Now that Unlock 3.0 is underway, the question of how travel will be unlocked is still up in the air. The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) organised a conclave to discuss the ‘Future of Travel and Tourism: What lies ahead’, bringing together some of the industry’s most renowned experts to provide insights and guidance on the way forward.
The two-day conclave began with an inaugural address by Prahlad Singh Patel, the Minister of State for Tourism and Culture, Government of India. Other industry leaders and policymakers participating included Meenakshi Sharma, Director General, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Rupinder Brar, Additional Director General, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Vishal Kumar Dev, Commissioner Cum Secretary, Tourism Department, Sports and Youth Service Department, Government of Odisha, Anbalagan Ponnusamy, Secretary, Tourism, Government of Chhattisgarh, Satpal Maharaj, Tourism Minister of Uttarakhand, Kadakampally Surendran, Tourism Minister of Kerala and Dr Jyotsna Suri, Past President, FICCI & Chairperson, FICCI Tourism Committee & CMD, The Lalit Suri Hospitality Group. CNT Editor Divia Thani moderated the opening discussion with an all-star panel comprising Meenakshi Sharma, Director General, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Suman Billa, Director, United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNTWO), Technical Cooperation & Silk Road Development, Sujit Banerjee, Secretary General, World Travel & Tourism Council, India Initiative (WTTCII), and Deep Kalra, Founder & Group Executive Chairman, MakeMyTrip. The topic of discussion was: The Future of Travel & Tourism: What lies Ahead.
Highlights of the conversation included:
1. Safety and assurance must be the first priority
Secluded destinations that have managed to control the spread of the virus will undoubtedly become more popular. A CNT survey conducted in May 2020 found that the Maldives was number one on the list of international destinations people wished to visit, and others like Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Australia and New Zealand also ranked highly. But health and safety extends to cleanliness and sanitisation measures across the board. This is crucial not only for domestic tourism but in order for international tourists to return to India for holidays as well. “It’s not just enough to kill the virus, but it’s important to kill the anxiety people have,” said Suman Billa of the UNWTO which works closely with the World Health Organization (WHO). “India will have to follow strong hygiene and standardised safety protocols from the time a person enters the airport to different touchpoints like restaurants, hotels, tourist attractions, etc.”
2. A negative COVID test result should be the new passport
Testing is the key, says Deep Kalra of MakeMyTrip, which was also deeply involved in the creation of the government’s Aarogya Setu tracing app. “The rate of flight departures in India is currently at 25 percent, but the load flights are carrying is only 16 percent, despite the fact that people are clearly tired of being home and wish to get out and travel. People need to feel more confident and safe about not interacting with other passengers who might be infected. Two-way testing—making testing mandatory before departure as well as on arrival—is one solution. This way passengers will not need to quarantine at the place of arrival. Testing prior to departure is even more crucial, as it will put people much more at ease.” While many countries are now testing travellers on arrival, Kalra believes tests before travel is key to mitigating the risk of interacting with a person carrying the virus through the airport or flight. “A negative Covid-19 test result should be considered the new passport to travel.” In addition, Dipak Deva, Co-Chairman, FICCI Tourism committee, Managing Director, SITA, TCI and Distant Frontiers, noted that this should be mandatory for domestic travel too. “In the same way that we are looking to create travel bubbles and corridors between countries, we could create them between Indian states.”
3. A uniform policy across all Indian states must be a priority
“While many people want to set out on roadtrips, they are deterred because the norms in different states are unclear,” Kalra said. At the moment, states differ dramatically in rules regarding quarantines upon arrival and movement within the state. In order to get tourism going again, states must agree on a uniform and consistent policy regarding quarantines, testing, etc. Once this is agreed upon, this must be clearly communicated to the public. Meenakshi Sharma, Director General, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, agreed with this position, but also reminded the audience that the timing for such action is extremely important. “Health and safety must come first,” she said.
Interestingly, Kalra also stated that MakeMyTrip is working on new tech features, which will direct people to the places they can visit, the requirements and rules to enter the destination and other such information in real-time. “It will almost be like a COVID-19 travel search engine.”
4. This is an opportunity to make all tourism more responsible and sustainable
The pandemic has brought a wave of consciousness across the globe. People are much more aware of the impact of their lifestyles on the environment. A recent CNT survey found that an overwhelming 65 percent of respondents were willing to pay higher rates if they knew that their travel providers (accommodation, transport, etc) had eco-friendly and sustainable practices.
“It won’t be business as usual when the world reopens,” said UNWTO’s Suman Billa. “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 nature of tourism will change. Mass tourism that is high-volume, low-cost will take a backseat,” he continued. This sentiment was seconded by Sharma. “It will no longer be driven purely by the industry. The interests of the traveller will be different,” she said. They are keen to explore new interests and experiences across India, especially those in off-the-beaten-track destinations that are not overcrowded. When the Ministry of Tourism launched Dekho Humara Desh, a series of webinars by tour operators on lesser-known destinations across India, Sharma admits she didn’t expect it to go beyond 20 episodes. However, they have conducted 40 webinars to date.
5. Partnerships will be the way forward
WTTCII’s Mr Banerjee believes that jumpstarting tourism and building confidence in the minds of travellers will require partnership on multiple levels: states across India must agree on common rules; countries must adopt a united approach to maintain safety while allowing tourism to flourish and bring in revenue; and both the public and private sectors must work together to think innovatively, achieve the best industry standards, and implement the correct policies. “We need to think of a more rational and standardised approach for airlines, airports, restaurants, retail sectors to make the travel experience more uniform.” The WTTC has proactively made several recommendations and provided guidelines for destinations to follow to keep safety at the core of their actions while allowing tourism to restart.
In addition to the above panel, speakers such as Dhruv Shringi, Co-Founder & CEO, Yatra Inc, Rohit Kapoor, CEO, India & South Asia, Oyo Hotels & Homes , celebrity chef Ranveer Brar, Tejasvi Surya, Member of Parliament, and Ajay Jadeja, former captain, Indian cricket team discussed other subjects such as Role of Technology & Innovation to Revive Travel & Tourism & Emergence of New Workforce model. A special session on Ethno Tourism: Exploring the unexplored culture and communities of India was discussed, focusing on Chhattisgarh and Odisha. The FICCI conclave succeeded in bringing together some of travel’s most insightful and progressive minds for engaging discussions on the way forward. Now the action must start, too. must start, too.