Globally, governments are now looking cautiously to put a phased reopening of the tourism industry in place, which emerged as the biggest casualty of COVID-19. It has been well over two months of lockdown in India resulting into a total absence of travel and tourism. In markets like India, the period from February to May is a significant time for travel with suitable climatic conditions, perfect time for adventure activities, summer vacations in educational institutions and a lot many reasons including festivals. However, this did not happen due to the pandemic.
Travellers have not been able to strike their bucket lists in the last three months, which surely has created a strong urge for tourism. Also, hotels, resorts, car rental companies, tourism boards and every stakeholders involved in tourism have clearly understood that the future game plan will be only to majorly focus on safety, physical distancing and visible hygiene, and are working to come up with very advanced level of cleanliness and contactless services. With these new protocols and SOPs in place, the major requirement of the day is to instill confidence in the minds of travellers. Once convinced, can this give rise to what is today termed as ‘Revenge Tourism or Rage Tourism’? Can Revenge Tourism be the road to recovery for a county like India which has a majority youth population today waiting for directives for an escapade?
As per a report by McKinsey & Company, titled ‘The way back: What the world can learn from China’s travel restart after COVID-19’, people still want to travel. Many are calling this “revenge travel”: bookings for cruises in the United States—arguably one of tourism’s hardest-hit sectors—remain strong for 2021. The report states, “The travel sectors of countries that lack large domestic markets will recover more slowly and may open up first to travelers from nearby countries. We think that travel will return in other countries much as it has in China. The young will go first. Travel will involve nearby destinations. Economy travel will recover more quickly. And outdoor and nature-related destinations will be more popular than congested cities.”
Revenge tourism: A reality?
Over the last few years, the world has witnessed a trend of revenge spending (which refers to an overindulgence in retail therapy by consumers who have missed shopping) several times. This behaviour has never ever been witnessed in the tourism industry, which is now creating the curiosity within the travel fraternity. Experts believe that there is a pent-up demand created for travel during the lockdown period.
Speaking about the new consumer behaviour, Miguel Munoz, Chief Resorts Officer, Mahindra Holidays and Resorts India, informs: “Tourism is expected to grow gradually as we move into the ‘new normal’ from a nationwide lockdown that kept families indoors. After this experience, everyone would need time to relax and rejuvenate themselves which is why families are already working on a wish-list of where they would like to travel. In fact, this could almost be thought of as ‘Revenge Tourism’ which refers to an overindulgence in travel therapy. This desire for leisure holidays to seek serenity will spike in India, as people emerge from quarantine.”
There will be a demand for travel but at the same time, hygiene and safety will be of paramount importance in every traveller’s mind. To begin with, travellers will be looking at vacations which are at drivable distances and which are away from the major cities.
“After the lockdown, the Indian holiday goer is eager to venture out of home to enjoy the nature and vistas of the outdoors. We are most likely to see revenge spending happening post the lockdown, however, there would be a new perspective in shortlisting the locations. Most of the travellers in India would opt pocket-friendly drive-through destinations/resorts within a 4-5-hour radius. Sanitation, hygiene and social distance will be important factors to consider for people planning holidays. The fundamental need for people to travel hasn’t disappeared. The moment these restrictions are eased or lifted; you will see that the necessary travel will come back,” Ramesh Ramanathan, CMD, Sterling Holiday Resorts, says.
Also, the once hot favourite destinations for leisure travel will no longer be a major crowd puller in the post COVID-19 era. Some experts feel that revenge tourism will happen, but it won’t be immediate.
“Post lockdown, people will be cautious about the destinations they will be travelling to. It's safe to say that we might see some revenge tourism happening in India but not immediately. Destinations, which were once the crowd-puller, may not get too many leisure tourists. However, we do expect to see a demand in the market for staycations at places which are a short drive away. The domestic market will pick up faster than the international market as the local travellers will be looking for a safe weekend getaway,” Satyen Jain, CEO, Pride Group of Hotels, says.
At the initial phase, domestic tourism especially local tourism will be the entrée. Travellers will look for more open spaces, nature, wildlife, and resorts which has vast spaces to ensure social distancing.
Jonathan Mills, Managing Director, RCI APAC & DAE Global, said, “We believe that tourism may look inwards and be more domestic directed. Traditional domestic travel destinations like Himachal, Ladakh, Goa, Uttarkhand, Andamans, even Pondicherry have remained largely inert to the virus. Which is surely a silver lining in another wise gloomy scenario. In the coming months nature will triumph. In all likelihood, nature and wildlife will be preferred over monuments and history. So, the hills, the sea resorts, wildlife reserves and slightly isolated locations will win overcrowded favourites. Road-trips will make a comeback. Families and youngsters are likely to opt for more of drive-outs, especially on long weekends and for short vacations. So, near-city travel is likely to see an uptick.”
Another major trend which is expected is staycations with home rentals, provided they maintain the highest standards of hygiene. Devendra Parulekar, Founder, SaffronStays, says, “As a customer, I’m always going to prefer smaller places where there are minimum chances of contact with other people. Small is beautiful in the future, provided the operator of the so-called small vacation rental is applying the correct sanitisation and hygiene practices into place. We believe that people would want to go to drivable holidays, so if there’s an option, people will take their cars out and go independently to a small boutique place if possible. We are also offering our homes for long-term stays. We recognise that if you’re anyway working from home, why should you not work from a lovely pool villa where you have the entire home to yourself. Several people would want to escape the traps of their daily household chores and want somebody else to pamper them. So, in that case they may hire a villa for a month at Alibaug and operate out of Alibaug.”
Post lockdown, the way we used to function will be completely new, many procedures and SOPs will become obsolete, some experts have termed it as the ‘New Normal’. Every hotel and resort chain are now developing SOPs which will be unique to the brand and which will help to attain customer confidence.
Sharing his views about the new normal, Mills says, “After this pandemic, the whole hospitality industry will redesign itself. The major procedures that we will be focusing on is our Information Desk, we will help and guide our members with information about safety measures at our affiliate resorts, this will also help our partners. We will be keeping a strict check on the situation at least till 2021. We are also currently exploring possibilities of virtual tours through RCI TV so members can see how the resort looks and satisfy themselves before booking. At this moment the entire industry is envisioning the future and seeing how it can be better, safety and sanitization will play the biggest roles in future bookings.”
Hotels have come up with a standard safety initiative where sanitization will be the new core of operations. “We have launched initiatives to follow SOP across all our hotels to create a safe and hygienic environment for the guests. All the necessary equipment like alcohol-based sanitizer, temperature check via a thermal gun thermometer, hand gloves, and face masks will be used by Pride. Apart from that, we use all essential cleaning supplies such as a disposable duster and cloth, sprays and phenyl disinfectants will be utilized. We are ensuring that our teams are up to date with the new cleaning practices and hygiene standards as advised by the government. And we are also following it so that it becomes a way of life for them as we are starting our operations in the new normal,” Jain says.
Contactless service is set to be the future in the hospitality and tourism industry. The role of technology as an enabler will be used at an even higher degree. “To ensure the highest standards of safety, contactless service is going to be the new normal not just in the travel and hospitality industry but, almost all the other sectors. Technology will act as the backbone for a range of contactless services including online check-in, AI-led customer support and monitoring, as well as app-based solutions for on-demand services. As we speak, Club Mahindra, is also working with various experts in healthcare, facility management and technology to implement these enhanced safety procedures and contactless services across our resorts,” Munoz says.
One of the biggest business on which a sizeable number of hotels thrive on is the MICE segment. Resorts and hotels are also coming up with MICE protocols and are gearing up to cater to this segment seamlessly. “For MICE guests, the check in and check out process will be done with minimal paperwork. There are a range of venue options within the spacious resorts to split groups and activities along with ensuring social distancing between sessions in their large lawns and pre-function areas. As a part of the safety and hygiene protocol, restaurants table layout will be done as per social distancing norms. Multiple meal sessions with guest reservation will be organised to avoid crowding along with facilities of contactless takeaway and mini buffets. Sterling has designed a new set of games and activities, in the guests’ rooms and in designated locations within its resorts, conforming to the norms of social distancing, safety and hygiene, so that guests can enjoy these activities with their family in their respective rooms, and outdoors within the safety of the resort,” Ramanathan adds.
There has been a lot of demand which the industry is witnessing, But with unknown factors to be considered, there are major challenges which needs to be addressed. The general perception now is that we need to live with covid-19.
Speaking about the challenges Parulekar says, “In the short term, we will get bookings, but people will not plan much in future as the zone may suddenly be declared a containment zone. Secondly, corporate sales will be deeply impacted. Also, we have committed that there will be a 24-hour gap between two bookings that will further restrict our ability to sell. In the long term, a lot of people who haven’t looked at private vacation homes as an option for accommodation will now start looking at them because hotels are public spaces and people are afraid of going to public spaces. So, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for leisure homes to come out and position themselves as safe homes and put all the processes in place.”
Another major challenge initially will be developing talent to maintain the hygiene standards and protocols. “The biggest and foremost challenge while reopening the business will be the implementation of the new standards, which will require developing a new set of skills around the management of cleaning, disinfection, and inspection. The firms will also need to create isolation rooms for employees who experience symptoms while at work,” Jain adds.
Players feel that the industry will start witnessing growth from the next fiscal year. Also, maintaining the utmost level of safety and hygiene will the core for business ahead. “Safety and Sanitisation will be vital going forward. Our Post Covid travel mind-set survey shows that 30 per cent members have expressed concerns about safety measures. If we can satisfy members with safety and hygiene features in all that the Travel Industry has to offer, we see that challenges will be minimum,” Mills says.
Echoing similar opinion, Ramamnathan adds, “In terms of recovery, we have already begun to witness some green shoots. People are coming forward and making bookings for July and some months ahead for September and October. This is a resilient industry and we have survived this trying time.Going forward, I foresee growth by Jan-February-March 2021.The next six months are going to be low in terms of demand, and slowly once the customer confidence picks up we expect to see a sense normalcy in the holiday business. Moreover, it will be challenging for small as well as bigger brands to put in efforts in maintaining highest levels of hygiene and sanitation while going contact-less and ensuring safety.”