The months of May, June and July are typically chock-a-block for Tirun, the Indian representative of Royal Caribbean Cruises, which caters to a host of international travel destinations. With the summer months accounting for 60-65% of their yearly business, this period undoubtedly constitutes the bulk of their bookings coming in.
This year, however, the scope to create picture perfect postcard memories of leisurely travels is nowhere to be seen. “The earliest resumption that we see is towards the end of the year for international operations. Our efforts right now are more geared towards people getting their refunds, understanding the market dynamics for onboard products and looking at recovery scenarios to weather the storm,” Varun Chadha, CEO of Tirun reflectively says.
And it is not just the luxury cruises that have been impacted. Travel and hospitality — across the board — has taken a huge hit in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic that has thrown the economy out of gear. While no one is travelling just yet, the industry is looking at ways to adapt to changing consumer preferences, safety guidelines and social distancing norms to reboot the sector in a post lockdown world.
At your service
The hotel industry, which has been badly affected with travel getting impacted, is bracing itself for the new changes that will be witnessed once the lockdown is completely lifted. Neeraj Govil, Senior VP, South Asia, Marriott International says that travel and hotel stays are expected to be fairly muted by the end of the Financial Year.
The hotel chain has launched their project ‘We Care’ in South Asia which will focus on enhanced technology, sanitisation and security efforts to fight the virus spread. “Social distancing will continue and hotels will have to gear up for the day to day operations. With corporate groups, for instance, it is expected that they will split it up into smaller regional events with 3-4 events spread out as opposed to larger events earlier. The destination wedding segment will also suffer and will have only close family members as attendees,” he highlights. Incidentally, the hotel group has already received requests for bookings of entire hotel spaces in resort locations. The guest list, although is evidently smaller – 200 people compared to some 500 or 600 guests previously.
So what lies ahead for leading hotel groups who will need to adjust to the new social distancing norms and more vacant spaces? Marriott, for instance, will set up banquets to 50% of previous capacities, the buffet will be done away with and more distance will be managed in dining spaces. Needless to say, all this also implies a drop in revenues which has to be factored in. “Hotels will have to become very smart in how costs are managed. We have also had a relook at our revenue streams. Our delivery of food and takeouts has seen a good response. Moreover, in the case of the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) segment, people will be okay with shelling out more to get a better hygienic environment,” adds Govil.
The story is similar at Sarovar Hotels and Resorts, which has cut down majorly on all their costs. The hotel group is expecting less frequency of corporate groups, restaurants at half capacity versus earlier and a la carte ordering being the new norm. “The last two months have been catastrophic. We lost 50-55% of our business in March, 85-90% in April and May has also been similar. We anticipate a 40-45% occupancy in the Nov-Dec period as against over 80%, which is more typical of that time,” says Ajay Bakaya, Managing Director, Sarovar Hotels and Resorts.
Hygiene and sanitisation being maintained at Sarovar Hotels and Resorts
To beat the odds, the hotel chain is looking at delivery and takeaway menus, catering to local taste with greater gusto. In the times to come, they also have plans to explore converting banquet spaces to office spaces for companies wanting such options. “The idea is to manage assets better and bring in revenue,” reasons Bakaya.
Taking a backseat
It is not just the tour operators and hotels that are feeling the pain caused by the pandemic. The entire value chain has even hit hard and the future looks equally bleak. For example, car rental companies feel disgruntled at this point with the lackadaisical efforts of the government when it comes to offering them some support. Transport and tourist service provider in Delhi, Mann Tours, which used to work with international clientele, have had no movement of vehicles in the last two months. Their April and May sales have hit rock bottom. Amrit Mann, Director, Mann Tourist Transport Service rues that no support has been coming in for businessmen or for the hospitality sector. “The hospitality business gives jobs to atleast 4 crore people. About 75% will be jobless if no help is extended to them. Till September, we see our business being only 15-20% of what it used to be,” he laments.
Despite the challenges at play, Mann has chalked out a way that can help them steer some kind of direction ahead. Since demand will be drastically low, they will be focusing attention to domestic clients and HNIs once travel resumes. Besides this, they are also looking at advertisement possibilities on their vehicles. More efforts in hygiene, separate cabins for drivers of buses, training of chauffeurs and other Covid checks will be the steps mandated by the company.
Self drive car rental company Zoomcar has been focused on working with essential service providers in this time and predicts city-based travel to take off sooner. “There will certainly be a bias towards in-city trips compared to outstation ones. Also, we see a stronger focus on shorter term subscriptions. We expect 90% to be in-city rentals and 10% outstation during the post Covid time,” highlights Greg Moran, co-founder & CEO, Zoomcar.
Social distancing and masks are the new normal in hotels
Change in itineraries
Moran’s views are reflected in the sentiments of travel bloggers and founders of travel startups who also see an initial spurt in demand in short trips and weekend getaways. Bakaya of Sarovar Hotels, in fact, speaks about ‘revenge travel’ as being the all new trend. “Leisure resorts, which are a few hours away from the city will get preference from customers. If you are small in size, you are seen as safer,” he says.
Travel blogger Shivya Nath, who writes the blog, The Shooting Star, and has spent almost a decade as a ‘digital nomad’ feels that instead of big hotels, the shift will be more towards independent Airbnbs, small guesthouses and homestays, where human contact is limited and contact tracing easier. An increasing thrust towards ‘meaningful travel’ is what she expects to come by.
“Travellers will have to embrace slow and sustainable travel – not just for the environment and local people – but also for their own well-being. As we learn to live with Covid-19 in anticipation of a vaccine, slow travel will enable easier contact tracing while also allowing us to immerse deeper in a single destination rather than trying to cross everything off our list,” says Nath whose blog traffic has been dwindling, ongoing projects put on hold and potential assignments postponed indefinitely amid the pandemic.
Cautiousness, industry professionals feel, will be deeply embedded in the travellers’ psyche in the future. “The pandemic has left people emotionally scarred and as travel is a great stress buster, people would still want to do so. But this time, they’re going to be a lot more cautious about what they do. Beautiful pictures and videos will not be enough to convince them to travel. Travellers will demand to see the physical changes made and visible measures undertaken to make travel safer for them,” reveals Abhishek Daga, co-founder of the travel startup Thrillophilia.
Daga feels that the majority of people will prefer to travel to nearby places where they can drive in their own vehicles. Short weekend trips to destinations lying within a 300 km radius of cities are expected to be popular. Destinations such as Coorg, Jaipur, Rishikesh, Gokarna that are near large cities will also see good demand come in. “People will want to travel more mindfully, demand safe tourism and will choose quality over quantity. We can expect a recovery time frame of three months for weekend getaways, 12 months for domestic travel, 1.5 to 2 years for international travel and even longer for events, businesses or cruises,” he adds.
Recovery will happen, albeit at its own pace. And with travel taking its own course in a post lockdown world, wanderlust will just have to take the road less travelled. Literally.
This When will travellers return? Decimated by Covid-19, travel and hospitality recovery will be a long stretch was originally published on https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/small-biz/sme-sector/when-will-travelers-return-decimated-by-covid-19-travel-and-hospitality-recovery-will-be-a-long-stretch/articleshow/76148728.cms