Can We Travel Again?

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Consumer behaviour is changing. First time ever, decision-making for choosing a destination is not just based on price factors but dependant on various other determinants. While technology integration with destination marketing will play an important role to regain the faith of the consumers, Sustainable Tourism could be the game changer.

By Dr. AMIT SHARMA || VICE PRESIDENT, ABERCROMBIE & KENT

Some of the most frequently asked questions in the present scenario are:

    • What would be the expectations of travellers from the travel industry service providers, after the onset of COVID19?
    • What could be the new norms for travelling or the new normal be?
    • Will the tourism industry survive after this unprecedented pandemic?
    • What all factors will play a role in regaining traveller’s confidence in a product – disruptive innovations or traditional ways of tourism supply chain?

It’s not hard to find out the answers. However, neither travellers nor service providers can afford to opt for the incorrect answers. Here everything is boiling down to the health hazards related to COVID 19. As time passes by, all answers are being modified and being backed up by data evidences. However, one thing is clearly emerging from this challenging time which is: there is ample opportunity for everyone to adopt best practices for a better future.

WTTC’s Annual Research shows that the Travel & Tourism sector experienced a 3.5% growth in 2019, outpacing that of the global economy (2.5%) for the ninth consecutive year. Over the last five years, one in four new jobs globally were created by this sector, making Travel & Tourism the best partner for governments to generate employment. However, with the COVID19 crisis, we are in uncharted territory and our sector is uniquely exposed.

Photo by Pawan Yadav from Pexels

Consumer behaviour is changing. First time ever, decision making for choosing a destination is not just a price factor but dependant on various other determinants. Consumers are looking for overall safety and hygiene factor, less crowded place to stay and less human interaction. This has opened the doors of opportunity for concepts like “experiential travelling”. Bounty of nature, less known destinations, new experience are on the top chart of key words for internet search engines. Staycations, drivecations, work from mountains, etc. are becoming popular instead of long itineraries.

One interesting interpretation of recent past reveals that travelling is becoming a “lifestyle” and not merely a “custom” to go out for vacations once/ twice in a year. Now, a broad product line of destinations isn’t the effective solution to attract travellers to a destination. Product innovation to create interest for the micro segment requirements of the client is the key. For instance, a beach destination needs to be promoted in innovative ways to attract hundreds of micro segments of clients. These segments could be – varied age group clients (starting from 20 years-80 years and so on), special interest clients (architecture, marine, adventure-land/water, laid back, foodies, cycling, philanthropy, culinary, painting, yoga, wellness, YOLO and so on), weekend or weekday clients, short or long haul clients. This list could be endless and as big as imagination for potential target groups.

Data trends are showing that domestic leisure tourism will gain momentum by the upcoming summer season. Surge in travel for hill stations in recent past is an encouraging sign. Beach destinations also saw hustle-bustle of the tourists in recent past. Undoubtedly, this is a positive side. However, this brings more responsibility on the shoulders of service providers.

Maintain carrying capacity for longer run, following the health protocols, ensuring adequate hygiene, maintaining social distancing without hampering the customer’s experience is not an easy task. Imagine the hotel staff servicing you by wearing face shields, gloves in restaurants and other public areas, trying to maintain a distance but still trying to give you comfort as it used to be in the pre-COVID era. Hotel’s management need to optimise the outcome of the tools like Importance–Performance Analysis (IPA). This is important to review and implement new business strategies which are based on customer satisfaction data.

While technology integration with destination marketing will play the important role to regain the faith of the consumers, sustainable tourism could be the game changer. In present scenario, this form of tourism is apt to influence the destination choice decision-making process and to condition the after-decision-making behaviours, including participation, satisfaction, and future intention to revisit. Year 2020 is being highlighted as the “Year of Rural Tourism” and here lies the opportunity for all. Homestays, boutique hotels, farmhouses, orchard bungalows, tea plantation houses are few to mention, where concept of rural tourism can be mapped easily. Rural areas have their own lifestyle, which is quite unique, proportionate and organic in nature. All components can be clubbed together to get best product line. Impact on carbon footprints can be easily controlled here.


Photo by VisionPic .net from Pexels

One of the important stake holders in travel supply chain is the government. Adaptive policies, continued government support for the sector in terms of fiscal and liquidity incentive is important. Institutional strengthening and building resilience to achieve long terms goals won’t be possible without tweaking new government policies. Greater and sustained collaboration between public and private sectors to ensure a standardised, global approach to the crisis is need of the hour. Capacity building programmes in tourism development and management for accelerating recovery should be emphasised in government policies. These programs should be focused on local communities to develop and promote local tourism products and women empowerment as well. Another important stakeholder are the travel companies who carry the responsibilities of protecting the health and safety of people – their employees, their customers, and the communities in which they operate.

When we asked the executives of leading hospitality chains, “What are your short term and long-term priorities?” all of them pointed to this focus on people. Hilton’s Chris Nassetta said, “We’re a people’s business. We’re a business of people serving people, period, end of story.” Finding solutions to make sure consumers can travel safely again will have a huge impact on the sustainability of companies, the career opportunities of employees, and ability of travellers to see the world and connect face-to-face.

Arne Sorenson, President and Chief Executive Officer, Marriott International reaffirmed, “We will travel again.”

Dr Amit Sharma is a Ph.D. in Sustainable Development, EPBM from IIM Calcutta. Presently Vice President Contracting & Product Development at Abercrombie & Kent. Published various research papers on Sustainable Development related fields. He is teaching in various universities and also a speaker at supply chain management conferences and other events.
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