How does one reinvent domestic travel post-Corona? “Think like a start-up!” remarks Rajeev Kale, President & Country Head – Holidays, MICE, Visa, Thomas Cook (India) Ltd as he shares an indepth assessment in a interview with Today’s Traveller
TT Bureau: Your thoughts on Domestic travel in the post Covid19 context?
Rajeev Kale: Given that international borders are closed and that short haul international destinations will take time to gear up with their Health & Safety protocols and execution, visa policies, etc; this when coupled with the fear of COVID-19, the obvious choice is going to be domestic travel.
We whole heartedly welcome Prime Minister Modi's focus on an ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’. His mantra of being ‘vocal about local’ augurs well to give fillip to Domestic Tourism.
TT Bureau: How would you encourage this first step to normalisation of travel in India?
Rajeev Kale: Based on customer feedback, our Teams have been busy at the drawing board to recalibrate and re-invent our Domestic portfolio. Our focus will be a 2-pronged strategy 1) Focus on the critical aspect of Hygiene and Safety 2) A product range based on a vibrant mix of driveable holidays, staycations/home away from home breaks, unique experience-led inclusions. Pilgrimage Tourism is a key inclusion and a combination of spiritual with leisure is an intrinsic element.
TT Bureau: What are the newer ways of experiencing a destination that you feel are likely to take shape once travel takes firm root?
Rajeev Kale: This hiatus has been a reality check for travellers, and we look forward to the emergence of a new era of travel! An era that sees the rise of the sensitive traveller, a traveller who respects his eco-system and will seek deeper enriching travel experiences. Trends such as slow travel- allowing one to experience a destination at a leisurely pace, while appreciating the local heritage- will become the new norm. Self-drive holidays and the outdoors/adventure and nature breaks will see strong interest.
TT Bureau: Will travel specialists introduce distinct newness in their product offerings? Can you give some examples?
Rajeev Kale: At Thomas Cook India we are ensuring unerring focus on the safety of our customers, while curating an exciting new range of domestic holidays to suit the customer’s changing behaviour/preferences. All-inclusive breaks at resort properties to de-stress, nature and self-drive holidays and spa-wellness breaks among others will be a strategic focus for us.
TT Bureau: Will travel be less expensive or more expensive post Covid19?
Rajeev Kale: Most travel partners have witnessed a significant dip in their cash flows and revenue due to this unprecedented situation, and hence we are confident that stakeholders will ensure unique offerings and value additions to catalyse demand and boost tourism. We believe that it is time for our sector to think like a start-up! Coupled with decades of hospitality experience, innovation will be key in their value offerings. Cost to experience ratio will be critical to induce customers to travel.
TT Bureau: What precautions would travel agencies introduce to safeguard guests while maintaining guest privacy and guest satisfaction post lockdown?
Rajeev Kale: Thomas Cook India has always held safety and care as the topmost priority- even pre-covid. Our Thomas Cares initiative will ensure selection of the right hotel partners who pass our safety and hygiene standards, similarly our restaurant and transport partners will have to comply with international guidelines of hygiene and cleanliness norms very strictly to qualify for inclusion in our products.
For example our hotel partners like Marriott have set up the Marriott Global Cleanliness Council, to focus on developing global cleanliness standards to minimise customer risk and enhance safety and are implementing Marriott ‘Shield- We Care’ with re-engineered procedures and medicinal grade precision.
We will be shortly introducing our Thomas Cook Cares Manual to further ensure that the safety of our customers and hygiene standards are taken care of as the first priority.
Our H&S process includes our people- with daily online health assessments, regular thermal checks at different points in service, use of masks, regular washing/sanitization of hands, following rules of social distancing; also at out outlets with fumigation and sanitisation in line with WHO/ICMR guidelines and ramping up of surface disinfection.
TT Bureau: Which domestic destinations are likely to be the first to revive?
Rajeev Kale: Metro cities with reputed international hotels that have incorporated safety and hygiene programs, such as Marriott’s Shield-We Care in South Asia, will be among the first destinations for travellers to experience a staycation or wellness holiday breaks.
Apart from this, depending on zone-based approvals, destinations such as Goa, Andamans, Lakshadweep, Sikkim, Manipur, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram are likely to be among the first to see revival of demand. At the same time, self-drive holidays will also experience uptake. Zone-based clearances by the local authorities will play a key role in influencing customer preferences.