'Domestic Travel Will Be The Precursor For Recovery'

In an exclusive interaction with BW Hotelier, Rakshit Desai - Managing Director, India, of Flight Centre Travel Group talks about the impact of the pandemic outbreak on the travel and tourism. He also sheds light on how FCM Travel dealing with the current situation.

In an exclusive interaction with BW Hotelier, Rakshit Desai - Managing Director, India, of Flight Centre Travel Group talks about the impact of the pandemic outbreak on the travel and tourism. He also sheds light on how FCM Travel dealing with the current situation.

Travel and tourism sector has emerged from many crises in the past. How is the Corona impact different from others?

A worldwide lockdown of this scale to contain the spread of Corona is unprecedented, for the first time close to 90 per cent of the world’s population is living with severe travel restrictions. For the first time in decades, planes are not flying, public transport is shut and people are forced to stay where they are. There have been health, geo-political and other crises affecting travel in the past, but these were confined to smaller geographical areas and hit tourist movements only in a specific region. Corona, on the other hand, has necessitated social distancing and shutting down of businesses with the threat of global recession looming large. In such a scenario, the travel industry is confronted with loss of business and has been forced to lay off a large chunk of its workforce. Even as the lockdowns will slowly ease and borders will open again, travel will only pick up slowly and the industry will have to prepare for changes in hotel and airline policies as well as guidelines from authorities and governments. 

What has been the impact of the unprecedented Covid-19 led lockdown on your company and operations?

Travel has been one of the worst-hit industries and like other organisations, we are learning to face challenges we had not anticipated. To preserve cash and tide through these months, significant financial sacrifices are being made by the company, our people and partners. FCM India along with Flight Centre Travel Group (FCTG) Australia, our parent company, has detailed a package of initiatives designed to strengthen the company’s balance sheet and liquidity position amid the COVID-19 crisis. FCTG has secured a total AUD $900 million through a mix of capital raising and new debt facilities, complementing existing cost reduction and cash preservation initiatives implemented. 

Tell us about the strategies of FCM Travel in dealing with the current situation.

We have been regularly in touch with our customers to help them with cancellations and postponement of their existing travel plans. We have also been engaging with airlines, hotels and tourism bodies to understand what the new normal for travel will be and prepare for it. With travel at a standstill, we have utilised this time to upgrade the skill set of our people through conducting a series of destination training and personal development programs. Our people are our greatest asset, and we have been regularly engaging with them to keep them motivated and inspired.

Which are the most affected niche travel segments? Why?

Senior citizen groups were gaining popularity but given their high susceptibility to Corona, they may take longer to step out again especially to long haul destinations. Culinary tourism may take a hit too, as people will be more careful of what they consume and governments will have to introduce strict norms and checklists for street food markets.

What is in store for the meetings and leisure travel segment in India?

With safety concerns and risks associated with the movement of large groups, international MICE trips are still at least 6-12 months away. And in that case, domestic travel will be the precursor for recovery. As we adopt safety measures within the country, and the travel & hospitality industry takes necessary steps to ensure distancing norms are maintained, we will see people opting to explore more of India.

How is the Business Travel segment going to evolve post-covid-19?

Business travel in the post-pandemic world will focus greatly on risk mitigation, and as we outlined in our annual whitepaper, travel risk management will become a part of the overall strategic risk management of organisations. There will be an increased emphasis on the duty of care with new rules and compliances being laid out. Airlines, hotels and land transfers will be adopting stringent sanitization protocols to provide for a safer experience for travellers and to comply with social distancing norms. Middle seats might become thing of the past and facial recognition will open doors rather than your hands.

Which segment of travel and tourism is going to recover first after the lockdown period? Why?

Since people have been confined to their homes for months now, families will expect short trips to catch a break. Domestic short-haul travel will be the first to start with self-drive and road trips and staycations being preferred holiday modes. This will be followed by domestic MICE travel as organisations will be looking at boosting the morale of their employees.

What measures are advisable for Travel Agents/Tour Operators in their fight for survival?

If there is one thing the pandemic has taught us is that you cant be prepared for everything. Being flexible and adapting to the situation like shifting focus to domestic holidays for the next few months, car rentals for short distance travel and accommodating for other trends will be the key.   

Will the coronavirus pandemic be able to move the world towards responsible, sustainable and socially innovative tourism? Your comments.

The pandemic will certainly change the way we travel. With the rules of social distancing and hygiene becoming more stringent, there will be disruptions to mass travel. People will also be more mindful of their responsibility towards the environment and fellow travellers. Governments across the world are likely to make visa norms stricter and enforce travel guidelines which will see fewer and more careful travellers instead of hordes of tourists.

What would be the emerging opportunities for Indian domestic tourism?

Domestic tourism in India will see a new lease of life, especially places within 5-10 hours of driving time. Road trips, staycations, trips to lesser known places and away from cities (to avoid crowds) will be some of the biggest winners. Wellness resorts and destinations will also attract more travellers interested in improving their mental and physical well-being.

Any other message that you want to share with the Indian travel and tourism fraternity?

People are not meant to stay confined to their homes and cities; exploring and discovering new places is part of human nature. The industry should have faith that the spirit of travel will always keep us moving and it is only a matter of time before the world opens up again.


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