In many countries, COVID-19 lockdowns are gradually diminishing, and for the start, domestic travel is tentatively restarting. As the year 2021 approaches, tourism stakeholders and travellers are planning for the year ahead—and beyond. New patterns and travel trends are developing for which everyone has to be ready in the post COVID world. We at TTJ, look at what travel industry players have to say about current booking trends, new emerging trends, developments such as revenge travel, and if at all COVID -19 has any silver linings which can change the bitter effects of tourism. It was interesting to note these responses from the below industry stalwarts.
Mahendra Vakharia, Director, Pathfinders Holidays
As expected, local and regional tourism has started and we are seeing bookings from clients for short breaks of 3-4 days to Udaipur, Jaisalmer, Mt. Abu since August. This will be the trend for the next couple of months and with more relaxation coming through lockdown 5.0 and more domestic flights operating in destinations such as Himachal, Uttarakhand, Goa and Kerala, the speed will also pick up. As far as the International sector is concerned, we are seeing enquiries and interest from clients wanting to visit the Maldives as it is one of the top leisure destinations that has opened up for Indian travellers. With more countries being included in the air bubble agreement such as Kenya, Japan, etc, we are expecting enquiries for holiday travel to these countries to start as well.
People are willing to travel and ready to travel surely. Whether you call it ‘Revenge Tourism’ or ‘Regular Tourism’, once the international flights are permitted to fly in and out from India, travel will start for sure. The new evolving travel trend is where the traveller is very keen to visit a less crowded place, stay at small boutique properties with a lesser inventory of rooms and employees, visit a place surrounded by nature, wildlife, etc. So we are constantly updating such data at our end and keeping it ready to offer to our clients.
One thing about COVID-19 is everyone including the traveller has become more mindful and aware of the necessity of SMS (Social distancing, Mask and Sanitisation.) This will help travellers opting to visit lesser-known but equally very beautiful destinations for holiday and indirectly helping over-tourism in popular destinations. It will bring many boutique small hotels at the forefront of choice of stay (of course, the ones following strict hygiene protocols) and traveller will prefer to stay at one place for a longer duration and enjoy the destination much more.
Sabina Chopra, Co-Founder and COO, Corporate Travel & Head Industry Relations, Yatra.com
In the unlock phase, many travel trends have gained popularity as customers slowly shift from essential to leisure travel. A few trends that are gaining momentum are demand for hospitality options closer to home, less crowded destinations, wellness retreats, offbeat or experiential trips, solo adventure trips, among others. While professionals are working from home, they are opting for beautiful locales for workcations or staycations. Destinations such as Dharamshala, Bir, Goa, Darjeeling, Udaipur, Lonavala, Alibagh, Coorg, Auroville, are picking up in demand. These locations offer a serene break from the otherwise hectic life as individuals want to venture out to break their monotonous lifestyle.
There has been a pent-up demand created for travel during the lockdown. As we move into the ‘new normal’, travellers are looking at ways to relax and rejuvenate themselves, while giving utmost importance to safety and hygiene at any particular destination. The trend of ‘revenge tourism’ is expected to pick up in demand as people move out of their houses after months of isolation. Several destinations such as Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, etc have already opened their borders for tourists and witnessed an increase in booking enquires. This desire to ‘take a break’ will spike in India, as people step out from the comfort of their homes.
We are amidst a global pandemic, where new trends, technologies and concepts have caused a major shift in the industry. It is important to pick-up on these evolving trends and responds to consumer expectations. In this new era of tourism, health and hygiene will indeed play a critical role.
Manoj Saraf, MD, Gainwell Travels
The current booking trend is showing marginal improvement since July and August. However, it will still take a long time before a full recovery can be seen. September has shown an improvement in bookings ahead of the festive season.
I do not agree with the term Revenge Tourism. The recovery for travel, tourism and hospitality is going to be very gradual. It may take another 2-3 years before we can achieve the pre COVID-19 level of business seen by us. The emerging trends in the travel industry which are here to stay include technological up-gradation and automation, more online bookings, and more emphasis on safety & hygiene. There will also be a massive cost reduction on account of manpower, rent, interest, etc. We at Gainwell, have adopted many such practices in order to survive this massive crisis.
We were definitely experiencing over-tourism in terms of the massive crowds at the airports, flights, hotels, monuments, amusement parks, and sightseeing attractions. In a certain way, it is a blessing in disguise that these numbers will come down post-COVID, leading to an overall improvement in the environment. I think the right balance will be struck between over-tourism and sustainability.
Rajeev Kale, President & Country Head – Holidays, MICE, Visa, Thomas Cook (India)
Our ‘Holiday Readiness Travel Report – Future of Travel post COVID-19’, revealed to us that a domestic holiday was the first choice of 64 per cent of respondents. 36 per cent of respondents showed a preference for an international holiday. Short-haul destinations saw strong interest (41 per cent) and with the reopening of India’s borders, closer to home international getaways are now possible with two delightful destinations, Dubai and Maldives welcoming Indian tourists. We have witnessed bookings from around the country, with a healthy pipeline of enquiries.
Given the pent-up demand for travel, we have witnessed encouraging demand and we are seeing a healthy increase in both queries and bookings. We are seeing growing demand for bookings that are at short notice – between 5-10 days among those planning a holiday. With the combined burden of official/business work and home-work/chores, India’s travellers especially the young working professionals and millennials are increasingly seeking to break away from the routine and avail of a quick break that does not require much planning and offers an opportunity to rest, relax and rejuvenate. Workations, Staycations, renewed interest in domestic travel, preference for outdoor/adventure activities – away from the crowds are some of the popular travel trends that have emerged in light of the current situation.
The downtime has given us time to re-imagine and re-engineer every business and process through integration and the enhanced use of technology. Besides, it has also given us the time to upskill our teams through engaging webinars conducted by experts from destinations, hotels, airlines and key partners.
Given that the customer’s number #1 priority is health and safety, there have been significant changes to build consumer confidence in travel. There is a significant opportunity for domestic tourism to take centre stage and give a boost to the economy. Recent initiatives undertaken by the Ministry such as the ‘Dekho Apna Desh’ campaign have also helped promote domestic tourism – including the lesser-known destinations.
India’s lockdown and restrictions also led to many honeymoon plans being postponed or smaller wedding functions. The highly reduced expenses, however, allow couples to indulge in exclusive honeymoon travel experiences in India and abroad and also avail of the best rates at Dubai’s Atlantis, The Palm, or at Maldives’ luxury and super-luxury resorts. We are also witnessing the rise of the sensitive traveller, who respects his eco-system and seeks deeper enriching travel experiences. Trends such as slow travel- allowing one to experience a destination at a leisurely pace while appreciating the local heritage are becoming the new norm.
Deepak Narula, Managing Director, GRNconnect.com
The booking numbers are certainly improving each day, though we still have a long way to go to achieve pre-COVID levels, I feel we should be able to achieve those numbers within the next six months. Given that, I also believe that there is going to be revenge tourism as people are desperate to travel and tourism is going to see a boom never seen before.
The biggest change presently is that people are undertaking short-haul trips and that too mostly domestic due to flight restrictions or due to safety issues. Looking at this trend, we reworked our strategy and appointed exclusive partners in different countries and now a lot of European agents are buying European destinations from us, and similarly, agents in the US are buying destinations in the US from us.
We were certainly preoccupied with issues like over-tourism and sustainability during pre-COVID days that hampered tourism, but there is no silver lining as COVID has brought in more dark clouds. The entire industry is going through its worst crisis ever.
Vivek Pandey, President, TTAUP and Associate Director, Ebix Travels
The new booking trend witnessed is the short-haul domestic road travel (within 800 km from the base station) with an average length of stay between 3 to 5 days, preferably at one place or maximum at two places split stay to minimize a repeated check-in / check-out. Boutique or small luxury hotel or independent villa stays are in demand. Interest in nature holidays, village tourism, pilgrimage and religious tourism, bird watching tourism, community-based tourism is also observed. Last but not least all travellers are now specifically concerned to ensure about COVID-19 safety and regulation protocols while selecting any destination or stay option. Charter plane requirements are also in demand now. From October 2020, queries regarding Goa, Dubai, Maldives, Mauritius, and Singapore are also observed for November and December 2020 travelling.
In light of COVID-19, many people had to cancel travel plans as far as revenge tourism phase one is concerned. Travellers are opting for short-haul trips and this may lead to the second wave of ‘revenge travel’ but in my personal opinion, the bounce back purely depends upon the new way of people travelling, and how hotels, airlines, etc. are prepared to welcome Leisure & MICE travellers. Thus, revenge tourism as of now may be treated as a ray of hope for the industry but will not provide support for revenue associated bounce back.
We also need to target a new segment of Generation Z travellers who are more racially and ethnically diverse than the previous generation, and they are on track to be the most well-educated generation yet. Online booking through third-party OTAs will be now avoided by all travellers especially by those who had faced a no revert or unsatisfactory clarification.
Lack of updates and blocked refund trauma during cancellation of trips due to COVID-19 of travellers may be an opportunity for offline travel agents and direct online booking sources as a business growth antidote for post COVID-19 era.
Sejoe Jose, Director, Marvel Tours
The current booking trends are positive, though cannot be compared to the trends pre-COVID times. The only way more positive trends might follow if the government acts on the below two points:-
Indians should be allowed to travel freely within India, thus encouraging domestic tourism and giving hope to the millions of people depending on tourism,. Secondly, the government should announce a date in advance, even if it is in Dec 2020 or Jan 2021 to open international borders, thus helping the FTO to start promoting India from that date. Though, I am not stating we will reach pre-COVID days but we will start rolling the trend on a more positive note.
Revenge Tourism is done by the vivid experimental traveller and they in turn start posting photos of their trip on social media. This will give a very positive image for India and its states. This will definitely help and has the potential to boost tourism initially.
The new trends and strategy in tourism due to the pandemic is that we are creating equal opportunity for old and new operators as Tourism is going to start fresh. At Marvel Tours, we are planning an online system which is meant for B2B (as I see, many new operators opening new shops) which will help these operators to get all data required so they do not have to do the full exercise again of contracting, etc.
During this period of lockdown, Mother Nature rebooted to an extent that it has reduced pollution level and the environment looks refreshed. The silver lining from the pandemic is we have to learn to maintain less pollution and reduce waste and implement it as a critical criterion for tourism infrastructures operated by hotels/tour operators and all in the industry. The government should be stricter on factories and all individuals to ensure keep our nature clean. This will help tourists and more important locals to live healthily and avoid these pandemics again.
PP Khanna, President, ADTOI
The ADTOI Managing Committee’s initiative is to bring confidence among the public to travel and to get a feel of that confidence, we have undertaken trips to nearby places in Rajasthan from Jaipur to experience the SOP followed by hotels and at the heritage sites. We wanted to see whether they are adhering to the guidelines of WHO, ICMR, and State authorities. We were happy to see the places were kept as per the guidelines and one can safely visit these places. A similar exercise was undertaken by the ADTOI Gujarat Chapter for tour operators where they were showcased tourist places and guidelines drawn by concerned authorities.
Travelling mainly depends on the restrictions imposed by State Governments which varies from state to state and some states are openly welcoming the tourists to their destinations. Also, people have started coming out of their homes to visit nearby places on weekends/festivities.
As an association, we are all thinking positively about the concept of ‘Revenge Tourism’ which could generate some form of business for our trade partners. However, it has to be seen how far this can be practical. Air and rail traffic has not attained its full potential as before and as per affordability, the majority of travellers are undertaking rail/road journeys to travel. How many will venture out for trips with family or at least some individuals within a family has to be seen to be believed. Children are deprived of their schooling which is the first and foremost concern of every parent before they can think of travelling. However, confidence-building will play a vital role in deciding Revenge Tourism. It may or may not happen and we all have to wait and watch. The flattening of curve and availability of early vaccines for COVID are the only aspects to bring positivity to the tourism industry.
One of the new travel trends is people venturing on cycling trips. Also, with one’s own transport, people are driving to nearby places and spending nights for a change. People have now learnt the importance of Sustainable and Responsible tourism and they will try to get close to nature as many times as possible as a way of spending vacation/holidays in the future. COVID-19 has brought some awareness to people as to how to live hygienically in such a crisis. Cleanliness and Hygiene are indeed playing a major role in everybody’s life. Masks, washing hands, social distancing, etc, are here to stay and people will be cautious in their endeavours to be healthy by adopting SOPs taught during the lockdown period.
BA Rahim, Founder, One Above
As a global DMC operating in international locations, I can share outbound trends. As the country is still locked for leisure travel, it is good to know that so far two destinations have restarted for the India market, ie. Dubai and Maldives and I would say the Maldives has been doing interestingly well. For Dubai, business travel has started and leisure is slowly restarting. I am not sure about revenge travel, but it is seen that not all destinations are going to start at once given the current situation in our country. Countries are going to gradually start one by one, and when they open up for the India market, there is going to be a rush to explore or re-explore the destination.