Times are not easy for travel companies and the experience of the most experienced in the trade is now futile. Each term in tourism has a new meaning and definition but at the same time, we ought to see this as one clean turf with a level playing field open for us as an industry. Let’s plan seriously for a better tomorrow. Prateek Hira, President & CEO – Tornos, Gastroutes & Indian Frontiers shares more with TTJ…
Tourism always flourishes when minds are carefree and people feel secured to escape from mundane and hectic lives to relaxed environs. COVID-19 seems to be changing our way of seeing the world and people around us, at least till the time we see it as a threat to our wellbeing. This perception would continue till the time we have an effective cure or a preventive vaccine in place. Having said that, we also need to realise that COVID-19 is just another viral infection and can be prevented by just a few simple hygiene and lifestyle changes and that once we have learnt to practice that, we are somewhat sorted, or at least guarded against it to minimise the risk of infection. Travellers will now be concerned about hygiene protocols and service standards will include this as a priority but at the same time it is imperative that we do not make all this look ‘abnormal’. There is a thin line between ‘Abnormal’ and so called ‘New Normal’. ‘New normal’ is practical and logical safeguards while ‘Abnormal’ is impractical protocols, exhibited protectionism, using ‘hygiene standards’ as marketing tools et al., which if takes over, will be very unfortunate and a deterrent in rebuilding the lost confidence of an average traveller.
“I foresee a temporary change in the demography of travellers, choice of destinations, kinds of accommodation and mode of transport. But then I believe that well-planned travel programmes will come back and people would like to travel in a more structured form, through tour operators and stay at standard hotels that reassure quality, will be a priority for travellers. In the leisure segment, domestic short distance travel will be first to pick up, followed by domestic long distance and then inbound leisure will limp back to normalcy to gain the lost grounds,” adds Prateek.
Words like ‘Responsible’ and ‘Sustainable’ till now referred to the responsibility towards the host culture and environment but now, it will also refer to the guests’ wellbeing and safety, in a way responsibility of the host towards the guest. This is good in a way as under responsible travel and sustainable practices both will have inter-dependence and equal responsibility towards each other. Prateek further shares, “Responsible will now include responsibility of both the host and the guest to protect each other from any infection and aliment, while ‘Sustainability’ would now be not only about the destination but also about the source market as the safe and hygienic experience of travellers would be paramount for the sustenance of inflow and tourism in a destination as a whole.”
Initiatives to promote responsible and sustainable practices
“We as a 26 year old business had seen many downtrends, though none as devastating as COVID-19 situation. Being an old company and financially disciplined, we could survive but the most worrying part is about the younger ones and the start-ups who are facing the worst already before seeing any good. As a company, we are seeing this period of lull as our (re)start-up days, where we are now seeing the market and avenues afresh. Our analysis points at the IBT recovery coming-in by October 2021 that gives us about 18 months of not much on the operations front. There are two ways to look at this, one that we lost all grounds and that eighteen months is too long a period for a running business to pause suddenly but we felt this would be a pessimistic approach and only letting the efforts of 26 years and the built-up market go waste; second thought was to think like a new business, like a start-up of sorts and then to restructure, reengineer and to innovate, to position ourselves more strongly and be ready when business starts flowing in.”
Sustainable and responsible travel will now have new expanded meaning and to implement these, we have to be prepared well. COVID-19 has also very effectively induced empathy and care for all by all, and assumingly requirements of a traveller from travel will change even though for a short term. It is imperative that we prepare ourselves and be ready during this (re-)gestation period of our business.
People might demand, uncluttered destinations, peaceful and rejuvenating environs. Slow travel would be the kind of travel that will be most in demand as people would feel more comfortable travelling that way. Seeing all this, products would have to be redesigned, itineraries restructured, choice of accommodation will have to be recalibrated and tuned to suit the demand of COVID era traveller.