The coronavirus pandemic and the lockdowns have delivered a body blow to tourism industry. A recent survey should bring some long-awaited cheer.
A survey conducted by leading travel companies, Thomas Cook and SOTC jointly, suggests that Indians could begin to travel as early as November, with short-haul international destinations competing with the Himalayas and coastal areas of south India for the first visit that travellers may take after the pandemic. The survey found that 14 pc respondents indicated that they are likely to travel in 2020 once restrictions were lifted. While 45 pc respondents preferred to defer their holiday to 2021 and as many as 41 pc were undecided. Of those planning to travel later this year, 29 pc said they could travel in November, while 50 pc opted for December.
‘‘What we decided at Thomas Cook and SOTC was to conduct a survey broadly asking people what their perceptions were about travelling post the coronavirus pandemic or when it subsides. This was all based on when travelling was opening, what kind of holiday they were looking at, what kind of changes and destinations. We made sure that we only aren’t getting responses from our customers so we circulated it amongst other non-customers as well,’’ Abraham Alapatt, president & group head, Thomas Cook India, tells India Outbound.
Nearly two-thirds of the respondents said they would prefer a domestic holiday in destinations such as Ladakh, Goa, North East or Kerala. Encouragingly for the outbound travel market, 36 pc of the respondents said they would prefer to travel overseas first. Over 40 pc said they would choose short haul destinations like Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Dubai, Abu Dhabi. Surprisingly, even long-haul destinations like Australia, New Zealand and the USA were not off-limits for the travellers. Europe, which has had a very tough time curbing the spread of coronavirus, would still attract 38 pc of the respondents.
‘‘The situation has improved in several countries around the world since the survey was done. Europe, for instance, is opening up and economy seems to be picking up again. In our neighbourhood, most countries like Sri Lanka, Nepal or Bhutan don’t seem to have many cases. In the Far East, China is already bouncing back and the situation is much better in many other countries like South Korea, Thailand or Malaysia. The good part is that since we administered it, the situation in many destinations is much better and we feel that the results of our survey would have been even more positive if it were done today,’’ says Alapatt.
The tourism and hospitality industries are amongst the worst hit due to coronavirus pandemic, not just in India, but indeed the world over. In India, the sector accounts for nearly 10 pc of the GDP and provides employment, directly or indirectly, to over 36 million persons across the nation.
The findings of the survey would be encouraging for the industry that is facing an existential crisis currently. ‘‘The good news for us is that a revival of tourism doesn’t seem to be a distant reality to begin with. Also the fact that people are now yearning to get out of the confines of their homes.They are talking of very specific months for travel and they also know where they would like to go. So this is a big positive for all of us in the travel industry as we were getting ready for a 100 pc washout in 2020,’’ he says.
One key shift in travel post-pandemic is that the consumers would not mind paying a premium for health and safety. Safety ranks as the primary concern for 75 pc of the respondents; with 35 pc willing to increase their spend to ensure the same. As a result, the market could see some major shift as bigger brands could benefit from the focus on health and safety as 72 pc respondents preferred reputed brands across their journey – including tour operators and hotel chains. ‘‘The customers seem to be aware that safety is an important if not the most important issue and rather than negotiating the price or going in for lower budget, they are willing to actually pay a premium to be sure that the partner they go with follows all the safety norms as well as health and hygiene,’’ Alapatt adds.
The focus on safety is likely to translate into another change in travel patterns as respondents displayed a noticeable preference towards travelling in smaller groups, primarily due to issue of health and hygiene.
But the impact of the lockdown did come through in the survey when 67 pc of respondents said they would spend less than INR 100,000 per person on their next holiday, while 11 pc said that they would spend up to INR 200,000 per person.