What Next for Tourism?

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By SAMEER MAHAJAN (CEO, EXOTIC ESCAPES INDIA)

While businesses all over the world are impacted by COVID-19, I don’t think anyone would doubt that the industry which has taken the biggest hit is Travel & Tourism. In a broader definition, it includes aviation and hospitality sectors which are bearing the brunt equally. Further within the industry, it’s the start-ups which are impacted the most and many are even facing an existential crisis.

Start-ups face many issues which are common to all businesses and additionally have to handle a few more which are typically associated to their environment. Majority of the start-ups in tourism sector are low budget, self-funded projects and already in a struggle to make ends meet. This is where the current scenario has hit them hard. Finding and retaining right work force, time management and lack of experience in handling matters out of their core area are some other factors which are to be dealt with.

The peculiar nature of the pandemic makes it nearly impossible to predict its end. The best possible outcome one could think of is that travel resumes from the 3rd quarter of this financial year which is from October to December. This is based more on hope and low on realism. The next scenario which is more realistic is that travellers regain confidence and business starts to operate profitably from early next year. Then there is a third possibility which shouldn’t be completely ruled out and it predicts that travel may not resume for at-least one year from now. Longer the duration, more difficult it will be for companies, especially start-ups to sustain and survive through this dark winter night.

Coming to the difficulties faced by inbound tourism, India while being a colourful and vibrant destination, already has had its fair share of challenges. Most notably, it’s not known to be a clean and hygienic destination for visitors and also not perceived to be safe for women travellers, especially solo. In the post COVID-19 era, the former is going to be a major deterrent as people would like to travel to places about which they feel confident on at-least this count. Another challenge is that we are likely to see reduced flight capacities as airlines will have to trim their operations, am afraid that some of them may even not take to the skies anymore. With social distancing likely to be the new normal in all walks of life, cost escalation is bound to happen. Socio-economic factors which are likely to arise due to factors such as lesser jobs and lower income will definitely throw a challenge unless handled comprehensively, proactively and well in time.

However, all is not lost. Every organisation has some remedies available to itself. Preserve cash as much as possible, utilise this lean period to enhance your knowledge of business and the destinations that you promote, keep communication alive with your customers and find ways to share your knowledge with them, communicate regularly with your teams, try and figure out the post COVID-19 scenario of your business and prepare for that in advance. These are some of the things which can make a big difference between those who will make a comeback and the ones who may not. While we do all this, remember that leaders have to lead from the front and should never forget those at the bottom of the pyramid.

Stay in rural areas, nature walks, hiking trips, soft adventure, visits to natural reserves are likely to see an increase in demand.

Even in the midst of these dark clouds, there is a silver lining. Travel will surely be back. Past has proven that the more we are restricted ourselves from going out, more likely we are to do so once there’s an opportunity. Earth is healing, nature is reclaiming all that which belongs to it. This is definitely a good sign and if we can learn our lessons well, world is going to be a better place to live as well as to travel in future. Human race, due to its sheer resilience has survived through generations; while the challenge is bigger this time, this also shall be overcome.

Some of the things more likely to be seen in the post COVID-19 era are, sustainable tourism being more sought after. This will further create a window of opportunity for well-equipped and maintained home-stays, boutique hotels, tea garden estates and anything which is close to nature and away from our towns and cities. Stay in rural areas, nature walks, hiking trips, soft adventure, visits to natural reserves are likely to see an increase in demand vis-à-vis traditional hotspots of the past. Health and wellness will be other areas of interest. Some of the states which have an opportunity to benefit from these likely developments are Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and the hill states of North East India. However, the business scenario is likely to be very competitive and in order to make the best of these opportunities, we would need to have proper infrastructure, connectivity, trained human work force and health care facilities.

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