The pandemic has led to the re-birth of travel industry

Fenil Bhayani, MD, 99DESTINATIONS, opines that it advisable for tourism industry to start their business with a very minimal cost of operation which will be beneficial for the companies to recover the losses made in the last 6 months. He also believes that the industry must leverage the power of social media & start recovery by promoting tourism in COVID-free areas.

IBT: What influence has COVID-19 had on tourism and travel industry in India in terms of the losses incurred and unemployment?

Fenil Bhayani: COVID-19 created a panic among people, forcing them to stay indoors, except for stepping out to meet necessities or in case of a medical emergency. Given that travel and tourism industry is a recreational or leisure activity, business activity took a hit due to the pandemic, rendering huge losses to all stakeholders. For instance, in case of the aviation industry, we saw tickets getting cancelled and barely any future bookings. The hospitality industry was no exception to this trend. Hotels faced numerous issues like bearing the costs of the fixed maintenance charges to be paid for the property, running maintenances, paying salaries to their staff and returning the refunds of all the advance booking taken by them. As revenues shrank & profit margins dissipated, signs of strain started appearing: companies started deducting salaries, people started losing jobs and some ceased operations.

IBT: Till when do you expect these effects to last and what should be the industries’ initial recovery plan?

Fenil Bhayani: It is very clear that until and unless there is a concrete vaccine, the situation of the travel & tourism industry is not going to improve because travellers will not risk their lives. Having said that, however, there is an opinion within the industry that recovery would take a minimum of 2 years to recover. In my opinion, it could take nearly about 6 months more. Further, not just tourism, there were other businesses also which were affected. Once those businesses start generating revenues, people will have some spending capacity for tourism activity.

The virus has shattered several businesses in the travel and tourism industry, and therefore, presents an opportune moment for the re-birth for travel and hospitality industry. As businesses slowly rebuild themselves from the scratch, they can begin their upward trajectory by cutting down their overhead costs. This will be very beneficial for the companies to recover the losses made in the last 6 months.

IBT: What strategies can be adopted by the stake holders in the tourism industry to build confidence in travellers across the globe and what additional practices can be enforced to ensure the safety of travellers?

Fenil Bhayani: The pandemic presents the perfect occasion to leverage the power of digital world. The concerned organizations, their brand ambassadors and the government authorities should start making some basic advertisements. These could include ads about going for a short trip, depicting on each step that hygiene precautions are being followed. They should also publicise the names of places with zero COVID-19 cases. This would definitely instill confidence in travelers across the globe.

Secondly, tourism industry should follow the protocols given by the government and ministries. So, this would boost their confidence among travelers to move from one destination to another. Also, through word of mouth, information about their safe travel would spread to their family and friends, thereby encouraging others to embark on similar journeys.

IBT: What is your take on cashless travel and how can automation be incorporated in the industry to promote it, like e-Visas, anything to promote touchless travel?

Fenil Bhayani: Touchless travel is a futuristic concept, which has become a necessity today. For this vision to materialise, there has to be provision of means to facilitate touchless travel such as payment transactions transferred from digital platform & booking tickets online. At the same time, the authorities need to ensure that homogenous standards & facilitating technologies are in place to facilitate that seamless processes with respect to things like touchless passports and visas are enforced. Also, it is very imperative for countries which are not having such standards of technologies to adopt and try promoting and building up their systems of touchless travel experiences to the world. It would diminish the cost of running such standard of technology.

IBT: Do you see India escalating in its market share and global tourism industry post COVID-19? Why or why not?

Fenil Bhayani: For inbound tourism, I would definitely say that traffic generally comes from US, Canada, UK, Europe, Australia. A post-COVID scenario would entail India leveraging not only on the bounty of breath taking views but also promoting itself as a destination which has in place all the hygiene and safety standards necessary to keep the disease at bay. Information as to how social distancing and safety standards are being practiced at tourist spots & hotels & restaurants across the country are important to address the fears of the travellers.

IBT: What opportunity areas can be explored currently or in the coming months to revive revenue stream for the industry?

Fenil Bhayani: India should tap on the focus on health in the international market and entice tourists to come by projecting itself as a destination promoting wellness tourism. Numerous resorts are offering activities related to Ayurveda tourism and Panchakarma Yoga. This will help in generating revenues from the domestic as well as international travellers. This seems to be the only ray of hope to revive tourism in the country, where there is a lull in any kind of tourism.

Fenil Bhayani is the MD of 99Destinations, a tourism management company based in Gujarat. He has pursued his Post Graduation & Graduation in Travel & Tourism Management from S P University (Vallabh Vidhya Nagar) & IATA Diploma Foundation Level 1. He has an overall experience of about 12 years in travel & tourism industry.

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