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Akshay Kumar

Akshay Kumar

Issam Kazim, CEO, Dubai Department of Tourism & Commerce Marketing (DTCM), shares Dubai’s plan of restarting tourism and the way forward

The destination has recommenced international MICE from October with all SOPs and protocols in place

Dubai has been one of the first destinations to contain spread of the virus and has successfully restarted tourism. The destination is once again witnessing demand from India market.

Dubai being one of the first destinations to restart tourism, what kind of hurdles did you face? How has the response been? Do you see a first movers’ advantage here?

As everyone is aware, the travel and tourism sector was among the very first industries to be impacted by COVID-19, with the repercussions being felt across all vertical sectors. However, today’s realities have opened up infinite possibilities, to fuel new thinking and accelerate collaborative solution-building with our stakeholders, and how we choose to respond, evolve and innovate together will set us on the path to pioneer the new normal for the future of global tourism.

According to recent analysis of travel metasearch engines such as Booking.com or Expedia, customers are looking for trips to those destinations that are among the most popular even in "normal" times. Dubai is mentioned as one of the top places people are looking for, so we remain optimistic that our visitors will continue to support the strong trajectory we started the year with. It’s an amazing feeling seeing the fun returning to Dubai with the reopening of attractions, facilities and amenities such as hotels, malls, beaches, public parks and water parks – of course all with stringent safety measures in place across the board.

Instilling confidence has been the priority for destinations. What has your approach been in instilling confidence and attracting travellers?

With the combined efforts of the UAE's leadership, government and tourism sector stakeholders, as well as Dubai Airports, Emirates Airlines and flydubai, our stringent safety and security protocols have been recognised globally by the WTTC who awarded us the ‘Safe Travels Stamp’ which definitely helps reinforcing Dubai as a “safe destination” to visit. In addition, and on a local level, we launched the ‘Dubai Assured’ programme in collaboration with the Department of Economic Development (DED) & Dubai Municipality, that certifies and recognises hotels and retail establishments, F&B outlets and attractions, that implement all public health and safety protocols for the prevention and management of COVID-19.

What are your quarantine policies? In addition, is the government supporting tourists who test positive for COVID-19 on arrival or during their visit?

Tourists are only required to quarantine if they test positive with COVID-19. All tourists, residents, citizens and transit passengers must present a valid negative PCR test on arrival. Tourists who show symptoms on arrival and test positive for COVID-19 after being re-tested must comply with a 14-day quarantine. The traveller will bear the cost of treatment and quarantine unless their carrier is Emirates or FlyDubai. Emirates passengers will automatically receive free global cover for COVID-19 health expenses and quarantine costs through to October 31, 2020 and FlyDubai passengers through to November 30, 2020.

The destination has also restarted business and MICE tourism. What are the protocols issued for the same? Also, any incentive for MICE during this period?

Local MICE activity successfully resumed on September 15 and international activity will be welcomed back from October 1. We have issued circulars on clear safety and security protocols that must be adhered to by the event organisers and attendees, which include steralisation of all public areas ahead of the event, social distancing, mandatory face masks and isolation zones. We also saw great success when we hosted the Ai Everything Conference in July, so with these systems in place, we are optimistic for an increase in events in the coming months.

Looking to retail, festival and leisure events, we are now gearing up for a busy season in the remaining months of 2020, with the Dubai Home Festival, Dubai Fitness Challenge, and our crown jewel the Dubai Shopping Festival to close out the year.

What are your plans for the upcoming IPL season? Are you looking to restart sports tourism? What will be the strategy and how will you showcase Dubai during this sporting season?

This is the first time that the tournament is being entirely played in the UAE and we are very excited to host it this year. This opportunity is giving us a chance to not only showcase our cricket infrastructure but how effectively the city has implemented standard operating procedures. Further to this, BCCI’s confidence in the UAE and Dubai in particular, is reassuring of our efforts to ensure that both, travellers and residents feel safe and confident in the Government’s efforts towards hygiene and safety measures. We are hugely grateful to host the IPL and we really do see it as a key enabler in positioning Dubai as a global destination for sporting events.

The ongoing pandemic have brought uncertainty and adversity globally for the past few months. While almost all industry verticals are facing unprecedented challenges, travel and tourism has come to standstill with closure of international borders, grounding of airlines, shutdown of hotels and other segments.

Although industry is witnessing a staggered opening, it is still not out of the storm and will continue to grapple with significant low demand. This brought the most significant proposition of instilling confidence among travelers to travel before stakeholders. Destinations understood this well and are reorienting their marketing strategy with all safety, hygiene, social distance and other norms prescribed by WHO along with respective governments.

To further rethink and take a deeper dive into the future of outbound tourism, T3 organised an e-conference during SATTE GenX titled, ‘Outbound Travel: Reinventing Strategy’. The panel was moderated by Mahendra Vakharia, Immediate Past President, Outbound Tour Operators Association of India (OTOAI) and witnessed eminent global speakers including; Fahd Hamidaddin, CEO, Saudi Tourism Authority; Vachirachai Sirisumpan, Director, Tourism Authority of Thailand, New Delhi; Thoyyib Mohamed, Managing Director, Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation; Jabed Ahmed, Chief Executive Officer, Bangladesh Tourism Board; Sanjay Sondhi, Country Manager, VITO – India and  Arvind Bundhun, Director, Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority discussing the way forward to woo international travelers.

Introducing the session, Vakharia stated that the outbound tourism from India is currently one of the fastest growing in the world and is pegged at around 27 million travellers. “This market is estimated to touch 45 million outbound travellers in the next couple of years,” He said.

Mauritius has opened its borders for the first phase of tourism with stringent quarantine policies in place.

Speaking about the plans, Bundhun said, “Our borders are still closed and will remain closed till October 31, 2020. In the past months, we have been repatriating our citizens. We have some scheduled flights from October 3. Our total load factor will be 5000 seats in October. We need to start from somewhere, we will start in a staggered manner as of now. We will open the destination in phases with protocol and policies in place. We need to take all necessary precaution, so that we don’t see a second lockdown in Mauritius hence we have stringent quarantine policy. We will look at reducing the quarantine days in the second phase.”

To further attract travellers, Maldives is now the first destination which has introduced a loyalty programme. Majority of the resorts in the destinations are now open for travellers, also Maldives is set to allow guesthouses to function from this month   

“On July 15, we re-opened our borders with full confidence and safety measures. Our top priority is the safety of our guests and staffs in resorts. Safaris have opened; operations are safe and will be contactless. Guesthouses will also open up this month, this ensures travellers can enjoy their vacation. During the COVID situation, travellers need to submit an online health declaration form submitted 24 hours prior to departure. All travellers arriving to Maldives require mandatory negative PCR report. All travellers need to wear face mask and sanitize; we also have a contact tracing app which needs to be downloaded. We have also received the safe travel stamp from WTTC. The air travel bubble between India and Maldives was the first in South Asia. We have commenced campaign in India, and we hope to recover and thrive in the aftermath of the pandemic. We have also launched Maldives Border Miles which is first of a kind loyalty programme in the world,” Mohamed added.

Thailand recently opened its borders for tourism, but the major focus was on long-stay travellers. In their first phase of reopening, the destination is welcoming travellers who are willing to stay for minimum 30 days.

Explaining the reopening plans and the way forward, Sirisumpan said, “We have been preparing since the lockdown for a proper restart of tourism. We are working on building up the confidence and implement safety and hygiene protocols in place. Life and business are now almost back to normal with the new protocols. TAT along with the Ministry of Public Health have come out with SOPs for tourism services and attractions. We are strongly maintaining communication with our tourists. Our objective is to keep Thailand top of the mind destination for Indians and keep good relationship with the travel trade. We first opened for essential travellers. The latest development is we have announced a special visa for long-term travellers, with a minimum quarantine of 14 days. This is the first phase and we will soon come up with new policies.”

Over the last couple of years, Indonesia has witnessed a significant growth in numbers from the India market, with Bali being the most popular destination. Indonesia is now promoting Bintan which is all set to welcome travellers soon.

“Bali is a very popular destination for Indians, and we have seen a growth of 25-30 per cent from India YoY. The Government has started a health and safety certification which covers all parameters. We are getting ready to restart tourism. We are also working on a seamless visa-on-arrival which will be totally online with a very little human contact. Holidays are all about happy experiences, so during this period we are working on more destinations. Bintan is getting ready for tourism which is close to Singapore. We are also working on creating quarantine facilities for travellers. We also do not have a direct flight from India, so we are depending on the connecting destinations and look at their transit facilities,” Sondhi informed.

One of the latest entrants in the leisure tourism segment, Saudi Arabia promises an authentic Arabic experience with a mix of culture and sustainability. The destination is geared up to attract Indian travellers post COVID. Also, the destination is eyeing VFR travel from India.

“Saudi is new in the game and we are very new to this industry. Our strategy is to make sure our offering is differentiated yet appealing and relevant for our audience. Saudi is the land of Arabia and it captures the largest landscape in the Arab peninsula. We have culture, adventure, sun & sea, there is a lot of mystic attractions for curious travellers. Everything is designed around an experience; we have kept everything authentic. We are having a long-term strategy to provide next generation tourism offerings where sustainability will be the key. India is one of the prime source markets, we have 5 million Indians in Saudi Arabia and we can tap the VFR segment,” Hamidaddin said.  

Speaking about the visa facilitation, he revealed, “We would like to facilitate e-visa scheme for Indian travellers soon. Peoples’ perception of Saudi Arabia is a little different and we are to blame as we haven’t explained the narrative as it is. We have a lot of work to do in terms of promotion. We are a very diverse nation with a lot of topography. Based on these purposes, we have identified 30 source markets that will make 90 per cent of our travellers and we have started communicating. Now, we will be more specific and will activate the trade and induct tour operators in each market.”

Sharing borders with India, Bangladesh has not been very successful over the years in attracting leisure traffic from India. Bangladesh is the number one source market for India with travellers coming for majorly medical tourism.

Speaking about the tourism preparedness, Ahmed said, “Covid-19 curve in Bangladesh is on the decline and the infection rate is coming down. Bangladesh is a land in South Asia with enormous potential for tourism. We are coming up with innovative strategies to attract tourism. In the coming years, regional tourism is the best source to revive outbound tourism. We need to introduce extended and connected packages. Bangladesh is the biggest source market for India for medical and shopping tourism. As short haul is the priority, we would like to showcase the unique attractions in Bangladesh.”

Bangladesh has seamless connectivity with India and the destination is also set to introduce e-visa facility for Indians. Ahmed added, “There is direct connectivity with 10 flights from India to Bangladesh. We are ready to hold MICE as well and we are in the process of easing the visa and coming up with e-visa.  Bangladesh is in the process of connecting with Indian tour operators and float special offers for Indians. We are promoting our destinations via social media in India. As of now most travellers come from West Bengal and North East. we have world class hotels in various locations.”

SATTE, South Asia’s largest travel and tourism exhibition, recently made a successful virtual debut with the launch of SATTE GenX, first virtual travel exhibition of the region. The inaugural edition witnessed the participation of 122 exhibitors and welcomed over 6600 visitors who got an opportunity to network and conduct business virtually. The inaugural ceremony witnessed the presence of a host of dignitaries from across the global tourism markets and was attended by over 2000 live audience.

Delivering the welcome speech, Yogesh Mudras, MD, Informa Markets India said, “This two-day virtual expo brings together some of the world’s leading destinations and companies, eminent speakers, knowledge forum and some unparalleled networking opportunities. Travel and tourism industry have been the most impacted sectors due to the ongoing pandemic. During these challenging times, SATTE with its new digital initiative, is offering an opportunity to the stakeholders of the industry to conduct business from the location of their choice in order to connect with the target audience. SATTE GenX is the industry’s broader plan to gradually reopen the travel, tourism, and hospitality sector. For SATTE GenX, we have got a strong support from international and Indian exhibitors, buyers, associations especially at a much-needed time and this speaks volumes of how this sector is keen to bounce back.”

Lauding the virtual initiative by Informa Markets in creating a unique platform for the industry stakeholders to connect and revive business, Prahalad Singh Patel, Minister for Tourism (I/C), India, said, “SATTE GenX with a host of international and domestic exhibitors is an attempt to help restart tourism global business. This virtual initiative is a new attempt and an out-of- the-box solution to help the industry. I would like to thank all the international tourism board and domestic companies participating in this exhibition. This is a good step for the revival of the tourism segment.” He opined that this segment has been hit the most and we are facing a major hurdle.

“I have been in touch with all stakeholders to understand various issues and are trying to solve them. Domestic tourism is a solution which should be explored for the revival. Our PM had mentioned that travellers should visit 15 destinations in India. We have successfully promoted each and every aspect of India on ‘Dekho apna desh’ webinar series. we are using digital media to the fullest to educate our tourists and promote destinations. We have arranged for guides in different languages at our monuments. To restart tourism, SOPs and protocols are in place with a focus on safety and security. With the Atma Nirbhar scheme, there has been a keen focus on MSME segment which will surely help the tourism industry players,” Patel informed.

With a core focus to make India a cruise tourism hub, the Ministry of Shipping, Govt. of India partnered with SATTE GenX for a cruise pavilion, where the ministry helped in promoting various ports and cruise liners.

Speaking about the status of cruise tourism in India, Mansukh Mandaviya, Minister for Shipping (I/C), India said, “I am very happy to be a part of SATTE GenX. Since inception of our government, we always had a vision to develop cruise tourism in India. We have tried to bring all the stakeholders like port, immigration, tourism department, post health department, custom department, taxation bodies, tour operators, etc on a common platform. This has helped us to remove the bottleneck in the industry. Due to policy support, the number of calls by cruise has grown from by 120 in 2015-16 to 593 in 2019-20. We are developing world-class cruise infrastructure in Mumbai, Goa, Mangalore, Thiruvananthapuram, and Chennai. Vishakhapatnam and Kolkata have also the same facilities. Guaranteed berth, uniform single rate, online and on-arrival visa, biometric exemption on e-visa for three years, etc have already implemented. We want to put India on the map of global cruise tourism. SATTE GenX will play a vital role in boosting the cruise tourism segment. “

To develop tourism ties between India and Greece, the Minister of Tourism, Greece visited India prior to the pandemic. Greece is keen to tap the Indian outbound potential.

For India and Greece, travel industry is a very important segment which has helped economy grow. The pandemic has forced us to think out of the box and how we can realign practices with the new normal. The health protocols along with training and testing regimes at the borders will surely ensure safety of passengers and citizens. This has been a difficult year for everyone, initiatives like SATTE helps in bringing people together and is a platform to do business. I am glad that recently I visited India and it is a strategic market for us, which we are keen to develop. Greece stands ready as soon as conditions allow to open tourism and we would like to see people from India. We will always stand to help promote tourism between both the countries,.” Harris Theoharis, Minister of Tourism, Greece said.

Tourism being the most priority sector, Maldives has successfully opened up tourism. The destination has also recently welcomed 1000 daily arrivals.  

Abdulla Mausoom, Minister for Tourism, Maldives said, “It is a great pleasure to be a part of SATTE GenX. SATTE has been one of the most important exhibitions for us. We need to work together to overcome these challenging times. Even though virtually, this exhibition is very encouraging. We need to use such stronger virtual tools for networking for more efficiency. Maldives has a lot of challenges as our economy is dependent on tourism. We don’t have a domestic economy, so we had to figure our new ways. We have restarted tourism with the cooperation of industry stakeholders. We have made some progress in the last two and half months, many hotels, resorts are operational. Out of 51,000 beds in Maldives, 25,000 are operational. We have reached 1000 daily arrival target on October 2nd and this is a celebration for us. Exhibitions like SATTE will take us to the next level. We are not very sure of the path ahead, but this is an opportunity for us to do business in a new way.”

For the inaugural edition, Services Export Promotional Council (SEPC), an advisory body of the Ministry of Commerce & Industry, Government of India, had partnered with SATTE GenX for an exclusive pavilion facilitating the participation of private players.

Maneck Dawar, Chairman, SEPC said, We are indeed honoured to partner with Informa for SATTE GenX. In SEPC, we are committed to supporting the domestic services and our main focus is on the travel and tourism industry. We all know that it will take a very long time for this industry to come back. From SEPC, we have been representing for the tourism industry, the government has not done as much as should have done. We have created a pavilion at SATTE GenX and have provided platform for 75 exhibitors to promote themselves. While there are green shoots visible with people travelling and hotels opening up, there is lots to be done. It will take six to eight quarters for the industry to get back to pre-covid level. I assure all support from SEPC to the industry in promoting tourism.”

SATTE, with its new digital approach, created an opportunity to the stakeholders of the industry to conduct business from location of their choice and connect with the target audience.

MP Bezbaruah, Secretary General, Hotel Association of India and Former Tourism Secretary, Govt. of India, said, “SATTE GenX is taking place in a very unusual time, but SATTE will play a very significant role in reinstating the industry. This will lay the foundation for the new journey which we will be taking ahead. There is no doubt that tourism will bounce back as it did after 9/11, SARS and Tsunami. It has been pointed out that the revival will be stimulated by the domestic tourism. There is no doubt that the small and medium players in the industry will play a vital role, but they are still struggling for survival. The MoT’s draft tourism policy has an ambitious plan of 3.6 billion domestic tourists in next 5 years. We need to create sustainable destinations and should promote tourism beyond the metropolis. We can create 1000’s of new destinations within no time which will create a different experience. We will need a lot of tourism infrastructure development and last mile connectivity. SATTE plays a big role in the promotion of regional tourism.”

Being a part of SATTE since its inception, Subhash Goyal, Hony. Secretary, FAITH said, “I am happy that what started as a small organization is today South Asia’s largest travel show and the most successful buyer-seller meet. Next, we want SATTE to be the world’s largest travel exhibition in the coming years. India is the center of South Asia, Australia, Europe and America and should be the Centre for trade exhibition. I am sure government will surely support in our revival process. The travel bubble agreements are also quite encouraging, and I am sure soon tourism will restart. We must learn to live with this disease. We have requested all states to have a uniform quarantine policy for a free movement. I feel proud that SATTE has become a force to reckon with and is playing a key role in reviving the Indian tourism sector.”

Speaking about the crisis Jyoti Mayal, Vice Chairman, FAITH said, “SATTE GenX with over 122 exhibitors from across the globe will certainly be a great opportunity for the travel trade fraternity to network and restart business and to overcome this crisis. A crisis which has made us think and restructure ourselves. I would like to reinforce that we have asked the government to support us by giving moratorium, rebates, reliefs, refunds from airlines, incentivise tourism, and all issues that are damaging us right now. The industry is in despair and is grappling to survive, and it is across the globe. Indian tourism and hospitality industry is staring at a Rs. 15 lakh crore loss and a potential job loss of around 3.8 crores. The government has not helped or supported to revive, but we are resilient, and we need to collectively see to it that each one of us survive.”

SATTE 2021 is now scheduled to take place from March 24-26, 2021 at India Expo Mart, Greater Noida. Delivering the vote of thanks, Pallavi Mehra, Group Director & Publisher, Informa Markets India, said, “On behalf of SATTE GenX, I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks and I am extremely grateful for Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Shipping, SEPC, National Tourism Organisations of various countries and all exhibitors and visitors for supporting us. Also, I would like to announce that we have rescheduled our physical show SATTE 2021 to March 24-26, 2021 in Greater Noida.”

Vikram Lalvani, Chief of Revenue Management, Sales & Destinations, Sterling Holiday Resorts shares his views on the changing Indian hospitality scenarios

Workation and Staycation have emerged as the latest trend in the hospitality segment. Despite demand, these segments may be short-lived.

How do you see the business shaping up post lockdown?

We’ve been seeing a pent-up desire to travel from Tier 1 & 2 cities. In places where restrictions are relaxed, we are seeing a sudden spike of weekend travellers. With more and more cities now entering an unlock phase, we are seeing a demand for advance bookings as well; this is to help guests secure the best prices. Apart from individual travellers, corporates are also looking at hosting small team meets, offsites and MICE in nearby locations.

Short-haul destinations that are just a short drive away from metro cities are now gaining popularity. Jaipur, Thekkady, Pallavelli, Mt Abu, Lonavala, Kodaikanal, Ooty, Mussoorie and Puri are among the destinations that are likely to witness a good influx of travellers owing to their proximity to key Indian cities. Many people are also opting for staycations at nearby exotic destinations in order to discover new cultures, cuisines, and art without having to travel very far.

The latest trend in hotels and resorts has been workcation and staycation packages, how is the response? Can this trend fill the void? What is your take on the same?

At Sterling, we believe that there will be a gradual uptick in ‘workations and staycations’ across popular and less-explored destinations. However, the primary criteria for choosing any destination will be accessibility and digital connectivity. Guests now prefer spacious rooms with access to open and green spaces.

A few of the popular workation hotspots are in Lonavala, Mussoorie, Mount Abu, Sariska, Palavelli Godavari, Thekkady, Yercaud, Ooty, Wayanad, Anaikatti, Jaipur, Kufri, and Puri. These are easily accessible from the nearest commercial and business districts of Tier-I & II cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Bhubaneswar, Jaipur, Vizag, Pune, Calicut, etc. We have also featured these resorts in our list of popular ‘Workcation Hotspots’ in India.

However, workcations and staycations are not enough to fill the void caused by the pandemic. Small to midsized weddings, conferences and weekend trips are also expected to fill the missing void.

What are the key features of the workcation and staycation packages which you are offering? Are you offering flexible cancellation?

sThe key features offered include unlimited WiFi connectivity, a well-designed set of holiday activities including ‘Yoga’ sessions for small groups, dry kitchenettes in rooms, contact-less dining with take away options, QR code menus for room service, and quick mini-buffets in dining areas.

The package also offers an exclusive complimentary ‘Holiday insurance’. This insurance has been introduced keeping in mind the uncertainty caused by the pandemic. The insurance covers every individual traveller for up to Rs. 3,00,000 and it takes care of unforeseen circumstances such as loss arising out of flight delays, flight cancellations, baggage loss, medical emergencies, etc. The only condition here is that guests would have to opt-in for this insurance policy at the time of booking their holiday.

What are the permanent and temporary changes that you foresee in the hospitality segment operationally?

In the pre-pandemic era, the tourism and hospitality sector was one of the key segments driving the growth of the nation’s economy with a contribution of approximately 10 per cent to India’s GDP. Now, due to the outbreak and the necessary lockdowns, the industry has seen a major shift. The hospitality industry has obviously been through its toughest phase. However, the pandemic has encouraged the industry to think more creatively and act more energetically.

With work from home becoming a long-term strategy for many companies, is workcation going to stay for the long-term?

Work-from-home is certainly here to stay, at least until there is a vaccine that is developed. Scores of companies were compelled to adapt to WFH in order to keep their operational costs of offices low. Although workcations may not be a game changer, they are definitely a temporary solution for resorts that are easy to access from key commercial business districts.

Many companies and employees have now understood that it is no longer necessary to work from a designated office space. In fact, many employees have witnessed a spike in productivity when surrounded by a relaxed, comfortable, and spacious environment that resorts/hotels have to offer.

The hospitality industry came to a standstill during the lockdown period in India and across the globe. With the government unlocking the businesses in a phased manner, hotels across the nation is now opened to serve guests. With a little or no movement of travellers, hoteliers are now looking at innovative measures to attract guests to various hotels and resorts. Currently, the trend which has picked up are the workations and staycation packages, which hoteliers are looking as a temporary or a short-term remedy to restore business. Kerala hoteliers have received warm response from their patrons for these latest packages.

Speaking about the trend, Raja Gopal Iyer, Corporate Director, Uday Samudra Resorts, Kovalam, said, “Workation and staycation as concepts are well received and we did have lot of enquiries come in with few taking it up as well. The dip in salary and unpredictable future might be the dampers here. Like they say, ‘Adversity brings the best out of you’, these sort of packages have been thought of during the pandemic for people who wish they had better privacy and luxury to work out of, or for somebody who wishes they sat out in a different safe place than home to bring out the best in them at work, this is something we can definitely look as an add-on amenity, once we resume normal business but definitely the void can’t be filled with this.”

Few hoteliers have gone a step ahead to blend workations and staycations with wellness tourism. With health and wellness being at the core, few hotels have introduced work and yoga packages. “Key features of Niramayam Healthy Work Station package is to help the people working to correct their lifestyle, treat the body, mind and soul, boost immunity without loss of pay and without compromising on their work schedule. We provide a hygienic, safe, sanitised and silent environment with yoga and meditation to make them healthy and wealthy,” O M Rakesh, MD, Niramayam Ayurveda Resort, said.

Echoing similar opinion, Anish Verghese, MD, Beyond Era, Munnar, added, “We have announced Workation packages where we provide guests with all facilities for a working online. Hope we would have more people would be using as this helps them avoid the monotony of working from their homes. We offer long stay workation packages that include uninterrupted internet connectivity with homely food and a silent place to work. We in addition also have stress relief packages that includes Yoga, one to one consulting and other rejuvenation therapies.”

These new segments are short term filler businesses for most of the hotels with only 10 per cent of the total revenue being contributed from this segment.  “There will not be any permanent changes, all the changes are temporary in the hospitality industry. But this pandemic has definitely proven that traditional health care system like Ayurveda has enough potential to prevent such diseases,” Rakesh said.

Kerala being one of the top destinations for eco-tourism, the destination is on most of the traveller’s radar. In terms of instilling confidence amongst traveler and the trends, Verghese added, “Hygiene levels would be one of the most important factors. Sanitising & social distancing would become a part of our daily activities. In the long run things will be back to normal while taking care of hygiene. The demand for unexplored and smaller accommodation units would gain popularity where the interactions with strangers would be minimal. Villages and nature friendly would see higher demand in the new normal.”

Every hotel is now looking to offer utmost flexibility in terms of bookings, modification and cancellations. Iyer said, “Flexibility is one of the most important aspects when booking hotels. New policies that adapt to unforeseen changes, like business meetings that may unexpectedly change or vacations that will need to be delayed due to sudden travel restrictions being imposed, will need to be developed. By offering flexibility to the customer, hotels can give a degree of confidence to their customers who are undoubtedly worried when booking accommodations due to the inherent insecurity of possible isolation situations, closing of borders, and flight cancellations.”

The travel and hospitality business have not only witnessed a stagnation, but even the immediate future of the industry looks bleak at this moment. The industry has already faced huge revenue losses and uncertainty on when the tourism and hospitality will bounce back has deepened the crisis further. The representations business which has been booming for the last few years in India, has also suffered the brunt.

Most, if not all clients, have either slashed their promotional budgets or some have even paused all activities and engagement. Despite, these adverse conditions, representation companies in India have been quite innovative in terms of promoting their principals.

Speaking about the present scenario, Sanjay Sondhi, CEO, OM Tourism said, “The coronavirus outbreak has immobilised the tourism industry affecting all sectors. The representation companies worldwide were also not spared. As hotels all over the world were shut, destinations closed their borders to contain the pandemic. Flights, travel agencies, the entire tourism sector came to a complete standstill and as a result many representation companies had to face the consequences like cut in the monthly fees or no fees.”

Echoing similar opinion, Joseph Fernandes, CEO, Indijo Consulting added, “Like almost everything else in the travel and tourism business; the representation business too is on pause. Clients have either paused, suspended, or have truncated contracts. While on the one hand, there is a downturn in the business, on the other hand, there has been a slew of new representation companies that have opened over the past year, and during the lockdown. In a nutshell, the status of the representation business can be described as, high competition in a slow marketplace.”

The pandemic being an unprecedented challenge, the traditional routes of marketing has taken a backseat and now representations are compelled to think out of the box.

“We are always pushing ourselves to think differently for our clients. The pandemic was a different challenge altogether, but we have been successful in adapting to change by thinking on our feet. One such example is India’s first ever virtual roadshow conducted by Tourism Authority of Thailand that was conceptualised and executed by BRANDit. Tourism boards that do not have a representation office in India can efficiently use the digital platform to create brand presence via various tools like online webinars, trainings, etc. These not only turn out to be cost effective but also filter the right profile of travel agents that is best suited for the destination,” Lubaina Sheerazi, CEO & Co-founder, BRANDit, said.

During the entire lockdown period, most of the representation companies have used the digital marketing tools efficiently to promote their clients. Also, representation companies strongly feel that digital marketing is here to stay and will play a key role in future marketing.

Pranav Kapadia, Founder & Director, Global Destinations said, “The ultimate survivors and winners are going to be the ones who quickly learn to adapt to the ever-evolving environment. Innovation and creativity are aspects that we practice very seriously at our organisation and what better time than now to implement these to the fullest. We are also having partners engage with the travel trade by way of webinars, information sessions, Instagram/Facebook live etc, keeping them abreast of current situation in our partner countries besides rolling out digital content on their platforms as well as sharing the same on our platforms.”

During this lull period, most of the clients are looking to train the travel trade fraternity and be prepared for the tourism resumption. “The last few months have been tough not alone for our business but the world over. So along with the battle against COVID – 19 we have been battling to keep our spirits high and focus clear. Having said that IRIS REPS quickly understood that sales would be impacted as no flight operations and so we quickly turned our focus to training. Iris Reps have organised webinars, training session for the products under the banner with the intention of keeping the products fresh in the mind of the sellers,” Alefiya Singh, Director, Iris Reps, said.

Globally, tourism is now picking up with a handful of destinations opening borders and airlines getting a go ahead from their respective Governments. Tourism businesses are now gearing up to restart and look forward to welcoming the Indian outbound travellers.

Speaking about the advice to clients, Sondhi said, “All our principals understand resilience is the only solution for this huge devastation. Our suggestions for them was to be constantly in the mind of the travellers, so the best way to interact with the consumers and travel agencies are the digital platforms. Our endeavour is to be digitally present and reachable as much as possible.”

Singh added, “Traveller’s confidence is still low, and the recovery is slow. Domestic will lead international travel by six months plus. For international travel, we need to be quick in opening up and persuading international tourists that they are safe. Risk-free travel booking will be a new norm as free cancellations become a number one priority. Pre-sale offers and deep discounting on perishable inventory will also become popular. Another trend is insurance coverage for travellers.”

India will remain one of the most lucrative markets for majority of the destinations, hotels, airlines, DMCs post the pandemic. Tourism stakeholders are gearing up to cater efficiently to the Indian outbound post covid-19. “A tourism powerhouse, India is a key source market for several destinations given its tremendous potential and therefore cannot be ignored. Countries are already gearing up for the first wave of Indian outbound tourism. Although the initial recovery post pandemic will be slower, tourism boards are using their time effectively to connect with the travel trade by conducting destination training programmes, webinars, and online workshops to enhance knowledge about their product & offerings. The initial step that brands have effectively implemented to communicate is the importance of safety,” Sheerazi informed.  

With all the players entering the digital space, some players feel that effective communication is important, but one should not overload the travel trade fraternity with communication. Instead, brands should now focus on understanding what will be the new requirements from the market.

“Communication that is consistent and relevant is extremely important. But there is a fine line between communication and communication overload. Communication is more about listening rather than telling.  What we are doing is providing easy access to information and have communicated where to find it, rather than just push it out. We think we have been extremely successful in having an interactive relationship with the market on behalf of our clients. We continue to learn from the market by asking the right questions and providing what the market wants,” Fernandes elaborated.

Post the pandemic, representation businesses will witness a sharp demand as most of the industry stakeholders would want to re-strategise their business. Representation companies are gearing up to harness the potential of this business post the covid-19 pandemic.  “Many new partners with some very interesting product offerings are already considering India very seriously. They have already seen the scale and potential that India as an outbound market can offer and are also aware that the Indian traveller is way resilient compared to any other. In fact, we already have a few products ready and, in the waiting, to be launched in India soon. Furthermore, I expect a shift in buying where the consumer will go back to the traditional travel agent who will then work with a local trustworthy representation company. With the pandemic, globally everyone is suffering financially hence it will be important that our trade partners work with companies who are financially stable and strong as well as look after their client’s safety Internationally on ground,” Kapadia added.

Further speaking about the future of the representation business, Sondhi added, “As India is the biggest source market for many destinations, airlines and hotels, representation companies will always survive and will soon be in full action. I am optimistic, when other tourism companies observe how the representation companies supported their clients during the crisis period, more and more destinations, hotels, airlines will think of having their representations in India.”

Sharing similar opinion, Sheerazi said, “I do see this as an opportunity in many ways for the representation business. While we have constructively used this time to form deeper connections with the travel trade and media industry, upgrade skill sets and think out of the box for our clients; it also gives us the chance to form new partnerships. However, the limitless possibilities of the virtual world help break barriers giving room to untap the potential of the Indian travel market like never before.”

Trending amongst the Indian travellers over the last couple of years, Czech Tourism is bullish on the Indian outbound market post international travel resumption. The destination is ready and has recommenced tourism for the European markets recently.

Speaking about the Indian market, Arzan Khambatta, Head, Czech Tourist Authority – CzechTourism India, said, “The COVID-19 crisis has disrupted life as we know it and international travel is the most affected amongst others. The Czech Republic welcomed many tourists from India in the past few years during springs and summers, which could not happen this year. However, we believe, that travel is a very resilient industry and we will stand together and with our combined efforts to overcome this situation. India has been one of the key source markets for the Czech Republic with significant growth in tourist numbers over the last few years. Recuperation will happen, albeit at its own pace, so we are waiting for India to recover soon, so that we can welcome our discerning Indian travellers to explore our delightful and scenic country.”

In terms of scale, the destination has successfully contained the spread of the virus and has been one of the least affected within Europe. To further ensure safety, the destination has taken several hygiene measures.

Khambatta added, “The Czech Republic has so far been able to fight this pandemic fairly well. It is amongst the least affected countries in Europe. We are optimistic that we will soon be ready to invite the discerning Indian travellers to visit our magnificent and scenic country. The Czech Republic is already open to visitors from European countries to start with, which would gradually be extended to other countries around the world. As the health and safety of everyone have been the utmost priority, several measures related to health and hygiene are being undertaken.”

During the lockdown period, the global tourism movement had come to a standstill. During this period, Czech Republic continued to engage with its travel trade partners digitally. “While several restrictions are still in place in India and not much active marketing is possible during this period, it is our sincere belief that the destinations that remain visible and relevant in these challenging times will also be the first ones to bounce back and attract the Indian tourists. We have increased our efforts to stay connected with the travel trade fraternity. Virtual Training and E-Learning programmes are some of the initiatives that are being implemented to educate and inform the travel trade. Apart from this, we have also launched our India specific Instagram handle, to reach out to our Indian community of travellers in a more focused manner,” he said.

Looking ahead, the entire trend of European travel from India market will change. Travellers will look at more focused itineraries in single destination rather than destination hopping. Slow tourism will be one of the upcoming trends to watch out. “The fear of the pandemic will leave a lasting impact on the travel industry and perhaps encourage a shift in the way travellers approach planning their trips. Travellers will give way to selective, sustainable and slow tourism for their well-being. Tourists who will prefer travelling to mid and long-haul destinations will spend more time in one place than hopping to different countries. Apart from exploring the destination in depth and understanding its culture and surroundings, this will also keep them safe and even away from formalities and cautiousness required while crossing international borders,” he added. 

Earlier last month, Tanzania opened its borders for international tourism. A major portion of the nation’s GDP depends on the tourism and hospitality segment. Tanzania has been one of the destinations to keep the covid-19 numbers in check.

Speaking about the development, Devota Mdachi, Managing Director, Tanzania Tourist Board said, “We are one of the first countries in African region to open tourism. The number of covid-19 patients is very low. We are ready to receive tourists from across the globe. The Ministry of Health and Tourism have come up with various precautions and SOPs and guidelines. All major airports have screening machines, mask compulsory, sanitisers available in many points. Hotels and operators have got a mandate to follow SOPs and also come up with their own SOPs. We welcomed the first international airline, Ethiopian Airline after nearly two months, which is a very positive sign. We are very excited and soon when India will be open, Air Tanzania will resume its flights to Mumbai, and we look forward to welcome Indian travellers.”

The interaction was organized by Koncept Africa, a totally Africa centric vertical of Pearl Tourism & Leisure Group which is well equipped to help create a suitable package for Tanzania and other major African destinations.

Speaking about the destination Jayesh Ashar, Managing Director, Pearl Tourism & Leisure Group said, “Tanzania is a unique destination that offers a huge gamut of attractions, activities, landscapes and choice of accommodation. It’s a dynamic package destination in true sense! The main factors that will influence travel to TZ are; Visa on arrival and e-visa facility available for Indian travellers; Direct flights from India to TZ with convenient timings, only 6 hrs flying time; Strict COVID-19 protocol in place for visitors safety; Medium to high end budget packages available; Easy availability of Indian cuisine including Jain food.”  

In terms of marketing strategies to instill confidence amongst tourists, Tanzania has come up with a short and a long-term tourism strategy. The destination will also look to organize a roadshow in India end of this year or early next year. “After the outbreak and decision to close the borders, we were impacted. We reached a point where there were zero tourism. Tourism is our number one priority sector. It affected employment and economy of Tanzania. Now that we have opened up, we are looking at best ways to promote so that tourism numbers trickle down to Tanzania. We know that other destinations are also aiming to open. Our short-term plans where we have invested a lot on online marketing, we have done some live streaming to showcase the destination. We worked with the Serengeti live Show company to showcase what’s happening in Serengeti,” she said adding that Tanzania will hold a roadshow in India  later this year or early next year to show what Tanzania has got to offer and what the government has put in place for safety and health of the travellers. “For long term plan, we are looking to appoint a representative and PR in India next year. We will also conduct some fam trips for trade and journalists from India market to showcase our uniqueness,” she informed.

In 2019, the destination welcomed 49,000 travellers from India. Now, with a direct Air Tanzania connection to Mumbai, the tourism board is anticipating rise in numbers. “We have a large Indian community in Tanzania, and we have people speaking Indian languages and also Indian food is easily available here. With Air Tanzania connection the numbers will surely increase,”  she informed.

With the new protocols in place social distancing is a major guideline for every business. Tanzania is now promoting newer destinations to divert traffic throughout the nation.

She further said, “The safety and health of our guest is our priority. We have put social distancing in practice and for safari vehicle can have maximum 4 guests in a vehicle and vehicles are sanitized in frequent intervals. The best circuit for the first-time traveler is the Northern circuit. Also, most travellers combine Northern circuit along with Zanzibar. Now we are also promoting southern tourism circuit which are unique and unexplored. We are also trying to divert traffic to western part of the nation. Travellers should at least look at a six to seven-night itinerary.”

The global aviation has witnessed negligible or no movement in the last three months where governments across the globe closed borders and skies for tourism. The Asia Pacific market which was looked upon as the most lucrative market for aviation in this decade has been unfortunately battered by the covid-19 pandemic. Experts feel that the aviation may not hit pre-covid numbers anytime soon.

Speaking about the future of aviation and pricing, Lindsay White, Vice President, Eastern Region (APAC and ISC), Etihad Airways, said, “The situation is dynamic and as countries are likely to open their borders at different times, pricing will as always be dictated by demand and supply. We have navigated the past few months by responding quickly and adaptability will be key as markets gradually start opening up. It’s fair to assume that there will be consolidation within the industry in the coming months. We are in the middle of a five-year transformation and already benefiting from the process of going back to basics and challenging all costs. That agility has allowed us to pivot to meet the challenges of the current crisis.”

Over the last three months, majority of the airlines have been operating repatriation flights and cargo business. Now, with certain relaxations across the globe and destinations looking to restart tourism, aviation will see a surge in the coming months.

V Ravindran, Regional Manager- India and Bangladesh, SriLankan Airlines said, “95 per cent of the aviation activities has been affected and the revenue is almost zero for almost all the airlines with no exception.  Srilankan is ready to commence operations any time after August 1, 2020. Even if we start our operations by 1st week of August it is unlikely that we will operate the same scale as we did pre-Covid era.”

Also, the aviation sector is closely interlinked with many other sectors which will play a crucial role. With majority of the economies impacted, once again will affect aviation post resumption. “The pandemic has had an unforeseeable impact on the aviation industry. There were several factors that were driving the growth of the aviation industry prior to the Covid-19 pandemic such as increasing disposable income, competitively priced airline fares, new travel trends, among others. However, since the pandemic, each of these factors have been deeply impacted, slowing down the industry at a global level. It will likely take a while to fly at full capacity again. Historical trends do indicate that the industry will return to pre-Covid-19 levels. It is just a matter of when,” Calvin Chan, Chief Commercial Officer, Scoot added.

The face of air travel will witness a sea change post recommencement. There will be certain short term and permanent changes which the airline industry and travellers witness. On the forefront, safety and hygiene will play the key role like any other industry.

 “Since the outbreak of this pandemic, several organisations have put the wellness and wellbeing of their employees and customers at the core and this is sure to sustain. The renewed air travel experience will focus on wellness of both, guests and the airline and airport staff, and that will remain utmost priority, even in the post-pandemic scenario. We have utilised the past few months to innovate and adapt in order to ensure that we provide a hygienic and safe travel experience to guests. This includes self-service check-in, contactless health screening and thermal cameras that can monitor body temperature at Abu Dhabi airport. These are path-breaking innovations and will forever redefine travel experiences,” White said.

Contactless services are here to stay, and technology driven innovations will play the gamechanger for airlines. “It is likely that as with post-9/11 security measures, some will be temporary while others will be permanent, however it is too soon to say which. There are measures that are currently in place to ensure everyone is safe, such as wearing masks during the flight, pre-assigned seating to enable safe-distancing, enhanced cleaning and passenger care kits that contain items like anti-bacterial wipes, sanitizer and a surgical mask. For measures that we hope are temporary - like limits on carry-on baggage to minimize congestion in the aircraft during boarding and disembarkation or reduced in-flight services to reduce physical interactions – they are necessary for safety for now, and we hope customers can understand the reasons for these measures,” Chan added.   

Another major step by the aviation industry in light of the pandemic, is the relaxation of bookings and refund policies. Majority of the airlines have come up with customer friendly approach which will play a major role in travel decision making.

Speaking about the engagement with the travel trade White said, “We have taken every measure to extend maximum flexibility to our partners and our teams are working around the clock to support our trade partners to make sure they are the first to know about our new policies, procedures and travel news. Some of these include flexibility with bookings. We are focusing largely on seamless and consistent communication with them. We have conducted regular webinars in order to keep our trade partners updated at all times, informing them of the changes and temporary measures implemented by Etihad Airways.”

Airlines are looking at engaging with digitally with the travel fraternity and keep transparent communications so as to instill confidence. Ravindran said, “Through the Sri Lankan Tourism authorities we have had few Webinars to share the future activities with our stakeholders. We are already carrying out awareness programs through social media and other channels about Sri Lanka is safe and the precautions and SOP’s in place and to be adopted when the country is open for tourism along with the SriLankan Airlines.”

Speaking about the measures to instill confidence Chan said that apart from safety measures the airline is promoting the flexibility. He said, “Aside from our enhanced safety measures, to give customers added flexibility and instill confidence, we are one of the few airlines in India offering eligible customers the option of refunds in cash in full should their flights be cancelled during this time. Alternatively, customers also have the option of refund in vouchers in 120 per cent of the itinerary value. We have received about 5,000 refund requests from customers in India, and more than 97 per cent have been processed so far. Moreover, to allow customers to book with confidence, new bookings made from now till end July will have the option of a one-time free date change. Flight date change can be performed up to four hours before the scheduled departure time of the original booked flight, and fare differences apply.”

Etihad has introduced a new wellness campaign, ‘Etihad Wellness’, taking a step forward the group has also recruited a wellness team, which is another innovative concept in the industry.

White added, “In order to ensure safe travel experiences, we launched ‘Etihad Wellness’ last month, an expanded and more comprehensive health and hygiene programme and customer guide. This builds on the stringent measures that have already been put in place by the airline to deal with COVID-19. This is being championed by a team of specially trained ‘Wellness Ambassadors’, an industry-first initiative. They are a dedicated team, trained at our facilities in Abu Dhabi, and will provide essential travel health information and care so guests can fly with greater peace of mind.”

Industry experts believe that airlines will never operate on certain routes post recommencement. “It is possible that certain routes may not be deemed feasible to operate for the foreseeable future due to the current situation. However, it does not mean that there will never be a chance to reassess the situation down the line. Airlines will need to be nimble in this regard, or risk missing out on opportunities,” Chan informed.

Echoing similar opinion White added, “A pragmatic approach will have to be maintained towards network planning, increasingly focusing on routes that make financial sense. The manner in which airlines will gradually return to a full network of international flights depends on various criteria, including directives by international governments. Etihad has been and will remain very nimble and adaptive.”

During the pre-covid era, airlines used to generally engage in fare wars to attract more customers, which may not be the case anymore.

Speaking about the way forward, Ravindran said, “Cost structure of Airlines to Airlines differ due to the Capital, investment and the liabilities of the respective airline. The way forward is to be competitive in line with other airlines to sustain the market share and the operations.”

Starting on a positive note, tourism gets green signal from major governments across the globe and in India as well. Under the phased resumption of businesses across the nation, travel and hospitality industry have got a thumbs up from the Government to partially restart business with a set of new guidelines. The entire industry is bullish on the domestic tourism which is expected to restart soon and will act as a cushioning for the unfortunate losses made during the lockdown period. Despite all these efforts from the government as well as the industry, will travel be the same, ever?

As per a recent report from ICRA, the Indian hotel industry is going through its worst performance phase ever following the economic slowdown, the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic in Q4 FY2020 and subsequent lockdowns. These led to significant decline in occupancy and average room rates (ARR) as also revenues, operating margins and credit metrics. The pan- India average occupancy during FY2020 declined sharply and the same is abysmally low in YTD FY2021. Occupancy in FY2020 was down to around 65 per cent from around 69 per cent in FY2019; and in 2M FY2020, it drastically declined at 8-12 per cent.

ICRA further states that the industry is expected to witness over 90 per cent revenue contraction during Q1 FY2021 leading to severe cash bleed. Going forward, FY2021 revenues and margins are expected to witness sharp decline and the industry will take over two years to reach pre-covid revenue levels.

Another major challenge which the industry may face in the time ahead is managing the operational costs. Hospitality business has always been synonymous with safety and hygiene in the past, yet the industry will now need to make it more visible to win customer confidence. To retrieve the business, industry should look at more innovative and sustainable models of doing business leaving the inevitable apart. The first segments to witness some demand will be the out of city hotels and the car rental business.

Instilling confidence

In the initial reopening phase the hotel and car rental businesses are in a Catch-22 situation, where on one hand the operational costs have gone up with increase in the new SOPs in place and the sanitization frequency, and on the other front need to welcome customers at a value which may be lesser than the pre-covid era.

Speaking about the operational costs increase, Rajiv K Vij, Chairman & Managing Director, Carzonrent India, states, “Safety and hygiene have become very critical and we look at this additional operational cost of 5 per cent to 10 per cent as an investment into our business as we believe this will help us acquire more customers and help us move faster on our growth journey ahead. The industry is going through significant stress in terms of perishable unutilised inventory. However, we have found our customers appreciative of the efforts that we have put in to offer completely sanitized cars, drivers using global standards of sanitization material and processes on a daily and every transaction basis, which give them confidence in using our cars. These customers are also willing to pay for same.”

The hotel chains as well see the increase in the operational costs as an investment to woo more guests. But the discounting strategy should be dealt with cautiously as this may have a long-lasting impact.

Zubin Saxena, Managing Director and Vice President Operations, South Asia, Radisson Hotel Group explains, “We believe there is a need to earn the trust of guests and assure them of their safety as the industry resumes operations. Brands are therefore coming up with various marketing offers to win the consumer back. While, these are critical steps towards business recovery, it is also important to be cautious of a discount-led strategy. Rate cuts in the longer term may lead to an adverse impact on market competition and erode brand equity. The industry will have to reestablish itself through innovative initiatives that can be alternate revenue drivers and focus on sustainable practices that will stabilise income in the long run.”

Another cost for the industry in the coming period will be the safety and hygiene protocol trainings. Some of the businesses will also require additional human resource to maintain the hygiene standards as per new SOPs. Akanksha Lamba, Senior Vice President Operations, The Postcard Hotel adds, “At the Postcard Hotel, we have always taken safety and hygiene extremely seriously. Our properties are small and intimate which means that our operations are contained and efficient. Moreover, each hotel is spread over significant open area, so social distancing is naturally inbuilt in the way our properties are designed. While of course there has been an additional cost from these, the overall operational cost hasn’t been significantly impacted because of our pre-existing detailed standards and the boutique nature of our properties.”

Tourism reimagined

The tourism and hospitality have been worst hit sector by the pandemic. Today, the consumers have a fear psychosis of travel and instilling confidence should be the main focus of the industry. One of the major features for any hospitality or car rental business would be to make their customers feel safe and secure.

Punish B Sharma, Vice President – Operations, The Fern Hotels & Resorts says, “All hoteliers are grappling with the changed scenario. The pandemic has brought modifications and adjustments in the way the hotels used to run earlier. At the Fern Hotels and Resorts, we have introduced Staygiene – A new normal. These are basically the set of guidelines which all our 80 plus hotels are following across the country. The idea is to make the guest feel that he is in safe hands as long as he is with us.”

The business will further witness certain short-term implementations and some permanent changes created. As a historic reference, the hospitality industry has tightened their security post 9/11 and this has continued till date. Similarly, hygiene and sanitization will now be the priority.

Seema Roy, Area Managing Director for South Asia, Middle East & Africa, Preferred Hotels & Resorts adds, “The industry’s approach to hygiene and sanitation practices will be forever changed in terms of visibility.  Back of house is the now the new front of house. What was once behind the scenes will now be proudly displayed on hotel websites. We can expect consumer travel trends to change, at least in the short to midterm future. After months in lockdown, people are thinking differently about travel and they are prioritizing quality over quantity.  As travelers tentatively make travel plans, they are choosing destinations close to home that don’t require air travel and provide natural landscapes for active breaks with family and friends. An appreciation for domestic travel will create significant demand, steering money back into local and national economies.”

Another major move to win the customers confidence will be to increase flexibility in the bookings and altering cancellation policies.

Sunil Gupta, MD & CEO, Avis India said, “Safety and hygiene will remain a priority, we will need to continue to reassure travellers and respond to any new demands and needs. As we are seeing currently, offering increased flexibility in bookings will also be required to help provide customers with confidence and trust in these uncertain times, and may be required looking forward. Car transport currently offers a private, safe and clean alternative to other modes of transport. The safest and cleanest means to travel, and there will be increased incidence of last-minute leisure bookings and people will tend to travel for shorter distances preferably in their own vehicles.”

Future of MICE and f&b

Social distancing has played a major spoilsport for the hospitality industry. Covid-19 pandemic has not only impacted the peak season but has also put a halt to the complete wedding and MICE business. Hence, hotels are now looking to maximize F&B revenue with innovation.

“We are seeing a slow yet consistent demand for small-scale corporate gatherings, social functions and weddings at our hotels. As the situation normalizes, we are looking with optimism to the recovery of the wedding market – including celebrations that were previously planned for international locations that will move to local settings. Hybrid events could surface as a new trend, and we are enthusiastic to offer innovative solutions to the changing market demand,” Saxena says adding that food and beverage is one of the most critical revenues drivers for us. “We have reinvented our offerings and enabled food deliveries as well as safe takeaways for our guests. Through these services, we are able to serve 20 signature dishes from our 94 operating hotels on a pan-India basis. We have also reimagined our concierge services and introduced ‘Take home a Chef’ which allows our guests to book from a range of professional F&B services like cookery lessons, catering for special occasions and expert guidance on preparing healthy meals at home. We are also looking at reinventing our outdoor catering services to leverage on the opportunities of this segment,” Saxena adds.

Industry experts feel that hotel may have to do away with the buffet concept, where social distancing is a major issue. Hotels need to look at more sustainable models for an efficient f&b business.

“Concern around the hygiene of buffets might be difficult to overcome in the short term without offering viable alternatives. Luxury hotel dining outlets will provide more table-side service in intimate, socially distanced restaurant spaces with guests more likely to choose a la carte dining and room service options. This shift in food and beverage offerings intersects with a more engaged pursuit of sustainable practices in the luxury hospitality sector, creating less food waste and increasing the use of locally sourced, organic produce,” Roy opines.

Hotels see the loss of MICE business as a temporary phase and believe that the business will be reinstated in the mid- to- long term. One of the major challenges for the hotels will be to churn out major profits from the banquets where they would have to operate with restricted capacities.

“MICE segment will be impacted from a short to medium term perspective. Once things fall in place, a new normal will set in. The functions surely will be less crowded, however as someone who comes from F& B background, I see an opportunity there as well. We will come out with some excellent banquet menus which will offer a lot of exclusive food items. The idea will be to raise the revenues by providing top class services keeping the best hygiene standards. The restaurant business is going to bleed badly. But the f & B business in the hotel is largely dependent on the occupancies. There are very few walk-ins anyway in any outlet,” Sharma says.

Way forward

The pandemic has created more scope for technological advancements. One of the most talked about change the industry is witnessing is the contactless service.

Speaking about the strategies for a viable business, Vij says, “The pandemic and consequent focus on health and hygiene has made “Contactless” services a very critical component of all businesses including travel and tourism. The industry provides services to the travellers and must not take the role of providing credit/ working capital to customers .While some parts of the travel /tourism industry have dealt with trade credit issues over the years, the cash flow challenges during the pandemic will force the other parts of the industry to also work on dealing with this issue for future. Heavy fixed costs in a business which has its own seasonality has kept many parts of travel /tourism/hospitality industry dependent on seasonal revenue. The industry must innovate and implement actions for rationalization of fixed costs including work from home option which works very well for many parts of the industry with even better productivity.”

Indian travel and hospitality industry must have a strategy to tap the domestic market and look at attracting the large chunk of outbound travellers into the domestic segment.

“It is our strong belief that things will improve soon and the high-end leisure market for smaller luxury hotels will be amongst the first to recover. The reason for this is simple- there are about 26 million Indians who usually travel outside India every year. At present, they do not have the option of international travel and will therefore start looking for holiday destinations within India,” says Lamba.

Echoing similar opinion Gupta adds, “We see an opportunity to reassure customers of the benefits of car rental during these uncertain times, and in the future as people will look to change the way they travel because of Covid-19. Domestic travel is expected to be on the rise as restrictions slowly ease. We have the most complete offer to satisfy our clients’ needs whether they need a car in the short or medium term or for longer period of times, including services such as our Secure Shuttle Service, self-drive or chauffeur driven services.”

Reinventing business is the way forward. Controlling costs and overheads without impacting the experience for guests will be a major target for businesses. The post covid-19 era will run majorly on the ‘who’s safer and more hygienic?’ model rather than ‘Who is ready to give a huge discount?’. Competition post resumption will be cutthroat, but businesses must ensure that they stick to the guidelines and SOPs for a successful reopening, else it may rather become the breeding grounds for the second wave as people are keen to travel and travel will happen soon.

“As we focus our efforts on restoring the business, it is essential to acknowledge that hospitality, as we know it, will not remain the same – at least not in the short- to medium-term. The revival of every industry is interdependent on various other trades and sectors. At Radisson Hotel Group, we have prepared a comprehensive revival plan that’s based on taking concrete steps towards the ‘new normal’, whilst also being flexible enough to respond to new developments,” Saxena concludes.



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