Renu Basu, Senior Vice President - Global Sales and Marketing, IHCL shares, "We realised very early that domestic travel will be our biggest opportunity and destinations close to home will emerge as the front runners for an escape or a break." In a one on one with Today's Traveller, she touches upon a wide range of critical issues leading to the revival of the tourism and hospitality industry post Covid.
T T Bureau: Your thoughts on domestic travel in the post Covid19 context.
Renu Basu: While the current situation is something the world and the industry have never witnessed before, we believe that the travel and tourism industry will definitely revive itself once this difficult phase has passed. People have travelled since ancient times even when transport means were very limited. It will continue to remain popular. Different destinations will rediscover their travel norms differently, but travel will bounce back over time.
We consciously believe that international travel will take a while to resume in its entirety, as it is dependent on global decisions on international routes opening up and airline schedules. Short haul or domestic travel will be a key driver for the industry. The desire for indulgence, pent up demand, disruption of summer holiday plans of families will influence this surge. After months of no travel, people need that well deserved break and the sense of wanderlust will influence the desire to be keen to explore destinations within the country. Till such time the domestic airlines resume operations itself, destinations which are at a drivable distance will be in demand ie a couple of hours driving distance from their homes.
While domestic travel contributed 87 per cent of India’s leisure travel in 2018, it will grow with renewed vigour and the demand from domestic travellers will mark the beginning of a new era of travel in the coming months. Normally the period between April to July sees a huge outflow of travellers going abroad. Now that the international option is not possible, it is a huge opportunity for all of us to optimize domestic travel. I also foresee people taking multiple trips.
TT Bureau: How would you encourage this first step to normalisation of travel in India?
Renu Basu: Social distancing and increased awareness about safety and security influenced by health and hygiene will dominate the mind space of consumers. This will continue to mark all social engagements including travel in the months to come. With this heightened sense of safety, the demand for domestic travel will lead the path to the industry’s recovery. Trust has always and will continue to play an even more significant role in the new world. Trusted brands will be winners and influence decisions and this will help us return to normalcy.
We realised very early that domestic travel will be our biggest opportunity and destinations close to home will emerge as the front runners for an escape or a break. One has control over their plans, the confidence of controlling your environment through driving in your own vehicle and time will create this new desire for driving holidays. People will be keen to travel to destinations within close vicinity of their homes and driving holidays will grow in demand. Some travellers may even be keen to drive slightly longer distances to lesser discovered or footstep heavy destinations, if it means that they can maintain a comfortable level of social distancing. At IHCL we have already developed products that can help our guests to travel the way they want to.
Staycations have been popular and we have seen an exponential increase in recent times. These will continue to grow in popularity as well as daycations – both of which allow people to enjoy mini getaways away from the hectic schedules of daily life with low holiday planning time, minimal travel, cost and zero carbon footprint.
Even as travel resumes over time, people will gravitate more towards trusted brands, with strong safety and hygiene SOPs clearly laid out and practised across hotels. Prioritising the safety and wellness of their guests will further elevate brands as the top choice among customers. Travel safety and health rank no 1 today.
TT Bureau: What are the newer ways of experiencing a destination that you feel are likely to take shape once travel takes firm root?
Renu Basu: Every crisis is an opportunity, we have witnessed What this unforeseen situation has brought to fore is an increased awareness and consciousness among travellers about the environment and community, and one’s impact on it. Travel in the future will be strongly influenced by a growing sense of responsibility towards sustainability, places one visits and local communities. This situation has accelerated the growing importance of sustainability.
People now want security , privacy and self contained experiences. They want to discover new places but want this done through digital contact in a seamless manner. Art and culture will play a greater role. Health will become a very important part of the entire experience.
Driven by the desire to travel post COVID-19, people will embark on domestic travel characterised by road trips to less tourist-centric destinations; thereby leading the rediscovery of unique and secluded locations. Slow travel with a heightened need for immersive experiences will be in demand as people look to explore authentic local traditions and culture.
‘FOMO’ or the fear of missing out will be replaced by a sense of ‘JOMO travel’ where the joy of missing out and disengaging from one’s hyper connected routine will drive a new age of travellers across age groups.
T T Bureau: Will hospitality have a distinct newness in its product offerings? Can you give some examples?
Renu Basu: The rising demand for slow travel will see brands increasingly offer unique experiences that are authentic to a destination. This, combined with the highest standards of hygiene, will be some of the key offerings hotels will aim to provide post this current situation.
As an industry leader and trusted brand, the safety and health of our guests and associates have always been our priority at IHCL, and we will continue to practise the highest standards of sanitization and hygiene while meeting all required protocols and compliance levels. Community is at the heart of all we do, and curating immersive local experiences that lead to moments of delight lie at the core of our brand’s DNA. With increased focus on domestic travel, creating special fixed itineraries that allow travellers to discover India and all it has to offer in a new light, will be some of the innovative offerings from IHCL.
With the need for social distancing being the new norm, we believe that IHCL’s Ama Stays & Trails, which is a group of heritage bungalows, guesthouses and homestays at unique locations across the country, will gain increased popularity among those looking to venture far from crowded tourist-centric locations and truly enjoy JOMO travel.
TT Bureau: Will hotels/travel be less expensive or more expensive post Covid19?
Renu Basu: Post COVID-19, even as people increasingly seek experiences that allow them to enjoy the nuances of travel and all that a destination has to offer, travel will focus more on providing ‘value’ other than just rate amendments.
Over the years, the perceived value of international travel has often superseded that of domestic travel. Post COVID-19 gives us an opportunity to not only showcase the many unique and often, undiscovered avenues of India, that many travellers are yet to get familiar with; but also magnifies the tremendous value of travelling within a vast and diverse country like India.
This will only be achieved through value-led offerings such as experiential holidays, wellness-focused retreats and healthy and detox offerings among others, all the while maintaining the new and required social distancing norms.
Air travel, which has been one of the key growth multipliers for the travel and hospitality industry, will be impacted by the new norms, and the effect on pricing will only be seen once travel slowly resumes over time.
TT Bureau: What precautions would hotels introduce to safeguard guests while maintaining guest privacy and guest satisfaction post lockdown?
Renu Basu: Taking the necessary precautions at every step of the guest experience will be imperative while maintaining all protocols and compliance levels as directed by authorities. From maintaining the required social distancing norms to incorporating compulsory protective wear for all associates and guests; thermal checks for all staff, personnel and guests entering the hotel; regular sanitization and disinfection of premises and rooms; and relooking at in- dining options among others – hotels will be undertaking a host of precautionary measures post the lockdown.
At IHCL, we have always maintained the highest standards of sanitation and hygiene across our hotels. In light of the current spread of the illness, IHCL has adopted enhanced procedures across hotels in accordance with the guidelines published by the WHO and MoHFW.
The safety of our guests and associates is our key priority at all times and we will ensure complete transparency as we continue to serve our guests with utmost care, like always.
TT Bureau: Which domestic destinations are likely to be the first to revive with tourist influx?
Renu Basu: Domestic travel will be led by destinations that are within close driving proximity from one’s home as it will allow travellers to practice safe social distancing and avoid crowded spaces.All scenic places within driving distances from the major metro cities and other large cities will see a greater tourist flow.
People will want to travel to scenic places. They will also want to relax after this stressful time, so beach destinations will be top of the mind. IHCL has the largest footprint in Goa with hotels across different segments and areas. Mountains with their pristine surroundings and clean air will be a huge draw. We have some lovely hotels in Theog, Shimla; Rishikesh in the north and Madikeri, Coorg; Ooty and Coonoor in the South. Taj Rishikesh set on the banks of the Ganga river has just made it to Conde Nast Traveller’s Hot List 2020 for the best hotels in the world.It is the only hotel in India to feature on the list.It has also been rated as one of the best wellness resorts in the world – there were just four hotels in this list.
Spiritual journeys are always popular. We have some wonderful destinations under the umbrella of Divinity Trails – be it Tirupati,Katra , Amritsar or Varanasi. Culinary experiences through food will be another reason that people will travel for. Another opportunity is special itinerary holidays discovering India with its rich culture and history. The palaces in the Taj portfolio – be it Taj Lake Palace Udaipur, Rambagh Palace Jaipur , Umaid Bhawan Palace Jodhpur and Falaknuma Palace Hyderabad are renowned iconic destinations for travellers across the world. Palaces evoke a wonder in our guests when they stay with us because of amplification of their grand scale, the regal splendour, rich history and majestic design.
Our recent foray into Homestays will be a great winner. Ama Stays & Trails is India’s first branded homestay product. They are a group of heritage bungalows, guesthouses and homestays at unique locations across the country. With these exciting new additions, guests can now have a much wider choice of local and immersive experiences in off-beat destinations.
The influence of digital has accelerated and is here to stay. Travel advisors with their indepth knowledge of destinations and relationships will still be key.