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India remains a strong destination for outbound post COVID-19

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.”

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