The future of travel is different but bright nevertheless, says Amanpreet Bajaj, Country Manager, Airbnb India, as he reveals what community-based tourism has in store for the first batch of explorers after the lockdown.
Many of us sitting in our homes right now are probably reminiscing about the magic that travel invokes – the places, communities, and experiences. When I think about why travel is so core to us, I realise that the pursuit of new experiences and of human connection is perennial. As Trenton Lee Stewart writes, “May your adventures bring you closer together, even as they take you far away from home.” That, for me, is what travel is all about.
As humans, we have an uncanny knack for remembering the feelings and associations that travel invokes, the people we have met and the experiences we have had. We may not remember our last day in the office before the lockdown began, but we may certainly remember the last destination we travelled to on holiday in vivid detail, the communities we got introduced to and the people we met. Fulfilling a perennial human need is why a vibrant travel ecosystem has existed, and why in India, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council, travel and tourism accounted for 9.2 per cent of GDP in 2018, with a growth rate of 6.7 per cent. The sector also accounted for 12.75 per cent of employment share in India, according to the Ministry of Tourism’s Annual Report 2019-20.
The Coronavirus pandemic has been very hard on the travel and tourism sector, as it has been on many parts of the economy. Communities and businesses relying on tourism have been impacted, which includes our host communities for some of whom hosting on the platform has become a primary source of income. But it is important that all of us weather the storm, and that we come together at this time to follow guidelines and keep our communities protected. When it is safe to venture out again, I feel that many of us will, and our hosts are more committed than ever to welcome guests back. Ninety-two per cent of hosts interviewed on our platform have said that they plan to host as often as before, or more often, once the effects of the pandemic are less severe. We are seeing a slow but substantive easing. As governments begin to review restrictions in advance of reopening communities, the reality of tourism in India may look quite different for the foreseeable future, and hosts/communities will need to prepare for a new normal.
The revival of travel will also be an opportunity to spotlight domestic destinations. Community-based tourism may even be preferred over other types of travel. An example is the highly-rated bunch of rural homestays listed in Gujarat through our partnership with SEWA (sewa.org). Meanwhile, the experiences we offer in partnership with the Princess Diya Kumari Foundation in Jaipur not only give people an opportunity to learn local crafts from rural women in Rajasthan but also help the artisans market their products and take the next step towards financial self-sufficiency.
It may well be that people may look at longer stays and immersive experiences for the rest of 2020. A new crop of digitally savvy nomads may begin to explore long stays without being tied down to one place of residence or one place of work. As remote work is normalised and the concept of a fixed abode slowly diminishes, these travelling residents may wish to experience the world on their own terms.
These trends show us that while the mode may change, travel is here to stay. It will take the combined strength of all stakeholders—communities, governments, the industry, and travellers—to ensure the sector’s rapid revival and long-term health. Airbnb is embedded within the community and is invested in their success. We remain committed, now more than ever, to economically empower communities, drive travel to lesser-known places, and support environmentally sustainable trips.