“Touchless travel is here to stay”

E.M. Najeeb, Chairman, ATE Group of Companies, opines that we should convey to the world as to how meticulous we are in maintaining the health protocols. Airlines, hotels, surface transports, all have developed touchless facilities. Keeping distance and sanitising has become a norm.

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

E.M. Najeeb: India had been in a forward thrust in the growth of tourism before it all happened. The government and the industry were very optimistic about the industry in the past years. However, in the beginning of 2020, the fear of Covid-19 pandemic overshadowed the efforts of the industry. In the previous years, India had foreign tourist arrivals close to 12 million, but it dropped almost 80% or more later. The travel, tourism and hospitality industry came to a literal standstill. The industry suffered an estimated loss of Rs.5 lakh crore, and a total estimated job loss of 4-5 crore.

Tourism and travel industry had faced tough times in the past also, but it had emerged back with vigour and strength. This time the present pandemic has affected the industry totally, everywhere in the world. People became panicky, the economy got affected, international and domestic flights got disrupted, and travel across borders became impossible.

Airlines haven’t resumed commercial flights, and so there’s no tourist arrivals. This has detrimentally affected each vertical under the tourism industry including the hospitality sector, destination management companies, tour operators, transporters and other key service providers.

The industry stake holders presently, though economically affected, are moving with the confidence of a better tomorrow, and has been sustaining and keeping possible number of staff. They look at all possible options to restart operations though in a smaller way. There’s a belief among the industry players that looking at the possibility of domestic tourism will be a sensible option. India with its large population, and vast assortment of attractive places within the country and the innumerable accommodation options at vantage locations, stands a great chance to kick start the domestic movement as the restrictions eases out.

 

IBT: Till when do you expect its effects to last? What should be the industry’s initial recovery plan?

E.M. Najeeb: Everyone is looking at all possible options for recovery of the industry. Initially the domestic tourism option would be looked at because of its good scope. Short holidays at pristine locations in world class resorts offering unmatched experiential service following health protocols, could regain the interest and confidence of family holiday seekers. The state of Kerala, for example, has many such beautiful places unfrequented by public that offer attractions like pristine backwaters, lakes, sea and beaches, hills, spice plantations and such. We got to kickstart it somewhere at the earliest as the restriction of travel is removed.

We all had a feeling that the problem would stay only till the end of this year or at the most till mid of 2021. We are moving with that expectation within us. However, according to an IATA finding that the airline sector would get back to the pre-COVID 19 level only by 2024. It does not mean that international flights wouldn’t operate or travel wouldn’t take place. It will all happen gradually. But what IATA means is getting back to the absolute normalising of air travel as before.

 

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

E.M. Najeeb: Confidence building among the travellers cannot be done by the industry stakeholders alone. It should be taken up at the governmental level, through planned social media communications and other promotions. I am hopeful that government would start doing it as and when the present situation improves. We got to show the locations and facilities to the travellers through various digital media tools. We should convey to the world as to how meticulous we are in maintaining the health protocols. All major deluxe hotels have already set their inhouse health and hygiene protocols. Airlines have already started practising their code of protocols. If there’s any area where it has to still  implement it, there it should be expedited at the earliest. Everyone knows that these healthcare regulations are to stay for the entire future. So it is so very important to adhere to it.

 

IBT: What is your take on touchless travel? How can automation be incorporated into the industry to promote it?

E.M. Najeeb: Travel and tourism is a people’s activity. Without people there’s no industry. When people move about there will be need for touch on many surfaces and things. This causes concern and so alternatives are being worked out by different verticals of this industry. Airlines, hotels, surface transports, all have developed touchless facilities. Keeping distance and sanitising has become a norm. In future also touchless travel will stay and that will evolve better methods. We cannot avoid touchless travel norms. This is possible by more of technology and automation. More efficient touchless travel will evolve and develop in future. Industry by all means will support and promote that.

 

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

E.M. Najeeb: Yes, India had its own market share before the pandemic crisis. India always has been a unique destination with many experiential products. But if we are talking about the post Covid-19 period we cannot say that. The demand itself is stagnant now. There’s no long-haul flights from the markets arriving here at the moment. It surely takes time to normalize after the crisis. Then naturally India as a destination would strive to create and increase its market share globally. At the moment it’s a little too early to discuss that.

 

IBT: What opportunity areas can be explored currently/in the coming months to revive revenue streams for your line of business?

E.M. Najeeb: As I mentioned already, domestic tourism is an opportunity as we have a large population who can take up travel as the situation improves. Short holidays, weekend getaways, health and wellness tourism are areas that can be explored. Creating a long travel, leisure and holiday product line for online sales is a possibility too.


Mr. E.M. Najeeb is the Founder and Chairman of the ATE Group of Companies including The Great India Tour Company (P) Ltd., The Great India Aviation Services (P) Ltd., Chrysalis Communications (P) Ltd., The Great India Car and Coach Rentals Private Limited, Green Gateway Leisure Ltd, Ela Spa and Healthcare (P) Ltd. He is also the Executive Director of KIMS Health care Management Limited and Director of KIMS Cancer Care and Research Center Pvt Ltd. He has served as a tourism expert in various Government Committees.

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