claims — ICICI Lombard General Insurance speaks about the trends and the future of travel insurance segment.

How would you explain the emerging trends in travel insurance sector in India?

The emerging trends in the travel insurance sector are mirroring with the mood of travellers in the COVID era. Customers are looking at local road-based travel, thus domestic travel insurance has picked up. Since most of the countries have not opened borders for international travel, that market is still slow. Travel insurance has been made mandatory by some countries and many other countries might be following suit.

What is the current market size of Indian travel insurance sector and where do you see this sector in the next 2-3 years?

As on FY ’2020, the travel insurance market constituted approx. 814 Cr and a growth of one per cent was seen in the overall market sector. 

Given the current scenario, the travel industry has seen a steep decline in past few months. Travel is slowly picking up with the commencement of domestic flights. The number of international travelers are still low and there are only over 20 countries in the air bubble agreement with us at the moment. The numbers will be limited due to the safety concern for some time.

However, with countries implying mandatory travel insurance for overseas travel and the increased awareness of the need of travel insurance, we are hopeful of treading on a path to recovery in the coming year.

The COVID outbreak has brought the world to a standstill. What does this mean for the insurance sector and your company?

The COVID outburst has impacted the travel industry immensely because of the travel restrictions applied by the countries such as closed borders, lockdown etc. Gradually the airlines have started in the domestic sector and also internationally with countries negotiating air travel bubble/ travel corridors with other countries. As a precautionary measure, people will be limiting travel and the travel will be restricted to business or student travel.

In future, more relaxation in the overseas travel is anticipated taking all safety guidelines into consideration. The domestic sector is likely to see a surge as many tourist destinations are luring customer with discounts and maintaining safety & hygiene.

As a result, the travel insurance is gradually picking up specifically in the domestic sector.

It is a good time for insurers to emphasize on the need for travel insurance. The insurance companies will have to keep giving added assurance to their customers that they can safeguard all the risks associated with the changed travel landscape in the pandemic situation. They need to keep evolving their offering. We are working on strengthening both our domestic as well as overseas offerings to give all confidence to customers that they are safe while travelling.

What impact the crisis will have on the travel insurance sector? What has been your response to the crisis?

With the COVID-19 outbreak, the travel industry has come to a standstill and has had a drastic impact on the travel insurance industry in the past few months.

Post the outbreak of COVID-19, the countries closed borders, the travel came to a halt across globe. With the number of cases in India reaching 90000 daily, a panic situation spread among the population confining people to their houses.

Now as the flights have resumed in the domestic sector and air bubble arrangement across nations, the industry is witnessing a slow recovery gradually. Slight surge can be seen in the domestic travel insurance as compared to the overseas.

This crisis had restricted all travel across nations resulting in a number of Indian nationals being stranded in different parts of the world. We extended our travel insurance including Covid-19 coverage for such individuals to safeguard their stay in the foreign land. While other insurers put a stop to issuance of policies when COVID was on peak overseas, we continued offering travel insurance. As an insurer we are constantly working to better our domestic as well as overseas offering in order to keep up with the changing times.

The COVID -19 has brought insurance sector in focus. What is your take on the opportunities and the risks that can arise for insurance business? Do you see the premiums going up as the number of claims may increase?

The COVID-19 has surely brought the focus on Insurance industry and at the same time has highlighted the need of insurance among the population. The current times have changed people’s perspective about insurance. Thus travel insurance penetration is expected to increase considerably in future.

The pandemic situation has certainly added to the increase in the number of claims but as an insurer, our focus would be to ensure the best coverage suited to the current scenario but also keeping in mind that it doesn’t leave a hole in the pocket of the customer.

Majority of the insurance was purchased by outbound travelers, now with the future of outbound looking bleak in the short-midterm, do you see an opportunity to tap the domestic travel segment aggressively? Are you planning to partner with any Airline or OTA?

Post pandemic, in terms of overseas travel leisure and tourism travel is bound to see a more dampened growth than business, student and other essential travel as travel resumes. The domestic travel is expected to surge in the near future. With airlines/ hotels luring customers with lucrative deals, people would be looking forward to taking vacations. The demand for travel insurance to cover against the unforeseen travel contingencies will increase creating wide range of opportunities to engage with the airlines and OTA. We already partner with some OTAs. We will certainly look at designing programs with other OTAs and airlines.

What is the impact on your long-term development strategy due to COVID-19? How are you tweaking your strategy to cater to travellers?

The global pandemic has been an unforeseen event that no one anticipated or was prepared for. Travel being one of the most affected sector, has led to change in short as well as long term goals specially designed around the current situation by the all industries. The strategies revolve around adjusting to the current needs. We are focusing on providing the best possible insurance solution to the customer given the COVID situation to assure them of protection at all times by designing covers and VAS services.

What sort of technological innovations/changes you have adopted in your services such as touchless services, minimum contacts etc -- keeping COVID 19 in mind?

ILGIC has always maintained an easy approach towards the policy issuance process with minimum contact. The customers can purchase policy on the website in one go. A 24 hour helpline number can be used for all travel assistance and claims. Many a claims can be settled on documents sent on email without need of any physical dispatch. We are working on proactive intimation of certain claims, where customer need not even approach us for claim settlement.

VAS services like doctor on call, road side assistance in self-drive travel etc. have been offered to give the customers a confidence that we are there with them at all times.

The insurance companies will have to keep updating the current offering in order to safeguard all the risks associated with travel in this pandemic situation.

Phillip Island Nature Parks has announced increased capacity at the Penguin Parade and the planned re-opening of the Nobbies Centre and Antarctic Journey, as we take the last steps towards COVID Normal and a COVID Safe summer.

The details of the announcements that come into effect at midnight on 22 November will bring all of the Nature Parks’ attractions back into operation seven days a week for the first time since March. Numbers of tickets to the Penguin Parade will increase from 50 to 500 per night with all venues operating under the organisation’s strict COVID Safe Plan.

Catherine Basterfield, CEO, Nature Parks, said, “Welcoming all Victorian visitors back over the past few weeks has been a thrill and we are happy to be able to increase the offering of more tickets to the Penguin Parade starting on 23 November. We’re also planning the reopening of the Nobbies Centre and Antarctic Journey in early December. This helps us to meet the demand of many who have been looking forward to coming back to the Nature Parks, and to also extend visitor stay for businesses on Phillip Island. Our community have been incredible in adapting to all of the changes across the year and our team is doing a wonderful job of maintaining a safe workplace for each other and visitors.”

The increased capacity at the Penguin Parade is a welcome move as the popular penguins have been in high demand with sell outs each night. Tickets for the Penguin Parade will be released in stages and are only available for purchase online. A new system of ticket holders being given a staggered entry time to the visitor centre is also being introduced to ensure physical distancing is maintained. All visitors will be at the beach before the penguins arrive.

The positive breeding season for the Little Penguins at the Penguin Parade is also positive news. Researchers report that, across the colony, most adult penguins have successfully raised their first two chicks which have left and gone to sea and are now looking set to start laying a second clutch of eggs.

The reopening of the Nobbies Centre and Antarctic journey, planned for Thursday 3 December, will bring the Nature Parks’ attraction offering whole again and also offers locals and visitors the chance to enjoy the ocean views, café, exhibits and to do some Christmas shopping. The team has been busy treating the Nobbies Centre to a complete makeover to ensure it is fresh for the summer.

All of the Nature Parks’ attractions are operating under a comprehensive COVID Safe plan to keep visitors and staff safe with capacity management, and enhanced cleaning and hygiene procedures in place.

Online tickets are required for the Penguin Parade and are recommended for each of the attractions. Please refer to www.penguins.org.au for latest updates on visiting the Nature Parks.

“We are excited to be taking these final steps with our community. Victorians have done a wonderful job, and we are all looking forward to sharing a COVID Safe summer together and to be with family, enjoy nature and wildlife and relax after a very challenging year,” said Catherine.

Norwegian Cruise Line has announced a new docuseries, “EMBARK – The Series,” inviting the public to experience the Brand and enjoy a front row seat to its highly-anticipated comeback. The docuseries kicks off with an “EMBARK NCL Spotlight Series,” two episodes showcasing the iconic Broadway and West End calibre entertainment found across the Norwegian fleet. The first episode invites viewers into London’s historic West End Garrick Theatre for a special reunion that brings “The Choir of Man” cast together for the first time in many months. The episode will include performances of guest favourites including “Save Tonight,” “Escape (The Piña Colada Song),” “Hello” and “Some Nights” as well as an inside look at how the cast is managing through this historic time and how the talented performers are remaining optimistic about the future.

Richard Ambrose, Senior Vice President of entertainment and cruise programming, Norwegian Cruise Line, said, “Now more than ever, we are longing for connection. Entertainment unites us, allowing us to forget our worries, even if just for a short while. We have long been advocates for the entertainment community and are committed to providing high-caliber performances for our guests. While theaters are closed and gatherings are limited, we want to support our fellow performers while connecting with guests in a meaningful way. Through this exclusive offering, we showcase human resiliency and offer hope for a better tomorrow. In the end, we are in this together and that’s why we will all persevere.”

In addition to its residency on Norwegian Escape and Norwegian Encore, “The Choir of Man” has performed across the globe in iconic venues including Chicago’s Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place and Washington D.C.’s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and just announced that it will return to the Sydney Opera House for the third time beginning February 2021.  

After a half-year standstill, the travel and tourism industry has once again started taking baby steps towards normalcy. Globally, tourism and its allied industries have been bantered due to the pandemic. Although post resumption, leisure segment is picking up, segments like corporate and business travel are expected to take much longer time to recover. Outbound travel has restarted in a staggered manner within countries having air-bubble agreements. Destinations are now majorly banking upon the domestic tourism to revive the industry.

Despite the early green shoots in the tourism industry, still there is a major fear psychosis and fear amongst travellers to take a vacation. All hotels, destinations, airlines, cruise liners, car rentals, etc across the globe are following stringent SOPs and protocols implemented by their respective government’s and their brands. Despite all these measures, is your travel safe and secure as earlier?

This factor has made the travel insurance segment all the more important. Earlier, the travel insurance business usually witnessed outbound travellers purchasing it as an add-on or as a visa requirement. But, in the post-COVID19 era, every traveler will look at travel insurance as an utmost priority.

Speaking about the market size, as per a latest report on Travel Insurance Market published by Valuates Reports, the global travel insurance market size was valued at US$ 19.2 Billion in 2019 and is projected to reach US$ 39.3 Billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 17.4 per cent from 2020 to 2027.

Earlier, increase in many incidents, such as cancellations of flights, loss of baggage & essential documents, and medical emergencies were the major issues driving the travel insurance market size. This topped up with COVID-19 challenges, will boost the market size.

Asia-pacific Travel Insurance Market size is estimated to reach US$ 9,875 Million by 2022, growing at a CAGR of 10.1 per cent from 2016 to 2022. During the forecast period, insurance aggregators are expected to grow at a CAGR of 14.4 per cent. The Asia-Pacific travel insurance market is dominated by insurance intermediaries, as they are one of the most conventional and trusted distribution networks.

In India, the travel insurance market was valued at over US$ 80 million in 2018, exhibiting a CAGR of close to 12 per cent. Travel insurance market in India accounts for less than one per cent of the total travel insurance industry worldwide.

Sharing specific analysis on India market, the report further states that India possesses high market potential, but the travel insurance market is still in its nascent stage. Growing awareness of the significant benefit of travel insurance among the Indian population provides India with a significant opportunity to become one of the world's main travel insurance markets. The number of domestic travelers across India, in addition to foreign travelers, have also increased. It has been noted that each year 30 million Indians are subject to outbound travel, thus creating a significant opportunity for expansion.  

Travel insurance has now become far more advanced, with the support of technologies such as geo-location, application program interface (API), artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, and global positioning system (GPS), among others. Dev Karvat, Founder, CEO – India & Emerging Markets, TrawellTag Cover-More, says, “Our travel protection products are already available for purchase through a dedicated web portal for our clients, which has seen higher traffic in these times. Travellers can avail 24/7 telephonic assistance, for any emergencies. We have also activated WhatsApp based communication with clients and end customers to ensure seamless communication. Our Impulse platform is integrated with the portals & systems of our ecommerce and airline partners to offer optimal travel protection solutions. We continue to evaluate and invest further in digital interventions to improve customer experience and minimize physical contact with our clients and customers.”

COVID-19 Impact

Travel and tourism coming to halt has also deterred the growth of travel insurance companies. But, despite this degrowth, insurance companies have been successful in increasing awareness about the benefits.

Speaking about the impact of covid-19, Karvat, stated, “With current travel restrictions by most of the countries, the travel insurance market is as affected as any other segment in the travel industry. However, the awareness about travel protection has increased manifolds and we anticipate that more travellers will now opt for it while planning their trips. Tour operators and travel aggregators will now vouch for comprehensive travel protection products, as it would help the traveller to not only recuperate from financial losses, but also support them with assistance services during unforeseen events.”

Despite tourism regaining momentum, players across the industry is aggressively looking to instill confidence amongst travellers. In a bid to attract customers, Sterling Holiday Resorts has introduced ‘Holiday Insurance’.

Sharing his views on the current status, Vikram Lalvani – Chief of Revenue Management, Sales and Destinations, Sterling Holiday Resorts, says, “The last few months have been challenging for the hospitality sector, it crippled the confidence in travellers across the globe. At Sterling Holiday Resorts, safety & comfort of our guests, and sustaining their trust in the brand has always been our priority. Therefore, we had a major inclusion in our strategy to introduce a complimentary ‘Holiday Insurance’ benefit, with the option to opt-in at the time of booking/reservations. The insurance is provided by Digit Insurance and is a unique offering that takes care of trip cancellations, accidents, lost or delayed baggage, delayed or cancelled flight, missed connections, emergency accidental treatment and evacuation and even personal liability and bail bond.”

Outlook

Over the last couple of years, India has outpaced major markets to be one of the fastest growing outbound destination. With disposable income and majority millennial population, India is still estimated to be one of the top outbound source markets. With increasing awareness, travel insurance is now becoming a mainstream rather than an optional service.

Karvat said, “The travel insurance landscape is seeing a positive change as customers who would purchase travel insurance purely as an optional service are now opting for it as an essential requirement, as they recognise the risks of travel and the benefits of being covered. However, a comprehensive travel protection product to provide real time information about emerging situations across the world, medical evacuation, local hospitalisation support coupled with relevant travel insurance benefits is the need of the hour. We are witnessing a greater demand for such holistic products.”

Sterling Holiday Resorts have already witnessed a spike in travellers opting for the insurance. The group has also extended the insurance for groups and MICE travellers.

Lalvani added, “Sterling is the first in the segment and by the same virtue the largest resort brand in India to offer Holiday Insurance to its guests as an opt-in option as part of their booking. With an insured value of up to Rs. 3 lakhs per person, the insurance covers the guest from home-to-resort-to-home. Since the reopening of resorts, we witnessed that 60 per cent of guests who made reservations with us until the next year, have chosen to include ‘Holiday Insurance’ as a part of their bookings. Another major benefit of the Sterling Holiday insurance is that it is applicable for group booking including Corporate meets, Conferences and Weddings.”

Also, post covid pandemic, more destinations will make travel insurance mandatory for visa application which will be a major boost for the insurance players.

“The Indian travel insurance is slated to witness substantial growth in the next 2-3 years. An increasing number of countries are making travel insurance mandatory due to the current crisis and domestic travel will witness a boost with the government easing travel restrictions. As safety is a concern for everyone, travellers will be more aware of the risks and will opt for travel insurance. Travel assistance such as evacuation facilities, emergency medical assistance and real time information about emerging situations across the world will create a positive difference for the industry,” Karvat added.  

Airlines & hotels as a catalyst

One of the most interesting moves in the industry is now major airlines are offering complementary insurance to encourage patrons to restart travel without fear.

Etihad Airways has partnered with AXA to introducing COVID-19 global wellness insurance cover as part of Etihad Wellness, the airlines new health and hygiene programme. Guests who are diagnosed with COVID-19 during their trip won’t have to worry about medical expenses or quarantine costs.

Adelane Mecellem, Chief Executive Officer Asia, Middle-East, Turkey and Africa, AXA Partners, said, “At AXA, we are focused on improving the customer experience and wellness of individuals during these times. As such, we are proud to partner with one of the world’s leading airlines, Etihad Airways, and provide their extensive loyal travellers with new protection solutions when needed most.”

Also, Virgin Atlantic has introduced free COVID-19 insurance cover on all new and existing bookings. The policy is designed to complement existing travel insurance and provide additional peace of mind for upcoming trips.

Juha Jarvinen, Chief Commercial Officer at Virgin Atlantic, said, “Our priority is always the health and safety of our people and customers and this industry-leading Virgin Atlantic COVID-19 Cover ensures customers can continue to fly safe and fly well with us. We believe this complimentary cover will provide some added reassurance for our customers as they start to plan trips further afield. It applies in parallel to existing travel insurance policies which may now exclude COVID-19, and provides comprehensive cover for coronavirus, recognising the needs of our customers as we restart services.”

In another instance, Accor has also partnered with AXA to provide medical support to guests across the 5,000 Accor hotels worldwide as part of its ALLSAFE campaign.

“Welcoming, safeguarding and taking care of others is at the very heart of what we do and who we are as hoteliers. This distinctive partnership with AXA which we have been working on for several months makes even more sense in today’s context. In an increasingly complex environment, our 300.000 team members on the ground will be able to assist our guests and ensure their safety during their stays, turning our hotels into shelters. This initiative combined with our ALLSAFE enhanced hygiene protocols, will be key to rediscover the Love of Travel in the 5000 Accor properties around the world,” added Sébastien Bazin, Chairman and CEO of Accor.

Domestic potential

Globally, tourism boards and destination are restarting inbound in a phased and a restricted manner. The recovery rate of the inbound tourism is expected to grow at a snail’s pace. Domestic tourism is now seen as the formula for reviving tourism. Over the years, insurance players have been promoting domestic travel insurance which is still at a nascent stage.

Speaking about the domestic products and the way forward, Karvat said, “A number of domestic travel restrictions have been rolled back and several states have begun to allow inter-state travel. These changes have provided a significant boost to domestic tourism. We have developed benefits for new age travel trends such as staycations, domestic business trips and domestic cruise trips covering cancellations and delays. We are already offering our assistance services through our existing partners including retails travel agents as well as leading airlines and OTAs. Our long-term strategy of providing tailored solutions for our clients has not shifted. However, we have tweaked our short-term actions to focus more on travel assistance services for travellers during such distressful situations. We continue to work alongside our underwriter partners to explore the possibilities of designing products that will be relevant in a COVID world.”

Also, in terms of homegrown brands, Oyo earlier this year joined hands with ACKO General Insurance to provide complementary insurance package offers.

In a statement, Gaurav Ajmera, COO, India and South Asia, OYO, said, “The unique feature which has never been offered before in the Indian hospitality industry, designed in partnership with ACKO, aims to cater to the unexpected, unplanned and isolated situations, that our guests across 300+ cities in the country, that choose OYO as their preferred accommodation option, could face.”

The Indian Hotels Company Limited (IHCL), South Asia’s largest hospitality company, reported its Consolidated and Standalone financials for the second quarter ending September 30th, 2020.

Revenues grew 78.7 per cent QoQ to Rs. 256.7 crore while it was down 74.5 per cent on YoY basis. Average occupancy levels of domestic business improved to 32.3 per cent vs 20.5 per cent in Q1 while ARR also improved by 12 per cent QoQ to Rs. 5424 for the quarter. Major pick-up being witnessed in leisure destinations. New business initiatives like launch of Qmin, staycations in Q1FY21 yielded additional revenue of Rs. 135 crores in H1FY21. Ginger hotels performance also improved significantly with occupancy reaching to 51 per cent in Sep-21 from average of 31 per cent in Q1.

The company continued with its cost optimization measures and reduced total operating expenditure by 51.9 per cent YoY to Rs. 407 crores. The company secured significant lease rental waivers that led to cost saving of Rs. 92 crores for the quarter. Overall, the company reduced fixed costs reduced by Rs. 134 crores, while variable expenses declined by Rs. 306 crore (in line with reduction in the revenues).

As a result, consolidated EBITDA loss narrowed down to Rs. 150.3 crore. On standalone basis, company reported EBITDA loss of Rs. 88 crores. While July-Aug month saw average EBITDA loss of Rs. 50.5 crore per month, September month notably registered positive standalone EBITDA of Rs. 13 crores with the improved hotel business

Consolidated net loss came in at Rs. 230 crores (vs net profit of Rs. 71.3 crore last year) after adjusting for exceptional gain of Rs. 20 crores (forex related). Fiscal incentives provided by US and UK government also helped to reduce the losses of international business

The company raised Rs. 750 crores of long term debt during H1FY21 to maintain the liquidity. The gross debt now stands at Rs. 3462 crores with net D/E ratio of 0.68x.

The group has signed seven hotels across brands across multiple locations and states in India. Also, in Q2 the chain relaunched the city’s iconic Machan at Taj Mahal, New Delhi and launched its 1st outpost at Taj West End, Bengaluru.

Commenting on the Q2 performance, Puneet Chhatwal, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, IHCL, said, “The pandemic is an unprecedented event that has impacted the economy significantly, especially the travel and tourism sector. Though a gradual recovery is visible, it will take time to reach pre-pandemic levels in this uncertain environment. At IHCL, all our efforts are focused in executing the R.E.S.E.T 2020 strategy committed to creating alternative revenue growth avenues, expanding its portfolio using an asset light framework, driving cost optimization and continuing to deliver value to all our stakeholders.”

The implementation of R.E.S.E.T 2020, a comprehensive five-point strategy, has provided a transformative framework to help the Company overcome COVID-19 related challenges, and has yielded positive results in the first half of FY 2020-21.

Giridhar Sanjeevi, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, IHCL, said, “IHCL has taken several measures to mitigate the financial impact on both profits and cash flow in recent months. With the ease of lockdown restrictions, we are seeing gradual signs of improvement in the second quarter; however full recovery will take some time.”

 

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