Jyoti Mayal, President, Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI), speaks her mind on survival, revival and the roadmap for the industry…
Industry witnessed some positive signs post the lockdown last year. However, the second wave totally devastated the industry. What is the impact of the second wave on the industry, according to you?
Covid-19 has been a nightmare and has brought in total destruction, both for livelihood and life. Initially when Covid started in early 2020 I heard everyone saying that it will ease out soon. Then the first lockdown came, and people struggled with it in despair & frustration, but still everyone was positive saying there is surely a light at the end of the dark tunnel. After the first phase people were anxious to get out of the four walls, they were confined in thus we saw a huge surge in revival of domestic travel and slight revival in international destination in “air bubbles”.
The second phase which was very devastating has touched each and everyone in this life. We have all lost family, friend, colleague, or an acquaintance. Businesses which had slowly restarted, crashed, and the industry is truly struggling with revenue and cash flow. We are now paranoid & it will certainly take us a while to gain total confidence to move out as pre covid era & Vaccination will truly be the driver. We must realise domestic tourism as drivecations would revive much quicker at selected sustainable destinations, but other travel is more of friends & family, urgent business-related or unavoidable travel. It’s not normal tourism travel.
How do you anticipate the revival of the industry?
As President TAAI, I am very confident travel & tourism will revive with new opportunities, new zeal & new outlook. The demographic is totally changed for both the traveller and destination. We need to adopt the new protocols & procedures. Consumers will want more information about their end-to-end journey, such as which aircraft, which airport to transit and the hotel’s ‘COVID’ cleanliness processes – as people want to make their careful decisions to minimise their risk and exposures for themselves and their families. Search engines will need to supply more information to enable filtering and selections.
When people feel safe, they will travel more – as they now know what it is like to be prevented to go to places, they thought they could go anytime. We’ll start to embrace travel in a more conscious way, seeking out smaller brands, hotels and experiences that reconnect us with nature and minimise our footprint. Short stays and weekend trips will be huge. International travel will be limited as international borders will open slowly thus, we will most likely travel locally, more frequently. More road trips for 2021, packing up the car, with a flexible itinerary is a great way to explore our amazing country.
While it’s difficult to predict exactly what tourism will look like in the future, we can expect that travellers will have a greater desire to seek out less crowded attractions and destinations, as well as nature-based experiences. Fortunately, some of India’s key attributes including our wide-open spaces, our relative isolation will be attractive to draw international travellers when they can travel here again. One of the key areas that we are committed to is telling our incredible Indigenous story and celebrating that rich history of the oldest continuous living culture on Earth. Another key focus for us is tapping into an increased desire for, and awareness of, sustainable tourism & wellness products and experiences among travellers.
Travel restrictions are the main barrier standing in the way of the recovery of international tourism, along with slow virus containment and low consumer confidence. The lack of coordinated response among countries to ensure harmonised protocols and coordinated restrictions, as well as the deteriorating economic environment are important obstacles for recovery.
The Traveller will look for safecation, sustainable tourism & proper & correct information on health & medical assistance & most importantly an environment of staying connected.
As one of the leading associations in the country, what role have you played to support members during these difficult times?
As President TAAI we have been in the continuous process of motivating our members, the connect between us has been very strong. The virtual platform gave us an opportunity to have many more meetings on a regular basis. We conducted various webinars, organised meetings, updated all on travel & tourism related issues, interacted with stake holders, various educational programs on tourism & statutory compliances were conducted. We also conducted a motivational webinar with Gurudev Sri Sri. Supporting each other & working transparently was very vital & established.
We have been able to help our members in getting refunds and to book through GDS. Educating our members, skilling & upskilling is an ongoing process. TAAI has collaborated with a UK-based learning and networking platform to empower our members through up-to-date knowledge of destination and tourism products and to open up new business network opportunities including local expertise around the world.
TAAI has continuously been giving its inputs to the government pertaining to preparing policies and implementation. TAAI’s connect with MoCA, MoT, Ministry of Finance, Health, Skill & Niti Aayog has been appreciated. We have been very vocal with our demands for rebate, reliefs and moratoriums. There have been some initiatives by the Finance Minister & RBI but a lot more needs to be achieved.
After first phase TAAI was able to restore travel by advocating to the government to open businesses, hotels, convention centres even if it is with limited presence. Only if the country opens will the confidence and demand be generated. TAAI had consistently persisted and got RTPCR testing implemented and then cost reduction. We are now working aggressively for driving vaccinations to generate consumer & business confidence. We have held vaccination drives in many cities including Mumbai & Delhi
We have once again advocated for additional flights for more connectivity, flights beyond ‘Air Bubbles’ opening of borders both international & domestic & encouraging domestic tourism with unilateral policies. We are in constant dialogue with Ministry of Tourism & Aviation & suggesting corrects protocols, ways of getting ease of business implemented.
For the first time TAAI has been able to connect with its members of all region chapters at an open forum where all concerns were addressed. We have been helping our members on refunds, Joint bank guarantee with IATA, contracts & introducing them to new destinations. The lockdown has made us come closer & interact more with our members through the virtual platform.
We have created history by driving a change at APJC and was unanimously appointed as the Chairperson, which has inculcated confidence in the entire IATA membership. We continue to drive a healthier & constructive environment & relationship for both our members & airlines.
Our relationship with media, both print & electronic has been very much appreciated by the industry.
We are continuously in dialogue with MOCA & MOT to work towards establishing ease of business, formulating policies & protecting the consumer & agent’s money. IATA members need to be automatically given MOT recognition as we already evaluated by a statutory body.
Govt has extended some relief in pieces. What are your expectations from govt. to reinstate business?
We are a huge country with a huge population. The government is responsible for each & every citizen and needs to support us in difficult times. We are all taxpayers and investing in our country. The government must contribute to our benefits in challenging times as the pandemic. When the travel, tourism and hospitality is struggling to stay afloat and it is an admitted fact that we contribute more than 9%, both towards GDP and employment, why are we not considered for support for monetary subsidies, statutory rebates & tax-free holidays. Liquidity of cash and continuous fixed costs are making the industry difficult to survive and if then also the government does not directly support us it is certainly a grave concern of the industry.
It would have been a good move if the Finance Minister and others concerned had a direct interaction with TAAI and FAITH to take suggestions, our concerns and pave a path for revival. We are an important sector and need to be reached out to by the government. Only if travel and tourism will revive will unemployment be reduced, foreign exchange earnings will be generated, and infrastructure be developed. A lot can be achieved if there is cooperation & collaboration between both.
As the President of the association, what roadmap you have outlined for your association?
My priority is that our members should be able to sustain. We are a resilient industry and need to continue building on the same. My focus is to establish a mechanism to protect our money from defaulting airlines and other suppliers and introduce new avenues to be able to generate more revenue. Today, specially, post Covid 19 we have witnessed a revolution in technology and for that I would like to give TAAI members a platform to increase their reach. My list is very long but I would like emphasise on getting travel and tourism to be included in the concurrent list to be given an Industry status for many more benefits and a structured sector.