DOMESTIC TRAVEL....Is it not the Panacea we are looking for?

Speaking about shape of the domestic travel market in next couple of years, Timmy Kandhari Founder & MD, Sapphire professional Services Pvt Ltd predicts that it is headed for a 'massive change.'

Domestic travel was and will remain the largest chunk of the business of travel in India. It becomes even more important after the COVID pandemic has taken its toll on the business. As expected it is supposed be the only beacon of hope as we move towards recovery. International travel as well as market will take a while to come to pre-COVID levels as large scale air as well as other transportation seems a while away with the disease still active and vaccinations still far from adequate to allow such travel. 

Therefore the focus is very much back on the domestic travel structure which in many ways is the right area of focus for India. We have, mistakenly believed that International arrivals as the only barometer for success which in turn led the industry to concentrate on developing an oasis in terms of developing destinations as well as five star properties ( both for business & leisure) for the international rich traveller completely ignoring the domestic traveller which still forms the backbone of the industry. Realisation dawned a few years ago and since then there has been a partial correction in developing travel infrastructure as well as the three/four star properties which provided the fillip for the domestic sector. The pandemic has again put the focus back on the domestic market both for tourism as well as business and this time it is for the very survival of the sector!

People, I believe, have an insatiable appetite for travel both for business and definitely for leisure. Events and in particular weddings in the Indian lexicon have been added to that list. Route for recovery for the sector in general will essentially rely on domestic travel picking up and the the offshoots to that event are fairly visible. Provided we can have a fair control over the pandemic spread, with social behaviour as well as vaccines playing their part we hope for a major resurgence in demand. Many think this will be like revenge travel resurgence and a V shaped recovery in demand. Whether it is V shaped in the short run or more gradual going forward, the outlook is positive.

However this positivity can only be sustained if we take actions which help the travel sector specially the domestic circuit go away from the issues which we were not addressed pre-COVID and now with the post COVID issues. It’s worthwhile at this stage to plan to bring this domestic sector to a stage which is unparalleled in destination value, world class in hygiene as well as service, affordable, with the right amount of infrastructure for painless experience and of course safety. Not new objectives but now more important than ever!

Where then do we start? Here is my list of three things which are a must for this sector to be world class :

  1. The sector was not considered as a priority when COVID help was announced and then virtually nothing was offered though it being the worst hit sector among others. With massive financial losses, millions of jobs lost, it is a miracle that many establishments are still there. While the Industry is still standing, it may not survive the next time such an event transpires. Our industry leaders as well as the associations need a massive movement to pull together to represent the industry with the government of the day. The Government too needs to recognise the industry for its employment potential as well as its foreign exchange earning abilities. While handouts in these difficult times may not have been possible, the least they can insure is an adequate investment in infrastructure in future, simplifying rules for land acquisition, single window clearance of multifarious permissions that hinders the industry. Domestic travel growth is a significant agenda which needs to be planned with the help of the Government and Industry acting together. We have not seen that happen. This partnership is essential.
  2. Travel destinations which work in the world do offer besides its inherent strength of scenery or history, safety, more than one seamless transportation solutions and finally a clean as well as hygienic stay options. All these are synchronised to give that wow experience. In India we are not short of history or scenery or locations but we are woefully short of providing the other experience which makes the visit memorable. In addition our affordability factor is a little lower than the world traveller specially if we take the bulk of our domestic travellers both for business or for leisure. Therefore our solutions have to be unique and cannot be done without the actual help of the Government as well as the local municipalities or the law enforcement. We can transform to a domestic travel powerhouse only if we invest in infrastructure ie airports, rail connectivity, cleanliness, law enforcement and finally affordable clean living spaces ( which are already becoming a reality). Again this cannot be achieved without a partnership with the Government or the local authorities, which should be the thrust of our Industry.
  3. Finally, what is now becoming a reality is a digital backbone to connect and deliver a seamless experience. Some of the constituents are already digital like your transportation or your hotel bookings or travel information and its essential to link them to provide a superlative seamless experience. On top of this layer needs to sit your digital marketing infrastructure to reach our constituents continuously as well as holistically and finally getting to establish India as a premier and safe travel destination. Branding is a must have to ride on the experience!

The above mentioned points would be targets but maybe slightly longer term as the market recovers. Immediately the intent should be to prioritise hygiene, digital communication as well as market presence. While business events may take time but weddings, which is a market oblivious to downturn, should be brought forward as significant offerings albeit at a smaller scale. The next couple of years can bring a massive change to the domestic travel market, something we have not seen in many years past. Question is are we ready?


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