By RAVI RANJAN CHAUDHARY (EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, YES BANK)
We are at a historical crossroads – the unprecedented global health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The immediate fallout of this health crisis is an economic crisis, which is seen by many, as a ‘strain’ more vicious than Coronavirus itself. At the core of this global economic meltdown is the Travel and Tourism industry. The lockdown and travel restrictions initiated by the governments across the globe has brought the travel industry to a grinding halt. Even when the restrictions are lifted, there will be a change in outlook of not just the clients, but also the employees, suppliers and the investors. FAITH has estimated that a large percentage of total tourism business activity of India will be at economic risk. If it is to be believed, Rs. 5 lakh crore of direct tourism industry and almost double that of total economic activity is at risk, translating into approx. 70% of job losses to the tune of 3.8 crore people employed in various capacities in the industry.
The travel fraternity is hankering for solutions and is in desperate need of reliable knowledge and directions during this transitory phase. The world at large has always looked towards science and technology under such melancholic situations and the travel industry is no different. These challenging times will witness a paradigm shift in the products and technologies prevalent in the travel industry.
Virtual Reality Tours
Even as people have been forced to cancel their travel plans and are staying at home, many still have the travel bug. Fortunately, many destinations have turned to virtual reality to develop 360-degree content to attract travellers over the last few years. For people stuck at home, such virtual vacations will be especially welcome right now. This will also serve as a teaser to destination and prepares the customers to optimize their time while at the destination.
AI and ML
Various artificial intelligence based systems and chatbots, are helping airlines reduce significant overload on call centers and streamline passengers’ rescheduling and refund processes. In the current situation, process automation is key in retaining the customers.
Infrared cameras with computer vision technologies are being deployed at airports and railway stations of various countries to detect and track individuals with fever. This allows staff to complete all body temperature screenings without close physical contact, thus significantly reducing the chances of contagion.
Mobile-based platform are now in vogue to provide travellers with pre-trip health and safety advice, real-time monitoring of travel disruptions, and automated safety check-ins with real-time assistance. In the current pandemic situation, airlines and travel companies are learning a lot about how to better manage trip disruptions, and such platforms can help them improve their service.
TECH in Finance
It is estimated that the time and money invested annually on manual payments handling and reconciliation costs the global travel industry in excess of US$1.5 billion. On an average, ~6% to 8% of revenue is spent on managing payments, including acquiring fees, fees to all providers and other indirect costs. The challenge for FinTech is to curate innovative solutions to address this issue and help travel companies manage the leakage better and safeguard the finances.
TECH in Operations
Use of technology intermingled with right amount of human intervention is the key to customer delight. Recognition Technology – finger print recognition, facial recognition, retina scanning, etc. at Hotels, Airports, Restaurants, etc – has been increasingly put to use to reduce dependency on excessive work force, yet at the same time adhering to security standards. Alliances with key players to symbiotically cater to the common customer will play a key role in delivering the best customer experience in such testing times. Adoption of Artificial Intelligence and Robotic Process Automation for rendering a seamless and hassle free experience to the customer is needed now more than ever.
TECH in Marketing
Many travel companies have cut their entire marketing spend during COVID-19, which is detrimental in the long run. Smart tech driven marketing needs to be resorted to during such a slump to ensure speedy recovery. Travel companies should engage with the customers by providing simple pre-trip health and safety advise, real time rescheduling/ rebooking assistance, etc. Effective use of social media has proven to go a long way in helping travel companies maintain a continuous connect with their clients and inspire them for their next vacations.
TECH in HR – Work from Home
Adoption of Work from Home will require a thorough assessment of job roles and re-structuring of institutional policies. At difficult times like this, sufficient communication is the key to ensure that the employees remain sufficiently motivated and driven towards achieving the company’s objective. The world working from their homes implies a shift in ethos from work life balance to work life integration. The roles of leaders have become even more critical in instilling confidence and discipline remotely through an influencer model of leading.
“Survival of the fittest” is a phrase that originated from Darwinian evolutionary theory as a way of describing the mechanism of natural selection. This is going to be a true test of time for Travel and Tourism industry. To ensure continuity of business they need to leverage technology, stabilize the cash flow and finances, efficiently manage the operations and keep a close control on Human Resource management.
This is a unique situation and needs participation from stake holders accordingly. The industry needs urgent policy and monetary interventions via innovative credit measures, relaxation by statutory authorities, access to capital and increased liquidity for funding. This support will help the travel ecosystem survive this crisis and to emerge as a pillar of growth, employment and innovation to help drive the India’s recovery.
I am an eternal optimist and always see light at the end of the tunnel. Historically after calamity, we have observed a surge in innovation and advancement of society. Marcus Aurelius articulated a timeless idea and the most effective formula of overcoming every negative situation encountered in life, for thriving not just in spite of what happens but because of it:
“Our actions may be impeded, but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”