Surefooted approach is required to restart tourism and increase confidence: Billa

Stalwarts from the hospitality industry assembled at the 5th edition of BW HOTELIER's Indian Hospitality Summit and Awards 2020, in a bid to help tourism businesses to safely reopen to their customers by the month of November when the season starts in India.

Due to travel limitations enforced in countries worldwide, leading to a decline in the number of tourists and travellers as well as the shrinking consumer demand, the sector that has been impacted the most is the tourism and travel sector. Beside practical concerns about how to conform, there are also wider questions being raised about how to rebuild the sector in a way that is more sustainable whilst having a positive impact, at large.  

Moderated by Suman Billa, Director, United Nations World, Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), Madrid. The intense yet power-packed session included: Dipak Deva, Managing Director, TCI/Sita; Deep Kalra, Founder & Group Executive Chairman, MakeMyTrip; Rohit Khosla, Executive Vice President – Operations, North & West India, IHCL; George Ettiyil, Senior Director Sales - South Asia, Lufthansa Group.

Centering his ideas on restarting the tourism, Suman Billa, said, “The one thing we are all clear about and every country in the world is focused on is that tourism sector needs to start desperately. The challenge we have in front of us is to see how we can start the tourism sector sometime in November. The choice we have to make is that we will have to start the tourism sector even without the luxury of a vaccine. We need to put in place a strong safety and hygiene protocol to reassure the traveller that it is okay to travel and their health will not be compromised.” 

Billa further mentioned, “If we are thinking to revive the tourism from November then we have to think about the revival package which is to induce and stimulate demand and see as to how we can kick out our way from where we are. Industry needs to have a reasonable set of suggestions with which to go to the government and request and require their support on some of the things if we have to reclaim the space that we had earlier.”

“Most of the countries are now keen to restart but I would rather prefer a cautious but surefooted approach rather than doing something which is two steps forward and one step backward because that erodes the confidence in the traveller and the industry. We need to have a conservative but surefooted response. This pandemic beyond the immediate pain also offers us the chance to hit the reset button to see as to how we can make our businesses more sustainable and more responsible,” Billa asserted.

Meanwhile, Deep Kalra, emphasising on importance of testing said, “The reality is you can’t be bold without a full plan. I believe we’ve got to start a protocol of swift testing for domestic tourists and it can be easily accommodated in airports. We’ll have to take up the cost for testing to ensure that our people are safe.”

Conversing about getting reciprocal arrangement, Kalra highlighted, “The reality is that the infection is here for long, it is not going away overnight for sure. We have got to move on. This industry contributes 10 per cent of GDP; there is no way we can let it go. We have to figure out the alternatives, the safer ways of travelling which will be different kind of trip, out in nature, a little constrained. The weather is going to change and get much better now in India. So, we have an opportunity for the next six months.”

Shadowing upon the importance of continuously pushing the ‘normal’, Rohit Khosla, stated, “In order to go from bust to boom we need to be extremely cognizant of the fact that the people who will travel need to have confidence and trust. It’s important to remove fear from people’s mind and to build trust. It’s also important for us to understand in the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that apart from making guests feel safe, they also should feel welcomed. We are in the business of creating memories and experiences, it’s thereby critical to balance the health, safety and hygiene requirements with the ability to offer experiences.”

Dipak Deva, articulated “We must use this time with the government to plan for what we are going to do in the next twelve months. We need to be sure of how we promote India. We need PR agencies worldwide. We need a model other than the tourist offices. We need our ambassadors and embassies to play a strong role. We need to spend big on attracting customers. If the revival starts happening, we must be ready with the plan. We’ve met all the protocols, we’ve got the WTTC certification, but who’s going to ask the consumer to have confidence? We need a comprehensive plan ready.”

Talking about inbound tourism, Deva affirmed, “Inbound tourism will not bounce back by just announcing the reopening of international travel. We also need to ensure our ambassadors in key markets work with their host governments to assure travel bubbles and bridges are approved and their citizens can travel to India and return without being quarantined.”

Pouring light on the aviation sector and Europeans, George Ettiyil, enunciated, “We all agree that testing is the way forward in whichever direction it is. The mechanisms are already there but it is important to convey and communicate these mechanisms and standards in order to make things happen.”

 “With very simple mechanisms Europeans manage to create a pretty safe environment in order to make tourism, hospitality and restaurant businesses restart again. Europeans are willing to travel and if India opened up for tourism and travel purposes, there would be an initial set of Europeans that would come to stay in hotels in India because they are repeat customers. And if they feel confident about a place, no matter how many miles away, they will return. Many Europeans believe that India has managed the pandemic quite well. If Indian government actually manages to bring regulations which allow travelling to India in a safe way, be it with the testing strategies or be it by ensuring certain standards and creating bubbles within India, they are going to be international tourists that’ll come right away,” Ettiyil stated.


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