How about changing the narrative and re-building confidence of millions of potential travellers who are watching us ? asks Himmat Anand, Founder, Tree of Life Resorts & Hotels
It has been six weeks now since our lives changed. And it is now time to change the narrative ! Week after week after week, all I have heard from my industry is the moaning and groaning of how badly we have been hit; the revenue losses; the job losses; the long road to recovery etc. Yes, these facts are important to a point and then must be replaced with a new narrative of hope, of confidence building, of our collective aspirations as an industry. The hospitality and tourism industries are ‘feel good’ industries. And even till last week, I heard industry stalwarts come on national television and repeat the same earlier narrative. These are such lost opportunities! How about changing the narrative and re-building confidence of the millions of potential travellers who are watching us ?
The first concern of any future traveller will be, “ how safe am I at the hotel?” Let us use the media and press to tell them all about what we as an industry are implementing for their safety – the strict sensitisation norms by professional companies; the sealing of a room after sanitisation so that it is absolutely safe for the next guest to check in; the rearranging of the restaurant seating; doing away with buffets; creating new menus; re-training staff on physical distancing; daily medical checks of all staff and more – this is what our potential guest wants to hear from us. Make them feel safe only then will they travel!
It is a known fact that domestic, leisure-driving holidays will be the first ones off the block. Much as many are creating dooms-day scenarios, my gut feel is that these could start as early as July, obviously in a small way and then pick up. Next to follow will be domestic corporate travel, followed by domestic leisure-flight holidays. Hotels and travel agents / tour operators must work together and quickly bring out driving holidays across the country. The car is going to be the domestic travellers safest bet for the next few months. If earlier, up to six hours driving was the preferred distance, this could now easily extend to eight hours. Guests will not look for city hotels with a large inventory. They would instead look at hotels / resorts on the outskirts of cities, with large open areas and less number of rooms. This is the product which will be a clear winner to begin with. Monuments will be an absolute no-no. We at the Tree of Life Resorts & Hotels are fortunate to be so placed and have already launched our DriveCation packages for all our properties.
Tourism has an amazing ‘feel good’ factor attached to it. The Ministry of Tourism should quickly coordinate with the various States, wherein every State comes out with short TV commercials based on its tourism potential. It should talk about how India has been comparatively lesser affected than the world; promote it’s destinations – hills, adventure, the lesser known and lesser crowded places. All this will not only encourage domestic travel but will also contribute in bringing about a feeling of normalcy across the country. These advertisements should also touch the emotional cord – travel in India, spend in India, assist your economy to come back.
Outbound tourism is unfortunately off the radar till the year end. This means that there are some 2 million Indians who would have usually travelled overseas during this period and are a potential target to tap for domestic travel. These overseas trips usually last between 7 to 12 days and these potential travellers can now easily do two to three shorter trips in India, at lesser costs. Yes, India cannot create another ‘Thailand’, but given that all States always harp on the fact that their State has “everything that a tourist wants” – well, here is the opportunity !! Outbound operators need to move quickly and see how they can convert their clients to ‘domestic’ for the time being.
Inbound tourism will take the maximum time to recover. With a very slow start in January 2021, it will then hit the low season summer months, only to see some semblance of recovery in Winter 2021. This is the harsh reality and those in this business will have to find ways and means to survive. And when this segment does recover, let us take it as an opportunity to move away from the destinations and circuits we have promoted for decades. Let us look at pushing those destinations and types of products which the ‘new order’ will look for. Because one thing I am sure of when it all comes back – monuments and cities will be low on the priority list of future travellers for a couple of years before things fall back in routine. Till then, here too, your narrative and your product offering will have to change.
I keep seeing a hash tag on many posts and promotions – #SaveTourism. Who should save it ? Obviously us, who are in the industry. Let us not wait for Government intervention and support – they have just so much to do and if the past is any reflection of the future, we will not get much of what we are clamouring for. Assistance delayed is assistance denied and that is just what is going to happen here too. Time has come to stop preaching to ourselves and instead reach out to our potential guests and get the wheels of our business moving from July ! And this can only happen if you change the narrative.