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Will domestic travel be preferred over international vacations? Are sustainable travel practices going to be the building blocks of new travel norms in the post-pandemic world? How soon will travellers around the world gain confidence to travel again? Many such questions were answered when a selection of top travel and hospitality leaders came together for the first webinar session of #TnlOutreach series

Moderated by T+L India & South Asia’s Editor, Aindrila Mitra, the first session of the webinar series was based on the topic, ‘Rebound Travel: Tourism Beyond Coronavirus’ and had a mix of domestic and international industry veterans as panellists. The insightful session highlighted the travel trends that we can expect to see once the travel bans across the world start to lift.

Travellers Expect To See Necessary Changes

TnlOutreach Rebound Travel
Malik J Fernando, Director, Dilmah Tea, and MD, Resplendent Ceylon

On being asked about the keys things that travellers will look for once the travel bans are lifted, Malik J Fernando, Director, Dilmah Tea, and MD, Resplendent Ceylon said, “In terms of what travellers will look for, is still uncharted territory. There is a lot of uncertainty at the moment—about airlift, safe travel protocols, quarantine protocols; for instance, some countries may allow international travel but will follow quarantine procedures on arrival. The silver lining is that there is a much-needed reset in over-tourism that we were heading towards.”

TnlOutreach Rebound Travel
Vinod Kannan, CCO, Vistara

Answering the same for the aviation industry, Vinod Kannan, CCO, Vistara, said, “I see three different aspects of what people will expect in terms of changes. One is flexibility. At Vistara, we have extended all bookings done before May 31 till the end of the year. We’ve also retained all tiers of our loyalty programme. The second factor is togetherness; what different companies have done in this situation leaves an indelible mark.”

Ritu Sharma, Deputy Director, Switzerland Tourism in India, believes that how a country dealt with the pandemic and the healthcare facilities available there, are the two things that people will consider before travelling.

Domestic Tourism To See A Boom

TnlOutreach Rebound Travel
Chris Flynn, CEO, World Tourism Association for Culture & Heritage

The major upcoming travel trends are the question of the hour at the moment and if experts are to be believed, domestic tourism will see a rise. Chris Flynn, President and CEO, World Tourism Association for Culture & Heritage, said, “Right now, we all need to be realistic—we are going to enter a new abnormal. Travel industry never had the opportunity to stop and correct whatever was going wrong, but this is our chance. In terms of trends, there’s going to be less desire for travelling to crowded places or far-off destinations with chaotic scenes. People will look for destinations with credibility. People will travel but they’d want to stay close to home. We can’t expect them to jump on a train or plane and travel for long-haul hours. So, there will be a definite rise in domestic tourism.”

TnlOutreach Rebound Travel
Meenakshi Sharma, Director-General, Ministry of Tourism.

“Road trips will attract people and caravan tours will be encouraged. The only hospitality and tourism brands that follow the safety protocol strictly and are able to convey the message that they are COVID-safe, will attract people. Adventure sports, farm stays, less-crowded domestic destinations, and hotels taking proper safety measures are going to be a part of the new travel trends,” said Meenakshi Sharma, Director-General, Ministry of Tourism. “Slow travel is going to be the word—people may travel for just four hours to nearby destinations but stay for four days,” she added.

Safe Business Is Better Business

Safety, without a doubt, will become a top priority among travellers. “From a hospitality perspective, the concern of being safe will be the single big factor in guests’ minds. So, building trust and confidence in the quality of the stay will be the top priority. At Airbnb, we have announced a very enhanced cleaning strategy. For the first time, there is an overarching standardised sanitation protocol for the home-sharing industry. From ways to clean certain areas of a home to products to be used, it has been created in consultation with the leading healthcare facilities around the world and medical experts. The same is being educated to the communities of hosts that we work with,” said Amanpreet Bajaj, Country Manager, Airbnb India.

Meena Bhatia, Vice President & GM, Le Meridien New Delhi, and Co-Convenor, Tourism, CII Delhi State Council, said, “To work within the required safety norms is the only way. Until the vaccine is out, safe business is going to be better business.”

Kannan agreed and said, “In this recovery phase, it’s important for businesses to be flexible as per the guidelines. And aviation has always been a highly regulated business. Health and safety have been deeply focused on.”

Curated And Virtual Experiences Will Continue To Shine

TnlOutreach Rebound Travel
Meena Bhatia, Vice President & GM, Le Meridien New Delhi, and Co-Convenor, Tourism, CII Delhi State Council,

Talking about what kind of curated experiences would grab attention, Bhatia said “India was already getting its much-deserved attention in terms of experience-led travel before the outbreak happened. Wellness and spiritual tourism were doing great and will continue to do so. Family travel and experiences around it will see a rise. Virtual cooking classes from chefs’ home kitchens and similar digital experiences will continue to be liked by people.”

Rebound Travel Can Take Up To Six Months To Start

#TnlOutreach: Rebound Travel
Ritu Sharma, Deputy Director, Switzerland Tourism in India

When asked how soon people will gain the confidence to resume travelling, Ritu Sharma suggested that a recent survey done by them in Switzerland might have the answer. “After the survey, we realised that there are three kinds of travellers right now. The pragmatics, the procrastinators, and the worriers. If the ratio of pragmatics is higher, then we can expect people to be travelling again soon enough. Domestic first, and then international, as and when countries open borders. In the meantime, Switzerland is running a campaign called ‘Dream Now Travel Later’, which includes a lot of virtual tours and celebrity testimonials of lesser-known destinations. The idea is to keep travellers informed and say that Switzerland is waiting for you.”

“Travellers are in a dream phase at the moment. A lot of research says that 50-60 per cent of travellers will feel safe flying in the next six months. There will be travel bubbles, initially. Like there is the Australia-New Zealand bubble. I hope we can make a Sri Lanka-India bubble too as Sri Lanka has handled the crisis really well,” backed Fernando with the fact that the country has had less than 10 deaths in 600 cases.

Conscious Travel Is The Need Of The Hour

#TnlOutreach: Rebound Travel
Amanpreet Bajaj, Country Manager, Airbnb India

During the discussion, it was agreed upon that the importance of accepting conscious travel as a way of life has been realised globally, and adopting sustainable travel practices is the only way to go ahead with now. “We will see a shift in the demographic. Gen Z-led travel is going to be more prominent. And a lot of people in this domain value healthier choices and sustainable travel,” added Bajaj.

“The whole idea of travelling sustainably is going to take a whole new meaning. When you look at millennial travellers prior to COVID-19, they were already looking to have authentic cultural and environmentally-safe experiences, and that’s not going to change. Now is the time to hit the reset button and see in what ways we can work towards offering that,” explained Flynn.

Communicating The Changes To Customers Must Be Top Priority

Answering that how sales and marketing teams in the hospitality industry should gear-up for an After COVID (AC) world, Bhatia emphasised on embracing the changes and communicating those changes to the customers to build their confidence in the brands. “Offering your customers virtual tours of the hotels and restaurants, showing how well the safety measures are being taken up, can help,” she concluded.

Catch the whole session here.

Related: T+L India Launches #TnlOutreach: A Series Of Webinars To Decode Future Travel Trends 2020-21