'Holidays within driving distance will take off first'
COVID 19 has affected the entire world and brought everything to a complete standstill. Hotels all over the world are shut, attractions, destinations, flights, travel agencies, everything closed. This has been the worst affliction on the travel and hospitality industry in the past 100 years.
There are some industries that are impacted by happenings local or global; tourism and hospitality is among the top five industries to feel such an impact. To understand how Corona is different or not let us take a look at previous pandemics...Spanish Flu in 1918 which infected 500 million persons and killed 50 million persons worldwide. 1961 to 75, Cholera took many million lives. HIV in 1981 and which continues to be a pandemic and which has still no known cure, swine flu, ebola and so on. However other than Spanish flu the others were more localised and therefore the geographical regions respectively were affected. COVID 19 has affected the entire world and brought everything to a complete standstill. Hotels all over the world are shut, attractions, destinations, flights, travel agencies, everything closed. This has been the worst affliction on the travel and hospitality industry in the past 100 years.
COVID has also brought out the urgent realisation that we need to preserve and protect the environment from over-tourism and that has been one of the biggest positives. While governments and agencies discussed sustainability, such a focus was never there.
OMPL Group which includes Outbound Marketing, OM Tourism, OMT Hospitality, Parvada Bungalows and Annapurna Charitable Foundation has been adversely affected like all other agencies in this industry. Our major business is of managing outsourced sales and marketing work for hotels and destinations. As most of the hotels are shut and only now slowly opening, our source market role has been limited to keeping our clients engaged through webinars and other digital channels. This has obviously impacted our fees and marketing spends. Parvada Bungalows is a small retreat in Uttarakhand within a fruit orchard and we are picking up queries for long-stay business currently. During the lockdown, Annapurna Charitable Foundation was able to crowd fund to rebuild a village in West Bengal impacted by Cyclone Amphan. So we have been busy.
I do understand the market sentiments and for every person who wants to be careful, there are five who want to travel as soon as possible, including me. However business travel and MICE will be impacted in the short term and maybe some new possibilities will come up such as video conferencing, webinars as they have been hugely successful. Companies are already looking at working in a more practical manner in the future where they will encourage work from home culture, video conferencing, webinars, etc and this will also save money for them. Most MICE groups are looking at second-quarter 2021. One of our hotel groups in South Africa, Sun International Hotels has already launched a very innovative Virtual Conferencing. Rate of infection or where it is perceived that they have managed the spread of infection and where the virus is no longer spreading will be the destinations that will attract tourists from India. Thailand, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Dubai, Mauritius, etc. But these destinations will also have to start accepting Indians and for the moment no one is peaking about tourism from India, till the virus spread is contained.
We estimate that most people will want to get out somewhere for a change and it could be that holidays within driving distance will take off first. After which it could be to destinations that have a direct flight and where it is perceived that the level of hygiene and sanitation is being taken seriously. I think destinations within India and internationally have a huge role to play in not only creating visibility but also in ensuring that the local suppliers follow such protocol. Leisure/FIT travel/Workations will be the first type of segments we can look at.
I think we can take one right step at a time and do the best every day. There is no doubt that Outbound Tourism will bounce back and hopefully, we will have higher numbers of travellers subscribing to responsible tourism. Also, a good time for most of us in the business to get our “house in order”.
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