Everyone agrees that the tourism industry is in deep trouble because of lockdowns. As borders open up to travellers, there are issues of travel bubbles, collaborations between different state tourism boards, and how to reach out to people with the message that the stringent norms have been adhered to by hotels and tourism boards, making it safe to travel.
The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) has played an active role in raising awareness, lobbying with the Indian government and creating a roadmap for the industries in an After-COVID world. It is among the few industry bodies that are working on several projects to help the travel and hospitality industries that are struggling to find ways to open and turnaround the adverse situation.
Among its many ventures was a two-day Tourism E-Conclave, monikered ‘Travel and Hospitality: What’s Next’, where it got the travel and hospitality industries, as well as the Union Ministry of Tourism, to debate, discuss and dissect how the two of the worst-affected segments will revive and thrive.
It was inaugurated by Prahlad Singh Patel, Minister of State (I/C) for Culture and Tourism, who recommended that the stakeholders—private and government—should join forces to understand what needs to be done on priority, to ensure a revival.
“Many states in the country have begun opening up to tourism, which is a very good sign,” he added. The tourism e-conclave was a means to get the stakeholders and industry leaders on the same platform and discuss how the sector can evolve in the changing environment.
“Tourism is going to be the torchbearer of the economy for India. To help domestic tourism revive, the states will need to have synergies and create one benchmark, one set of regulations for any true revival.”
Domestic tourism is likely to revive first by all indications. The tourism secretaries of Odisha, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh discussed the possibility of setting up internal travel bubbles between states that were not as drastically affected by the pandemic—an idea borrowed from countries such as Australia and New Zealand.
One of the sessions was hosted by Travelgram’s Editor, Deepali Nandwani, who spoke to leading lights from different industries and celebrities, not directly involved with the travel business. The panellists included former captain of the Indian cricket team, Ajay Jadeja, celebrity chef Ranveer Brar and Deepak Lamba, CEO, Worldwide Media (WWM) and President – Times Strategic Solutions, Mentor at Times Centre for Learning Ltd.
“There are two perspectives that want to touch on – one is an F&B perspective and the other is the travel perspective. In terms of F&B, instinctively I feel that it will recover faster. I believe travelling to local destinations, or micro-travel as I call it, will eventually make us a better society that appreciates its roots,” said Chef Brar, touching on issues of sustainability and eating local and seasonal cuisine as part of the entire travel experience.
Jadeja urged people to not let fear take over and get back to travelling, keeping all safety and hygiene protocols in mind. “My experience is that travel has changed. I look at this as an opportunity for the travel industry to focus on destinations that no one was looking at. I travelled to places I have never been to before. I went to a jungle lodge; I stopped at a golf resort. These spaces are the safest right now. In over 1,000 acres you find 40 people, with all protocols in place.”
Lamba stressed on why hyper-local travel will gain currency. “In our quest to explore new destinations, new experiences, new ways of living, I realised I have experienced only one-tenth of my own country. Whether it is a homestay or an opportunity to indulge in more sustainable forms of travel, we should seize the moment and transform the travel industry.”
In another crucial session, ‘Future of Travel and Hospitality – What lies ahead?’, the panellists discussed why secluded destinations that have managed to control the spread of the virus will become more popular, provided safety and hygiene are ensured across the board.
Suman Billa, Director, United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNTWO), claimed, “It won’t be business as usual when the world reopens. We will be factoring environmental costs over economic costs. We will look at destinations and establishments moving closer to zero-carbon footprint, zero-waste measures and zero-mile food. We will look for more community-centred and meaningful experiences. People will want to be more responsible and sustainable.”
The road ahead
Some of the takeaways that Ahuja mentions: The role technology and digitization will play; what frequent travellers expect from the hotels and travel industry in India; and the need for standardization and establishing safe travel bubbles between different states.
“Travel and hospitality in India have to realign and reinvent. We have to think about several issues: who is our target consumer; what should be the price point to reach the domestic client; how should luxury travel, which normally targets people above the age of 55 — a group that will be wary of travelling at the moment — reinvent itself?”
For now, FICCI is focusing on training and creating new models of synergies. It has launched an online certification course with OYO that will focus on how to operate a hotel in the COVID-19 era. The training process follows the Ministry of Tourism’s defined Standard Operating Procedures to run a hotel with all the protocols in place.
The course makes the participants eligible for a Certificate of Compliance from FICCI and posts a digital version of this certificate on the hotel’s website.
FICCI’s Digital Unlocked, an initiative with Google and the Indian School of Business, will help businesses unlock exponential growth in an era when digital will be the norm. The objective of the program is to build capacity and equip startups, SMEs and innovators with necessary skills for utilising the power of the Internet, creating their online presence, launching and executing cost-effective targeted digital marketing campaigns, reaching out to a wider audience, increasing the sales volumes, keeping consistent connect with the potential customers and staying competitive in the marketplace.