Namah Chawla

Travel and holiday segment uses magic sauce of revenge tourism, lockdown fatigue and 'vaccine passports'

Travel, ticketing and hospitality brands woo travellers with local packages, workations, weekend getaways, lesser explored destinations.

The first and second COVID waves brought the world to a standstill. The pandemic hit various sectors, with travel and tourism being the worst hit of them all. The government has slowly eased various restrictions that it had put in place to deal with the pandemic. Things seem to be getting back to normal, or the new normal, now.

With the gradual opening up, travel seems to be a big area of interest. People are now keen on exploring destinations closer to home, but are still wary of travelling overseas, or long-haul international flights.

As far as domestic tourism goes, its recovery or revival will depend on factors like the number of COVID cases across the country, the pace of vaccination and, most importantly, the third wave.

Thanks to ‘lockdown fatigue’, the need to break free from mundane routines, travel restrictions being lifted by various state governments that people have now started travelling again, or are atleast looking forward to it.

When the travellers were away

Despite suffering for the most part of 2020 and early 2021, the segment did not shy away from engaging with the travellers.

Eshan Joshi, head of marketing, Zostel (a network of backpacker hostels and homes), says that it was important to keep communicating with the travellers. This despite the fact that during the initial lockdown, people were not allowed to travel. Zostel continued to communicate with its audience, providing updates about the travel situation, or government directives.

Eshan Joshi, Zostel
Eshan Joshi, Zostel

Travel aggregator platform ixigo rolled out a public awareness campaign to encourage safe travel and boost engagement with its users. The campaign included a series of relatable, educational and entertaining videos. The platform wanted to educate the people on how they could reduce their risk of infection, while travelling.

Similarly, Club Mahindra used the time to strengthen its digital capabilities, and connect with its members using new and innovative means. The Club Mahindra members’ community became a good engagement platform, where people shared their experiences.

There were other campaigns like ‘Love India See India’. By participating in the ‘Family Premier League’ contest around IPL 2020, families could win one of the 75 holidays on offer. ‘Fantastic Family Show’ offered holiday and gift vouchers.

Travelling trends in vogue

‘Revenge travel’ seems to be on the rise, but travellers have also become cautious of their choices now more than ever before. According to Pratik Mazumder, CMO, Mahindra Holidays & Resorts India, their guests are looking for personalised and unique vacations in niche locations that are close to local communities.

Pratik Mazumder, Mahindra Holidays & Resorts India
Pratik Mazumder, Mahindra Holidays & Resorts India

“We have observed that the travellers prefer destinations that are at drivable distances in the safety of their vehicles. They are opting for offbeat, non-congested tourist destinations.”

"Travellers prefer destinations that are at drivable distances in the safety of their vehicles. They are opting for offbeat, non-congested tourist destinations."
Pratik Mazumder, CMO, Mahindra Holidays & Resorts India

‘Workations’ became the biggest tourism trend in India in 2020, as per experts. And while leisure travel is seeing an uptick now, the former is still here to stay.

Manan Bajoria, VP growth, product marketing and analytics, ixigo, points out that most travellers are now opting for home rentals or service apartments/villas as their preferred choice of workation accommodation, followed by resorts and eco-friendly properties.

Manan Bajoria, ixigo
Manan Bajoria, ixigo

He adds that after the second wave, leisure travel also seems to be on the rise. Then there is festive travel that is proving to be a boon for all the three modes of transport, i.e., flights, trains and buses.

Mazumder talks about the trend of people relocating and setting up ‘work from home’ in leisure destinations. Youngsters account for 30 per cent of such travellers.

Highlighting another dominant trend, Yatish Jain, OYO’s VP & chief growth officer, informs that travellers are keen to explore local hidden gems, and are opting for staycations, weekend getaways, road trips and short homestays.

Yatish Jain, OYO
Yatish Jain, OYO
"Travellers are keen to explore local hidden gems, and are opting for staycations, weekend getaways, road trips and short homestays."
Yatish Jain, VP & chief growth officer, OYO

Gen Z and millennials are explorers at heart and are always on the lookout for novel experiences. They tend to prefer backpacker hostels that offer exciting, budget-friendly options. The opportunity to meet new people, share travel stories and know about different cultures are all perks of opting for a backpacker hostel option.

Domestic destinations in demand

Travellers are also looking for holiday spots that haven’t yet been explored, or commercialised. Kumbhalgarh near Udaipur, Landour near Mussoorie and Mashobra near Shimla are gaining popularity. Joshi of Zostel informs that destinations like Ladakh, Spiti, Coorg, Wayanad, Panchghani, Kodaikanal and Ooty are popular now, owing to the monsoon season. Manali, Lahaul, Mukteshwar, Chitkul, Bir and McLeodganj aren’t all that far behind.

Bajoria of ixigo says that when travel resumed last year, the platform saw an increase in search queries for popular destinations and getaways, such as Goa, Jaipur, Shimla, Udaipur and Uttarakhand.

OYO’s Jain says, "Among leisure travellers, Jaipur, Goa, Visakhapatnam, Kochi and Udaipur emerged as the most popular destinations in August 2021."

Safety is a priority

The travel and hospitality industry underwent a major overhaul to cater to the safe and hygienic travel need of the consumers. The staff had to be trained on enhanced sanitation and hygiene protocols, contactless check-in and check-out, physically distant service interactions, as well as highest quality food preparation and service.

Club Mahindra’s initiatives, like ‘Safe Stay’ program and ‘Travel with Confidence’, ensured that its resorts were able to maintain high standard of safety and hygiene. This helped to instil confidence amongst its guests.

Ixigo also implemented certain measures and modified its policies in light of the pandemic. The process of rescheduling and cancellation of bookings is largely automated now. The platform provides greater flexibility to its users to defer or cancel their travel plans. It has launched ‘ixigo assured’, where its users can cancel their tickets for any reason and receive a refund (of up to Rs 5,000), for a nominal charge.

To help its users plan their future trips better, ixigo has launched a dedicated COVID help centre and a guideline section to provide timely information to travellers on the latest domestic and international travel guidelines, says Bajoria.

Light at the end of the tunnel

The sector is now pinning its hopes on ‘vaccine passports’ that will not only help the domestic industry, but also boost international travel. The government has, time and again, laid emphasis on the importance of digitalising and transforming the tourism offerings. A ‘vaccine certificate’ will further facilitate the movement of travellers and revive the sector.

But the industry still needs to put strategies in place to deal with the impact (if any) of the third wave.

Says Majumder, “We are ready to manage costs and operations in an effective manner. We have prepared ourselves in a manner that helps us ramp up or ramp down our operations, quickly and effectively. We have upscaled and digitised most of our processes, and implemented several SOPs to ensure the highest level of safety for our people as well as members.”

He reveals that over 90 per cent of Club Mahindra’s front-line staff have already received their first COVID jabs.

Joshi of Zostel says that nobody wishes to be hit by a third wave. “The economy has barely restarted. What we are vary of now are protocols and practices. We have done our best to create a safe and hygienic environment, and hope that everyone else does the same too. Together, we can avert this crisis,” he signs off.