There will be V-shaped recovery in travel & tourism industry
Bhavya Bhayani, MD, 99Destinations, opines that government should allow the tourism sector to come up with some loan plan with repayment terms at minimum interest to help the industry get the operating capital and start the cash flow. It should also lift restrictions on major tourist places all over the country and start rail and flight service quickly.
IBT: What impact will signing travel bubbles with other nations have on domestic tourism industry? Will it be a game changer for reviving international tourism? Why/why not?
Bhavya Bhayani: We all are aware of the Vande Bharat Mission, which is aimed at bringing Indians stranded across the world to their homeland. Air bubble agreement enable airlines from both countries to enjoy similar benefits. So far, we have signed the same with around 10 countries and the government may add more countries soon to the list.
After travel bubble agreement, there is a gradual rise in inbound travellers coming to India for work, to meet relatives and friends and for increase gradually. Travellers are also greatly benefiting from the ongoing heavy discounts in luxury hotels operating with highest safety standards. Further ease of visa restrictions and signing more travel bubbles will definitely give drowning tourism industry a push.
However, these travel bubbles will not be a game changer for reviving international tourism because risk is still involved. With India being the 2nd most affected country in the world by the pandemic, government and travel fraternity will further need to work very hard to promote and propagate inbound tourism and assuring highest safety standards to restore the confidence.
IBT: Recently Romania and Serbia have created tourist passes and vouchers to revive tourism? How feasible will this idea be for giving a spur to domestic tourism in India? The pandemic may spur a rise in domestic tourism. What are your plans in this regard, and challenges ahead, especially considering localised lockdowns?
Bhavya Bhayani: What Romania and Serbia did is an absolutely good idea to lure tourist and revive tourism. Many such countries are coming up with creative ideas and discount offers to lure international tourists assuring highest safety standards.
With focus on domestic tourism and safety at every point of destination, India, too, is set to reboot the travel sector. In this regard, the Ministry of Tourism through its “Dekho Apna Desh” webinars has started to offer virtual tourism, as well as virtual safaris, tours of museums and art galleries, and exhibitions so far. The next step for virtual tourism could thus be partnering with international tourism authorities and to do the same which will heavily influence the people and will definitely make them want to visit the place physically. These ideas are targeted to make people believe that it is safe to travel with precaution. These initiatives from the government and tourism bodies will undoubtedly give spur to domestic tourism in India.
We also see a high rise in people travelling to inter-state or intra state luxury hotels and resorts just to ease the pandemic frustration and for a change. The pandemic frustration in people’s mind and their wish to get away & relax has indirectly created demand for the domestic tourism. In near term, we plan to design & promote packages which aims at easing the pandemic frustration and take maximum benefit of this trend to recover losses. Since the highest safety standards are already guaranteed by the hotel chains, we aim at selling packages suiting to all lifestyles from budget to luxury.
IBT: What are your thoughts on COVID-19 health insurance? How successful will this approach be in restoring confidence in travel and tourism industry?
Bhavya Bhayani: COVID-19 health insurances will instill financial safety and confidence amid travellers, given the high out of pocket expenditure that the treatment incurs. While it may not necessarily restore the required confidence in travel and tourism industry, it will definitely provide some respite to the travellers and inspire them to travel.
IBT: What measures is the domestic tourism industry taking in order to recover from the detrimental effects of the pandemic? What support do you propose from the state/central government?
Bhavya Bhayani: The coronavirus pandemic has triggered an unprecedented crisis in the tourism economy, given the immediate and immense shock to the sector. The impact of the crisis is being felt throughout the entire tourism ecosystem and reopening and rebuilding destinations will require a collaborative approach. Governments and industry are focusing their efforts on lifting travel restrictions, restoring travellers’ confidence and preparing comprehensive tourism recovery plans. In the near term, the expectation is that domestic tourism offers the main chance for driving recovery and supporting the tourism sector.
A lot has changed in domestic tourism in terms of safety, sanitization and hygiene protocols. Comprehensive COVID-19 guidance is in place at all hotels and public places, detailing how to protect against transmission of the virus including implementing hand sanitizer stations and frequent cleaning of high-contact areas and surfaces and identification of escalation process in case there is a suspected or confirmed case among hotel guests or staff. Amendment of cancellation policy for guests with existing individual reservations and waiving cancellation fees for hotel stays is also catching eye of many tourists.
While the domestic industry is doing its best to revive the sector, the central and state government should help revive the country’s tourism industry by giving major relief in GST for at least a year or two. It should allow the sector to come up with some loan plan with repayment terms at minimum interest to help the industry get the operating capital and start the cash flow. It should also lift restrictions on major tourist places all over the country and start rail and flight service quickly.
IBT: Now that other parts of world like Europe and Canada are emerging out of the effects of COVID-19 and are opening their doors to travellers, have the signs of recovery started emerging in their tourism sector? What best practices can our domestic players learn from these international counterparts to speed up recovery?
Bhavya Bhayani: Businesses and workers from the tourism sector in Europe & Canada have already benefited from measures taken in response to the COVID-19 crisis, including liquidity support, fiscal relief and an easing of state aid rules. To protect travellers, Europe & Canada have updated the guidelines on passenger rights and the package travel directive. It has also facilitated the repatriation of tens of thousands of their citizens stranded abroad.
The European Tourism Manifesto alliance stated that the travel and tourism sector since the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic has called for more coordination between the member states. This boils down to cooperation in terms of travel restrictions and safety measures, considering that better coordination would help protect millions of jobs, livelihoods, companies, etc. The governments are investing huge time and effort to do as much as possible for the travel industry in both the regions.
I don’t see Indian government focusing that much on revival and rebooting travel sector as they are focusing on other priority sectors. Potential measures should include temporary state aid for the tourism and travel sector from national governments. It should also include fast and easy access to short- and medium-term loans to overcome liquidity shortages, fiscal relief for SME’s and protection of workers from unemployment and loss of income. These measures can lead to speedy recovery of the industry from the harsh economic repercussions of the pandemic.
IBT: When and how do you expect demand to recover? What is your experience of past crises and how this one is different for tourism?
Bhavya Bhayani: Travel is a necessary and inevitable part of one’s life. As we have seen, people have already started the travelling while taking utmost precautions. I believe that we will see more travel for leisure than work in coming days. As there is a peak trend of work from home, we can expect in near term, people retreating to hills, resort and hotels.
I believe there will be V shape recovery in travel and tourism industry and this industry will emerge stronger than ever. I have regularly seen ups and downs in the tourism industry due to strikes, political unrest and natural calamity, but this kind of total wipe out I have experienced for the first time in my career. A positive and innovative approach, creative marketing and optimistic thinking will help the industry to revive at faster pace. My only urge to all my travel industry friends is to be optimistic, keep up your spirit and enthusiasm and together we will fight and get through this challenging time for the tourism industry.
Bhavya Bhayani is the MD of 99Destinations, a tourism management company based in Gujarat. He has done his B.Tech (Mechatronics Engineering), M.B.A in marketing and tourism management and a Diploma in IATA. He is a Certified Asia Expert, Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) and several other certifications to his merit.