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Akshay Kumar

Akshay Kumar

In a bid to showcase and promote unexplored destinations, Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI), recently conducted its annual Tourism Conclave at Kevadia, Gujarat. The event was organised in association with Gujarat Tourism. Kevadia is home to the world’s tallest statue, ‘Statue of Unity’. The conclave witnessed members from 20 Regions and Chapters across India.

Jyoti Mayal, President, TAAI, said, “We thank Gujarat Tourism and their entire team for their support in putting up such a conclave. We are confident in the revival of the travel and tourism industry. Members of the trade were going through challenging times due to the Covid-19 pandemic and this gave an opportunity for them to adopt to transformation, and ability to explore. Physical events like these are much needed to boost the confidence of the industry.”

The Member delegates experienced the accommodation and facilities at Tent City 1 and Tent City 2 at Kevadia along with evening dinner cruise along the River Narmada.

Kevadia has been developed as a wholesome destination with around 30 attractions in and around the Stature of Unity. Some of the major attractions include Jungle Safari, Sardar Sarovar Dam Project, Valley of Flowers, Cactus & Butterfly Garden, etc. Delegates also visited the five gardens inside Arogya Van (Herbal Garden), which exhibits a wide range of medicinal plants and health related landscapes.

Jay Bhatia, Vice President, TAAI, added, “This initiative of TAAI shall ensure members are familiarised with the region to promote Dekho Apna Desh and revive the promotion of domestic and inbound tourism through skilling and personal experiencing.”

Jenu Devan, Commissioner of Tourism and Managing Director, Gujarat Tourism addressed the conclave via live video call wherein he highlighted the initiatives of the government in promoting Gujarat to the world and thanked the TAAI committee for bringing their members to SoU, in Gujarat and also assured full support and encouragement to the members in promoting Gujarat as a wholesome destination.

Devan added, “Gujarat tourism is proud to be associated with the Travel Agents Association of India. Two years ago, we had the vision to develop the entire area of the Statue of Unity for tourists to spend at least two to three nights. Now, there are almost 30 attractions in and around the statue. We have something for everyone and all age group, segments to enjoy. Also, in the recent years a lot of accommodation options have been added and the state is now further investing to develop this destination.”

On day 3, a half day business session was organised which was addressed by Prahlad Singh Patel, Minister of Tourism (I/C), Govt of India, via a video message. He welcomed the initiative of India’s largest and premier travel- tourism association, TAAI, which has set an historic example of positivity due to the changing times. He added that TAAI membership has all aspects of tourism professional organisations and in the coming future the responsibility and challenges shall increase when inbound tourist commences their India visits. TAAI members must be ready with newer ideas and strategies to ensure Tourism to India is facilitated by them in a smooth manner.

Further, the day witnessed three engrossing panel discussions, which very well addressed the challenges and the way forward for the tourism industry.

The first panel discussion was moderated by Jay Bhatia, Vice President, TAAI on Bharat ka Vikas – Empowering Domestic Tourism. The session witnessed panelist including Dr. Achyut Singh Jt. General Manager- Indian Railways (IRCTC), Ajay Kumar Wadhawan, Chief of Sales, Air Asia India, and Past President of TAAI, Balbir Mayal. The speakers gave their views on the changing dynamics in the travel and tourism field of the last few decades and how India shall be a top tourist destination in the world.

The second knowledge session, “Where Winners Play” was moderated by Ashish Gupta, Founder – Strategy Pluto and Conculting CEO, FAITH. The panelists for this session were Rodney Dcruz, Asst. Director, IATA; Bettaiah Lokesh, Secretary General, TAAI and Sunil Kumar Rumalla, President, UFTAA.

Speaking about the relevance of IATA, Dcruz said, “The number of travel agents in India is much more than the total 4417 IATA Agents in the country. The disconnect which the industry feels with IATA is just a perceptional issue. We are not the regulators but just facilitators. We come up with all rules and mandates in consultation with the industry.”

Speaking on behalf of the members, Bettiah said, “When there is an issue, instead of dealing with individual airlines, why should I not deal with IATA, which is the representational body for all refunds. We have over 1000 IATA agents in our association and we don’t see any benefit. We would consider changing our Association’s constitution that IATA accreditation is required.”

Rumalla added, “The Covid crisis has shown the inability of IATA to take care of the travel agents. The travel agent is now merely a bank that is funding airlines. The airlines are using up our money for their operations. Today, we need a zero-risk investment and IATA needs to play a balanced role between the airlines and travel agents.”

The final discussion was moderated by Amish Desai, Karnataka Chapter Chairman, TAAI. The speakers for this session were Parineeta Sethi, Chief Editor & Publisher of Pinnacle Connect, Vasdha Sondhi, MD Om Marketing and Jyoti Mayal, Chairperson Tourism and Hospitality Skill Counsil (THSC). With their expertise in sales, marketing, PR and social media, technology and skill development, the panelist suggested how todays evolving TAAI member must peruse and be empowered with all the skills apart from delivery of service. Mayal also updated on the upcoming initiatives of WITT (Women in TAAI and Travel), where TAAI shall give back to society and empower the women to become entrepreneurs through skilling and work towards making India a safe and secure tourism destination.

The coronavirus pandemic continues to hit hard all sectors with travel and tourism being the hit hardest. Also, with international tourism falling by around 80% in 2020, domestic tourism seems to be one way to stay afloat.

UNWTO highlights the potential of domestic tourism as a way to boost economic and tourism recovery in destinations around the world. They explain that as global travel restrictions begin to ease, destinations all over the world are focusing on the growing domestic travel, with many offering promotions for travelers to meet and visit their own countries as an ideal opportunity for destinations and tourism businesses – in both developed and developing countries – to recover from the social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Domestic tourism is helping to soften the blow, at least partially, and governments around the world have taken strategic action to restore and re-activate the sector, while protecting jobs and businesses. Many countries are also now developing measures to build a more resilient tourism economy post covid-19. These include preparing plans to support the sustainable recovery of tourism, promoting the digital transition and move to a greener tourism system, and rethinking tourism for the future.

States have realized the 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 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 10 million foreign tourists and around 26 million Indians travel abroad each year, spending an estimated US$25 billion. There is a need to incentivize domestic travel to retain these high- spending tourists, which should not be difficult given the international travel restrictions in place.

Current scenario

The revenge travel behavior has kickstarted in the India market, with 2020 being a silent year for avid travellers. In the travel world, social distancing has now become the new mantra. People are now looking at unexplored and less crowded destinations, which naturally provides social distancing, for their next vacation. With very limited international tourism opportunities, travelers are looking at visiting never before heard of destinations within India. Popular leisure destinations are witnessing the usual traffic, but the unexplored markets are now the number one choice destination for travelers.

In a major step, The Ministry of Tourism (MoT) and its field offices has been organising and supporting different tourism promotion events under ‘Dekho Apna Desh’ Campaign showcasing various Domestic tourism assets and products of the country with aim to create awareness among the stake holders and citizens.

Speaking about the potential of domestic tourism, Arvind Singh, Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, said, “India has a robust domestic market which could soften the impact of COVID 19 as compared with nations that rely largely on international tourists. Post lockdown and as the control over the spread of pandemic is achieved, it is widely agreed fact that domestic tourism will recover faster than international tourism.  Dekho Apna Desh is an initiative of the Ministry of Tourism; the initiative is in line with the appeal of the Prime Minister made from the ramparts of Red Fort on 15th August 2019 in his speech asking every citizen to visit at least 15 destinations by the year 2022, to promote domestic tourism in India which is intended to enhance tourist footfalls in places of tourist interest so as to help develop the local economy.”

However, are destinations prepared to serve the increasing numbers? Are these hidden gems well connected along with accommodation options for travelers? Which are the potential hot destinations, unexplored by major travelers? Can circuits be developed to promote these destinations?

SATTE, South Asia’s largest travel and tourism exhibition which was recently held at India Expo Mart, Greater Noida organised a session titled ‘Domestic Tourism: Exploring unexplored’, to discuss the strategies in promoting domestic tourism and ground realities of the smaller and hidden destinations in terms of infrastructure development and connectivity.

The session was moderated by Himmat Anand, Founder, Tree of Life Resorts and witnessed an eminent panel including Rupinder Brar, Additional Director General at Ministry of Tourism, Govt of India; Jenu Devan, Managing Director & Commissioner of Tourism, Gujarat Tourism; MP Bezbaruah, Former Secretary-Tourism, Govt. of India and Secretary General, HAI; and PP Khanna, President, Association of Domestic Tour Operators of India (ADTOI).        

Look Northeast

The Northeast region of India is still pristine and unexplored. One of the major challenges remains accessibility and perception about the destination. The government has been focusing to develop the seven Northeastern states, but on ground the development is happening at snail’s pace.

Speaking about the challenges in establishing Northeast as a popular tourism destination Bezbaruah, explained, “The Ministry of Tourism has a tagline which says, Northeast is a paradise which is unexplored. I have discussed the challenges in a few meetings before covid-19 pandemic, that how long will it remain unexplored. It has been 20-25 years; the ministry is focusing on promoting the Northeast. There is a serious problem of perception. Fortunately, the geo-political situation around with the neighbours, things have improved a lot. The political issues in the Northeast has come down by 80-90 per cent. This is a good situation for tourism to flourish in the region. Second major issue is connectivity. Connectivity to Guwahati is excellent, but to other Northeast states the connectivity is poor with no airport or helipads. The UDAN scheme changed this to an extent in 2018-19. Due to less connectivity, road travel is the major mode in Northeast. One of the biggest challenges is lack of wayside amenities. Beyond metro cities, accommodation is another major challenge in most of the places. Infrastructure development and PPP is required to grow tourism in Northeast.”

To tackle these challenges the Ministry of Tourism has created a small focus group recently which recently concluded its first meeting.

Brar said, “There are no real-time dialogues, which is the major issue. Everyone talk about the potential of tourism in Northeast but there is no real action on ground. Last month with the approval of the Secretary Tourism, we have created a focus group to actually deliver results. The first meeting of this group took off with 14 participants from the Ministry and the local offices. We have noted down very doable things in the first round. In the later stage we will include other stakeholders as well. Routes need to be connected and accommodations are a major issue in the Northeast. We need to create more and more content to tackle the perception issue. We have discussed with associations that can every month one association organize a reasonable mid-sized event in one of the seven Northeast states? The association can pick the buyers and sellers and the products they want to sell, Ministry will come with financial support and support of the media. UDAN already has a major focus to develop the Northeast connectivity.”

Seven states in the Northeast should come on a common forum and develop a unified strategy to develop tourism in the region. Also, the ministry should collaborate with the Northeast Council to further effectively tackle the challenges.

Bezbaruah added, “Ministry should work with the Northeast Council to develop tourism in this region. We had developed a website for the Northeast Council, which is now almost defunct, this should be revived. We should have a dynamic website for Northeast which should be linked to incredible India website. Also, all the Northeast states should come together and develop a single strategy to grow tourism in the region. Prime Minister has announced a lot of infrastructure in the Northeast and this includes roads, accommodations and further connectivity.

Collaboration is the key

Khanna said, “Synergy is very important to develop domestic tourism in the country. OTAs are a major challenge as they are into unethical practices as they are undercutting the market. We have a good synergy with the government and under the new tourism policy there needs to be a uniformity and a level playing platform for tour operators and the OTAs.

In the last few months, Gujarat has become the hotspot for Association conventions. Gujarat Tourism is partnering with Associations to promote Kevadia as a tourism destination. Gujarat is also looking to partner with nearby states to create itineraries to further tap the domestic tourism segment.

Speaking about the plans, Devan stated, “We wanted to focus on holding more conventions in Gujarat and promote Kevadia as a tourist attraction. So, we have partnered with associations to organize their conventions in Kevadia. MICE tourism was not happening in a full-fledged way in Gujarat despite having excellent infrastructure. Now more and more events, conferences, weddings are happening. In terms of itinerary, 10-15 years ago the tourism corporation had developed an itinerary which started from Ahmedabad to North Gujarat and ended at Udaipur or Jaipur in Rajasthan. These itineraries were very popular and attracting a large number of tourists. This was discontinued due to some reason. Now we have restarted one itinerary to see the impact of it. We have started an itinerary in coordination with the Somnath Trust, which starts from Ahmedabad to Somnath and ending at Diu. Similarly, we are also focusing on travellers coming to Udaipur and Daman & Diu, to attract them to Gujarat. We are now trying to club one more state to our itinerary to attract more domestic tourists to the state.”

State Initiatives

Destinations like Odisha are looking to introduce new products including glamping and caravan tourism, where social distancing can be maintained easily. In an earlier interview, spokesperson from Odisha Tourism, said, “Over 185 crore people travel within the country each year, it is a huge number as compared to the inbound. All the stakeholders and tourism boards need to work hand in hand to tap the outbound travellers into domestic. Every destination should ensure safety and security which will be a key influencer. For Odisha we are focusing on quality tourism, last year we started high end glamping in Konark. This product witnessed an extremely positive response, and we will be expanding this product to many other destinations in Odisha. We will also look at Caravan tourism as people will look at this segment due to social distancing. We are also developing palaces in Odisha for hospitality, which will be a unique experience.”

The Goan economy is heavily dependent on the tourism and hospitality industry. To further restore tourism, the state is reinventing its strategies from time to time. Marketing and technological trend changes, Covid-19 may be a blessing in disguise to take us to the next level.

Spokesperson from Goa Tourism earlier said, “Though it is an unfortunate event for the globe but has opened our eyes and has made us aware about safety and hygiene and healthy practices. We have taken a step and engaged KPMG to come out with a vision document on how we should go ahead, and we have done an extensive survey with all stakeholders.”

Goa is now promoting the Hinterland and eco-tourism aggressively. Also, the state is looking at clean tourism and high-end tourism. We will look at targeting domestic tourism aggressively soon. The state is also aggressively pushing content on its social media handles.”

Similarly, Maharashtra Tourism has taken an aggresse approach on their digital marketing strategy and is looking to revive local tourism and weekend travel.

The state has received protocols from the Minister, and also engaged with KPMG to prepare guidelines for wayside amenities, adventure tourism and cruise tourism as well. Maharashtra is now promoting unexplored destinations in the state and request all citizens to travel to these less crowded destinations to revive tourism.”

In the past few years, India is on a mission to increase its share of the global MICE business which is currently under one per cent. The Ministry of Tourism, Government of India along with majority of the State Tourism Boards have been working hard to put India on the global MICE map. Cities like Hyderabad, Mumbai, Delhi, Kochi, Ahmedabad, etc have been aiming to be world-class MICE destinations and have been host to various international and domestic events over the years.

Like rest of the segments, the MICE industry has also been hit badly with virtually zero business due to the pandemic. Many of the Indian city-hotels thrive on the corporate and MICE business, which has been cut off.

But the reduced capacities and social distancing norms are playing a major spoilsport for the MICE industry where large gatherings and face-to-face engagement drive the business. The recovery of this segment is set to be slow compared to the other segments.

A recent report by FICCI states, “Experience suggests that business travel has been more vulnerable to crisis compared to leisure travel. Post the 2008-crisis international arrivals recovered in two years whereas international business travel didn’t fully rebound to pre-recession levels until five years after. The lifting of lockdown restrictions, air travel and hospitality have seen a moderate uptake of business travel limited to business-critical activities. It is expected that business travel will return to normalcy gradually and painstakingly in phases.”

During the lockdown period, majority of the companies have switched to various other tech-driven mediums such as MS Teams, Zoom, Amazon Chimes, Google Meet to fulfil their meeting requirements. This posed another question: Will MICE be the same as earlier? Or will there be a major disruption in the MICE movement across the globe?

In terms of the positioning, over the last decade the market share of all regions has remained nearly same. Regionally, Europe hosted more than half of all meetings in ICCA’s last assessment followed by Asia (at 23per cent). Among countries, the United States has held pole position for two decades and the top 20 have remained largely unchanged with countries alternating one or two positions. Among BRICS economies, China has been the front-runner by a significant margin featuring among the top 10 destinations globally, followed by Brazil (#20) and India at #28.

All said, India has the potential to jump to a higher spot if the destination will focus on key factors like upgrading MICE infrastructure, further simplifying the MICE processes, incentivizing MICE, upskilling MICE talents, etc.

Current status

With MICE being one of the worst hit tourism segments, the Government should give all the possible push to restart this potential sector. Both the states and centre along with private players should work in tandem to kickstart MICE and once again regain MICE traveller’s confidence.

Speaking about the policy initiatives, Rakesh Verma, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, said that tourism to be treated as export of goods in terms of taxation has been a long demand. He further added, “The concerned Ministries should look at this for the best possible solution. We have a champion sector scheme where we take care of the taxation to an extent. For restarting of MICE activities, there should be a coordinated approach between Centre and States. The Centre should also lay down protocols for international travel for MICE. State should provide necessary assistance for holding of events. State should also have plans to manage emergencies and panic. It is an important and promising segment in India. Many cities have infrastructure to deliver good experiences. We have five cities which can come in top 100 cities for MICE but currently only 1 is on the list. We have some tier II cities like Khajuraho, Mahabalipuram, etc which can be excellent MICE destinations.”

Presently, the Indian MICE has less than 1 per cent of the global market share. The destination is working towards creating world-class MICE environment. Experts feel that India should have a proper unified bidding system to keep a track of global congresses and events.

Senthil Gopinath, Chief Executive Officer, International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), stated, “India needs to invest on national data centre to track all meetings happening in India. Collection of data becomes a vital pathway in the 5-10-year plan. India needs a proper bidding system with a unified system which will help to rise on the index. We need a unified approach. India is so diversified that there needs to be benchmarking and the amount of events India can host is enormous. We need to identify industries. India should evaluate percentage of bids won and lost every year. Until borders open, we need to focus on national and regional events.”

In the leisure world, India is extremely popular across the globe due to the historical, cultural and traditional offerings. Despite this popularity, the MICE awareness is yet on the lower side. The destination needs to collectively work with the private players to promote the MICE aspects.

Ori Lahav, President, International Association of Professional Conference Organisers (IAPCO), says, “Lot of organisers across the globe don’t know much about India’s MICE offerings; we need to focus on promoting and marketing the destination. Also, bidding process for associations is quite complex, when we bid, we look at lots of parameter. Profit from the meetings is the main aspect. If there is an incentive from the government, it is good but that is not the only reason for selecting. Post covid, the parameters will increase. The confidence will come back from the local MICE markets. Ease of travelling, visas to be friendly, investment in technology in the MICE centres which allows hybrid solutions, contactless solutions will be the key.”

MICE Infrastructure and challenges

In 2020, the major MICE venue’s in the country witnessed only cancellations and postponements and the future was looking bleak without a vaccine in place. In an earlier interaction with T3, Priyanka Reddyar, Head - Venue Sales, HITEX, said, “The global pandemic of COVID-19 has permanently changed the MICE and events industry. The world is fighting the novel coronavirus, and we cannot dismiss the fact that all the industries across the globe have been adversely impacted. At HITEX, we have seen over 60 per cent impact in terms of events being postponed or cancelled. So far, big impact has been seen between March and October of 2020. If the status quo continues, it will be a huge challenge and we will have to get creative and come up with ideas to be future-ready.”

One of the major positives during the lockdown phase has been MICE venues are being more innovative by investing into technology and being ready with hybrid offerings. MICE and convention facilities are now gearing up and adapting digital and technology driven solutions.

Nagesh Chawla, Cluster General Manager, Renaissance Mumbai & Lakeside Chalet – Mumbai, Marriott Executive Apartments, had said, “Whilst we face innumerable challenges, there has been immense development on the innovative and digital front during this entire lockdown, with figuring out alternates and devising new strategies and ideas to comply with the new normal, keeping in mind the government regulations and guidelines. There have been new developments in the Events and F&B domain in the hospitality industry with many things becoming contact-less and digital. Virtual tours are being preferred for Site Inspections rather than personal visits for the show around. I strongly believe that the industry can get closer to recovery, with the measures and strategies followed right now. While gaining confidence of our guests is going to be a slow process, we are accepting that the recovery will be slow, however, are leaving no stone unturned in the meanwhile to ensure maximum recovery and confidence build up.”

India had a few challenges in terms of infrastructure and connectivity which was the key factor for MICE events. Over the last few years, a lot of world-class facilities have been created across the nation which can cater to mega MICE events. The only challenge now remains in terms of unified bidding process and attractive incentivization by the government.

Speaking about the challenges, Prof Rajeev Sood, Founder Dean, ABVIMS & Dr. RML Hospital, said, “Initially few years ago, we weren’t that mature and our Professional Conference Organisers (PCOs) were not capable of bidding internationally. Now there has been some challenges which we have faced, in some destinations there are a lot of incentives which are provided. Government has enough funds in some destinations to support and sponsor delegates also. Awareness needs to be increased; we need to put special efforts. We now have state-of-the-art venues in India. earlier we couldn’t host more conferences where there were more than 3000 people. Associations are being run by leaders and they are proactive, but we need more confidence in promoting our destination while bidding.”

To tackle the challenges the government is working towards strengthening infrastructure under PPP mode. Also, the government is aggressively looking to develop potential Tier II & III cities for MICE tourism. The Ministry of Tourism is also setting up a system for destination management

Speaking about the developments, Verma said, “The public investment in infrastructure is a priority area and every ministry is increasing their budget. We are more focused on destination planning and destination management. We are putting upon a system for destination management. City level bureaus for convention should be introduced to improve the offering and experiences for travellers. We are investing into some iconic destination with best international practices. We are currently developing 19 destinations and in next 2-3 years. We will constantly look at marketing these destinations.”

Key target & deciding factors

To further grow MICE tourism, experts feel that India should have a focused approach for the sector. The destination should focus more towards the top three to five sectors and try and tap the local MICE markets along with inbound.

Globally, the medical sector has been the frontrunners of the MICE events. India being one of the thriving IT hubs, this segment is also key for the nations MICE growth story apart from medical.

Gopinath said, “From a perception of India, medical is a top industry and India is in the forefront. The numbers could be tripled in India if India focuses on this segment. Technology, general retail, are the other sectors which India should focus on. To restart the industry, we need to communicate and collaborate and talk as one voice and the advocacy should be at a very high level.”

Global companies and brands decide upon destination for MICE on various parameters apart from the incentives. With the pandemic, there are a few more parameters in terms of safety and hygiene will be on the radar.

Talking about parameters for selecting a MICE destination, Mick Egberts, Founder, InspireME, stated, “Travellers need to feel the country and the destination and it is very important to have more experiences around the conference. People are looking forward for unique experiences all the more post the pandemic. Designing a programme will be even most important in the future. Technology will be a key aspect in the future conference along with sustainability. India is making progress in terms of sustainability. India has a lot of things to offer and people need to go home with a piece of India in their hearts. Tax and incentives are important, but they are small factors. Economic recovery will be aided by MICE and countries should realise this. For India, financial and insurance are major segments along with Luxury segment.”

The most important factor for MICE tourism remains experience. India offers unmatched culture and heritage and has an array of unique experiences. Despite these, the attractions and experiences, MICE itineraries do not include these unique aspects. Also, there should be a single window for organizing events are unique venues.

Sood added, “We are seeing that India is a great cultural and historical heritage destination. Satellite destinations needs to be developed in India. If in India we need to organise some event in a historical site, it is difficult, which is easily done internationally. This will enhance the experiences. Several cities are now developing convention facilities, but for other integration we need to take some extra efforts to include some attractions. We have satellite destinations which are very promising in India, once we start exploring the available resources, we can bag more events.”

From a venue perspective, convention centres and MICE venues are now looking at smaller events and are adapting various innovative concepts to tap MICE events. In the long-term view, venue players are confident about the MICE business.

Rashmi Kamboj, Cluster Director, of Convention Sales at Grand Hyatt Kochi Bolgatty and Hyatt Regency Thrissur, said, “Profitability would be impacted in the short term, keeping in mind the predictions for future travel and physical meetings. Hotels and venues are reinventing their business models and develop innovative and new revenue streams. Focus is likely to shift to restaurants, small corporate meetings, weddings and social events. Alternate revenue streams such as relevant meeting technology, outdoor catering, customized away-from-office workspaces, laundry packages etc., are coming into the forefront.”

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.

 

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