LAUNCHING A RESPONSIBLE RESTART: India hopes to peek through the foggy future of international travel

Bringing penalties in multi-fold effects, the iniquitous COVID-19 seems to have staged a deep and damaging impression on the global travel and tourism industry that has crippled its economies too. However, the undying spirits of today’s outbound travellers have brought in a more responsible and resistant tourism, bringing every “safe” country surface back on the world tourism map. Through this process, conscious travelling seems to have become the “new normal” of travelling, more than ever before. Sustainability and responsibility – once terms that destinations were promoting as part of their bigger marketing and communications bubble has now shifted to travellers. Travellers will trust destinations with good governance and health systems, and many health protocols adopted during the pandemic will remain, such as social distancing and travelling to less crowded areas.

At the present, with the worldwide air connectivity and responsible movement gradually fetching a pace forward, India also seems to be shifting its gears for a better acceleration to go beyond the borders. The conscientious regeneration of tourism is underway around the world as growing numbers of destinations ease COVID-19-related travel restrictions and adapt to the new reality. With sensible tourism gradually bringing forward a slice of assurance in the minds of the tourism business players, we focus on the significance of ‘conscious travelling’ as we connect with the market players of outbound tourism in India. In conjunction with this, we comprehend the new-age travelling regulations that are here to stay and secure its place in the minds and lives of every traveller, here after

 Ts Sayanti Halder

 

ANIL PARASHAR, PRESIDENT & CEO, INTERGLOBE TECHNOLOGY QUOTIENT (ITQ)

Two facts are becoming predominantly apparent on our journey towards the next quarter of 2020. First, how economies are eventually witnessing recovery especially in response to resumption of international flights and second is the pent-up demand to travel slowly showing signs of indulgence by end-consumer. ITQ has been sanguine about the prospects and forthcoming with technical agility and resourcefulness, more so with recently launched COVID-19 plug-in and research report on such measures as required by travellers to consider travelling, in association with our technology partner, Travelport. Our exclusive domestic flight content partner, Air India, has also launched a super saver pack for travelling domestically. With such incredible offers and six months of previously negligible to limited travelling, both leisure and business, there is unambiguously an elevated urge to travel and explore, meet the loved ones, revisit the good times, reconnect with peers or witness business performance in person. Now, with borders easing restrictions further, travellers are likely to consider taking that journey after all, albeit domestically in the initial stages to test the water before diving deeper.

 SENSIBLE SOJOURNS:

Mindfulness has been an exceedingly focused concept for us here at ITQ and extended further to our vast network of travel agents. For travellers, being mindful of their own and their fellow travellers’ safety will prove a turning point in the history of travel. As witnessed across ages, every second decade or so there happens a major shift in structure and behaviours across industries and globally. This time for travel industry that evolution begins with cognizance, all the while staying mindful of each other’s safety and specific needs, both as travellers and travel industry professionals

 

 

VINAY MALHOTRA, REGIONAL GROUP COO – SOUTH ASIA, MIDDLE EAST & NORTH AFRICA, AMERICAS, VFS GLOBAL

We are conscious of the fact that in the post-COVID world, health and hygiene considerations will take precedence for travellers. Thus, VFS Global has established standardised protective measures to be followed at every step of the visa process across all our Visa Application Centres. With physical distancing becoming the new normal, we are already witnessing an increased demand from travellers for services that allow them to complete their visa application processes from the safety of their homes. Thus, more customers are opting for personalised services such as ‘Visa at Your Doorstep’ and ‘return of the passport by courier’ services. In terms of outlook for India market, it has all the right ingredients for it to continue as a strong source and destination tourism market going forward. Experiences from the past prove that the travel and tourism industry is very resilient, and rebounds usually fairly quickly again. Though, this pandemic might have a deeper impact on customers’ travel behaviour, depending on the further development and the availability of a vaccine. Nevertheless, the travel industry is well-placed to lead future recovery and remains an above-average growth driver for many economies.

 SENSIBLE SOJOURNS:

This pandemic has given us a golden chance to bring a much stronger focus on sustainable tourism. And, everyone in the travel ecosystem will have to show a commitment to achieve this goal. Travellers will have to follow conscious travelling practices such as less use of plastic, leaving no traces in tourist spots, reducing carbon footprint, respecting local culture and giving back to the community. Travel companies, alternatively, must collaborate with the authorities handling destinations to streamline tourism activity, manage the rising number of visitors, and meet theirs as well as the locals’ expectations. It is also vital that policymakers facilitate an environment where the industry, the tourists, and other stakeholders are encouraged to act on sustainability

 

RISHI VERMA, HEAD OF INDIA SUBCONTINENT, RCI

Despite the fact that international flights are gradually resuming operations, we feel a lot of the international travel happening right now is basis an emergency or necessity and not for travel and tourism purposes. Noticing the patterns of people travelling these days, we, at RCI, are currently putting all our energy on domestic travel for the remaining bit of 2020. At present, that fastest way to bounce back is an inward looking, domestically oriented, Incredible India. As it offers massive opportunities for travel, India is bigger than 24 countries of Europe and has a wide variety of tourism products; we still have a lot to discover within India itself. In terms the India market influx, India has a massive amount of heritage and post the lockdown, there will be a huge focus on cultural tourism. My own belief is that the world will move towards shorter duration holidays and more of experiential and responsible travel that is about discovering and giving back to the destination. India is far richer than other countries in these assets. Therefore, India has a unique opportunity to attract people from across the world in the post COVID-19 era.

SENSIBLE SOJOURNS:

We all have individually seen a lot, but I am confident that each one has learnt a lot too. As responsible people of the travel trade industry, we need to ensure we stay connected and aligned with government norms and guidelines while fighting this pandemic. RCI does not own any properties but has trusted affiliates and resorts, which help us in providing a wide array of travel and lifestyle services and safety has been an ever-present factor in it. Our partners keep us informed about all the safety protocols being followed. Travellers need to focus on having minimal contact and take up digitisation wherever they can.

 

FLORIAN SENGSTSCHMID, CEO, AZERBAIJAN TOURISM BOARD (ATB)

The situation with the pandemic has prompted the closure of borders and had a significant negative impact on the global tourism industry, Azerbaijan is of no exception. The country is gradually recovering after the lockdown measures, and a positive dynamic has allowed the authorities to slowly ease the restrictions of the quarantine regime. In terms of recovery, ATB was quick to prepare a four-phase plan. We are currently in Phase Two, when restrictions on movement have loosened and allowed us to launch our “MacəraYaxındadır” (Adventure is Near) domestic tourism campaign. Phase Three will follow the reopening of borders to international tourists and see marketing campaigns resume while Phase Four will signal a return to the “new normal,” when tourists explore the country again. We are closely working with the relevant stakeholders to make sure that once the international travel ban is lifted and borders reopen, we are ready to welcome back visitors from all over the globe. India has always been a key market with immense potential. We witnessed an exceptional year of growth in tourism in 2019, with Indian visitor numbers up by 66.8 per cent, while in January-February 2020 this number grew by 81.8 per cent. Certainly, after the international travel restrictions are lifted, we will welcome many more Indian visitors to Azerbaijan.

SENSIBLE SOJOURNS:

Certainly, soon visitors will return, since we cannot live without travelling and exploring. Yes, travel may never be the same again, but different doesn’t mean worse and we can expect it to be healthier, less crowded, and more sustainable. We are not rushing to be among the first countries that open their borders as the safety and security of both visitors and residents are of utmost priority for us. We introduced SAHMAN (Sanitation and Hygiene Methods and Norms), an innovative health and safety programme for local industry players aimed at improving standards of hygiene and sanitation, audited and certified by PWC. It focuses on accommodation, F&B and transportation providers – three key aspects of the tourism value chain

 

THOYYIB MOHAMED, MANAGING DIRECTOR, MALDIVES MARKETING & PR CORPORATION (MMPRC)

We have resumed international flights to Maldives in mid-July with a comprehensive set of safety measures in place. Resorts are well equipped to ensure the highest level of safety for tourists throughout their stay. Staffs are trained in the new safety procedures. Screening, safe distancing and disinfection procedures have also been established at airports, guest transfer vessels and aircrafts. Response measures, guidelines and protocols have been established on par with international standards. Those who have visited the Maldives would know that the country’s unique geography offers natural isolation for those staying at any of the country’s resorts. Our signature ‘one-island-one-resort’ concept offers visitors a high level of safety in their respective resorts. The measures put in place, together with these unique characteristics, offer visitors the opportunity to remain away from the crowds, maintain social distancing and enjoy a truly safe, and isolated holiday surrounded by the blissful natural beauty of the Maldives. The India market is the fastest growing inbound market for the Maldives registering growth of 83.5 per cent, last year. Furthermore, the ‘air travel bridge’ that has been established between Maldives and India offers a unique opportunity for Indian holidaymakers to visit Maldives.

SENSIBLE SOJOURNS:

While there are little to no restrictions in movement in the resorts, travellers are advised to follow the universal safety guidelines that are in place around the world. Safe distancing is essential as is wearing masks in public places. And although restrictions on movement are not imposed within the resort, it is important that travellers operate within their own personal bubble. I am sure the conscious traveller would understand the importance of the measures in place and each one of them would have developed their very own ways of keeping themselves safe while on holiday. Travel agents and tour operators must ensure that travelers are well-advised of the safety procedures that are in place

 

ARVIND BUNDHUN, DIRECTOR, MAURITIUS TOURISM PROMOTION AUTHORITY (MTPA)

Mauritius is free from COVID-19 as there are no positive cases in the country since May 2020. However, there are a few Mauritians who have been tested positive on return to the island, through repatriation, but were immediately quarantined in government run facilities. The Government of Mauritius has now decided to open the borders of the island in a phased manner starting from October 2020. In the first phase, foreign tourists will be allowed to visit Mauritius for long stays only. After negative COVID-19 test results and 14 days in quarantine, visitors will be able to travel around the island. Depending on the success of this phase, the government shall consider the next course of action. Mauritius and India have a long-established tie that surpasses the tourism boundaries since Mauritius is a destination that touches the hearts of all Indian guests. Once the crisis is over and everything is back to normal there will be a demand built-up for a much-needed break.

SENSIBLE SOJOURNS:

The Coronavirus crisis has moved the world towards a responsible, sustainable and socially-innovative tourism. A slower pace and greater personal interaction with the locals and their culture is seen. We would recommend travellers to focus on cleanliness and sanitization, which are the new norms for travelling. Also, travellers must use masks, sanitiser and maintain physical distancing along with opting mostly for contactless interactions. Our recommendations for the travel agents will be to work closely with MTPA and other stake holders with a motto ‘One Destination; One Voice’ and strictly follow the new value propositions built around safe and secure travel

 

ROMIT THEOPHILUS, DIRECTOR, GERMAN NATIONAL TOURIST OFFICE (GNTO) INDIA

While international air travel has been suspended in India for a long time, some international flights are ready to take off now under special operations. Flights to Germany will be operating from India now under the temporary reciprocal arrangement. All Indian and foreign airlines have been given permissions to fly citizens of any country. However, air travel for these passengers is subjected to restrictions that the government of destination countries have imposed. Passenger confidence
will still suffer even after the pandemic is contained; the spread of COVID-19 has slowed to the point where governments are planning to lift the most severe elements of social distancing restrictions. But an immediate rebound from the catastrophic fall in passenger demand appears unlikely. People still want to travel, however they want clarity on the economic situation, safety measures and will likely wait for at least few months before returning to the skies. Despite a drop in new coronavirus infections in Germany, there is little sign that it is the high season in many holiday regions. This corresponds with the forecast that neighbouring markets will be the quickest to recover from the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown

 

SENSIBLE SOJOURNS:

Conscious travel is making sure that when travelling, you are mindful and take into consideration the impact of your trip on the environment and the local surroundings. Choosing a more conscious travel experience can mean taking a local’s perspective, integrating with the local community and seeking meaningful experiences, all of which will provide a more authentic experience as well as being more environmentally friendly. Being a conscious traveller doesn’t mean giving up all of your travel luxuries, instead it means making small and conscious steps to create a sustainable travel economy that positively gives back to the local community and its environment. Lastly, support your travel agent, tour guide or neighbourhood accommodation establishment by bringing in some income for them, no matter how small

 

ARZAN KHAMBATTA, HEAD, CZECH TOURISM (INDIA)

The Czech Republic has, so far, been able to fight this pandemic fairly well. It is amongst the least-affected countries in Europe. This is due to our prompt and conscious efforts undertaken to flatten the curve and decrease the spread of COVID-19. With international flights gradually resuming, we are optimistic that we will soon be ready to invite the Indian travellers to visit our magnificent and scenic country. Right now, health and safety of everyone is at the utmost priority. We, at the Czech Republic, have been focused on preparing our destination for tourism again by ensuring that measures related to health and hygiene are strictly followed and undertaken so that we can safely welcome Indian tourists again.

SENSIBLE SOJOURNS:

The fear of the pandemic will not only leave a lasting impact on the travel industry but also create a shift in the way travellers approach planning their trips. In terms of conscious travelling practices, we encourage travellers to give way to mindful, selective, sustainable and slow tourism for their well-being. Tourists who prefer travelling to mid and long-haul destinations should spend more time in one place and explore that region rather than hopping to different countries. Apart from discovering the destination in depth and understanding its culture and surroundings, this will also keep them safe and hassle free from formalities and cautiousness required while crossing international borders

 

SARA SODHI JUNEJA, COUNTRY HEAD – INDIA, VISIT FINLAND

Currently, Finland is welcoming leisure travellers from a number of countries where the Coronavirus situation has eased. As of September 19, the new limit value of the Finnish government for travel to Finland without mandatory testing or quarantine is a maximum of 25 new cases of the disease per 1,00,000 persons in the country in the previous 14 days. As of November 23, leisure travel will also be possible from all EU and Schengen countries (including the UK) with infection rates above 25 per 1, 00, 000 people. However, travellers from these countries will need to have proof on arrival in Finland of a negative COVID-19 test result no older than 72 hours. On arrival in Finland, visitors from these countries are placed in quarantine for 72 hours after, which they need to take a second test. However travel from Red Zone countries like India, USA etc is still restricted and we are hopeful to hear some positive news in the coming months. General health and safety measures regarding Coronavirus in Finland include avoiding physical contact, maintaining a safe distance from other people and observing good hand and respiratory hygiene.

SENSIBLE SOJOURNS:

Living sustainably and in harmony with the environment is deep-rooted in Finland and is an essential element of responsible travel. To help the tourism industry in Finland to adopt sustainable practices, Visit Finland has developed the Sustainable Travel Finland programme including slow travel, slow food, slow shopping, and green (sustainable, Finnish) design. By choosing products with an eco-label and traveling to destinations that take environmental protection seriously, you offset some of the burden traveling abroad puts on the planet. The label is only awarded for those companies and destinations that have undergone the entire Sustainable Travel Finland programme and fulfilled the criteria. Indian trade partners can route their bookings through them offering sustainable travel programs

 

PRANAV KAPADIA, FOUNDER & DIRECTOR, GLOBAL DESTINATIONS

In the past couple of months, we have experienced unimaginable happenings. None of us could have envisaged the scale and prolonged events about to unfold. In a bid to kick-start tourism, the current resumption of international flights and government implementing “travel bubbles” or air bridges between countries, has definitely brought back a lot of certainty, positivity and hope. This pandemic has once again made us realize that change is the only inevitable constant and the ultimate survivors are going to be the ones who quickly learn to adapt to the ever-evolving environment. Even though the current COVID-19 cases in India are on a rise, the good news is that the recovery rate is high as well. Domestic travel has already started exhibiting enormously positive signs. Internationally, countries like Maldives, UAE, USA etc have already opened borders to welcome Indians. As you know Indians are avid travellers, hence along with us our principals too are very optimistic and confident that India will bounce back soon and much stronger. Many new partners with some very interesting product offerings are already considering India very seriously.

SENSIBLE SOJOURNS:

It is our strong belief that ‘travelling responsibly’ and ‘sustainable tourism’ is the way forward and the traveller needs to be guided and educated on this. We are currently working very closely with our overseas partners and all stakeholders on a varied range of products adapting to this new normal. This also involves procedures of operating on ground in a way which meets the highest levels of recommended safety and hygiene for the traveller. We will be rolling out all of these products in due course, which will not only give our agents but also their clients with confidence to travel further

 

RIAZ MUNSHI, MANAGING DIRECTOR, N. CHIRAG TRAVELS PVT. LTD. & PRESIDENT, OTOAI

While international flights are gradually resuming, we still have a long road to recovery ahead of us. The passengers who are currently travelling international mainly comprise essential travellers returning home, visiting parents, students going back or some people travelling for work. However, the time is now right for commercial flights to start international operations. The hospitality industry has been allowed to open in entirety and airlines too should be allowed to function completely following the new normal and safety protocols. People have understood the safety protocols and a phased opening of the commercial airlines can be undertaken with caps on number of travellers at the airport at a given time. Tourism boards across the world will step and lend the extra support needed by the travellers to travel international again. The fact that countries such as Spain, Slovakia and more have extended gratis visas to Indians who could not travel due to COVID, is testament of their faith in the India outbound market.

SENSIBLE SOJOURNS:

There are numerous guidelines that have been laid down under the “new normal” and it is advisable for the travellers as well the travel trade to follow them. We must guide our clients to destinations that are undertaking the necessary precautions of sanitisation and social distancing. We, at the travel trade, need to figure out an itinerary that is not just extremely appealing but also ‘safe’. With a bit of research, knowledge and ground work, doing so is completely achievable Work with the hotels, operators, guides – basically the principles who all understand the importance of following the rules of the ‘new normal’

 

MAHENDRA VAKHARIA, MANAGING DIRECTOR, PATHFINDERS HOLIDAYS PVT. LTD.

I am as ready and prepared as I was on the day when lockdown was announced. However, as international travel begins sometime in next couple of months to nearby destinations where the government has entered into air bubble agreements, I personally feel that the United Nations as a world body should advise a standard protocol that should be followed by every country in respect to assessing all arriving visitors. This will help in communicating a very clear message of SOP’s and protocols, which will clear so many doubts in the mind of not only the traveller but also the facilitator. This will also  reduce the anxiety of travel in post-COVID, drastically. As far as the India market is concerned, I am sure it will bounce back to its original path of forward movement and build up on the positive travel curve. Travel is a habit that is very difficult to curb and let go off!

 

SENSIBLE SOJOURNS:

The pandemic is the mirror that was put in-front of all us to see what we have done in our lives and how we have lived our lives in general. Be conscious and select tourism products that are funneling the proceeds of the activity back to the local community in a good proportion, avoid travelling during peak season and instead look out for shoulder and lean season to travel – this way you will not only avoid the large crowds but also get advantage of the pricing. Try and support lot of individual and family owned properties / attractions / activities as they require the support the maximum going forward

 

ARSHDEEP ANAND, CEO, HMA SPECTRUM & EC MEMBER, OTOAI

We are already experiencing a revival of travel within the country as people are becoming more confident and also with states easing out restrictions. There have been too many months of no business, so sitting at home and watching the world go by in this prevalent disruption. Lot of time has been spent introspecting, up-skilling and even re-skilling, where we have learnt that every crisis brings an opportunity. I firmly believe that our view has certainly changed as to how we look at our world today; there is a more holistic approach in thoughts and deeds. The time has come to discard the older, less efficient models in favour of modern, tech driven, more efficient models, ensuring optimum use of available resources. There is a huge opportunity now for every individual to contribute by adopting measures to make the world a safer, more hygienic, less polluted more people friendly place. Travelling will be even more delightful experience now for we see the world with new clean eyes.

SENSIBLE SOJOURNS:

Conscious Travelling practices certainly have to come in place and should be followed religiously. The travellers and the trade both need to understand that we can only move forward if we are unified in our efforts. Operational guidelines for travel trade are already in place, whether it is airports, hotels, transporters, restaurants, sightseeing attractions, shopping malls,  so this becomes the moral duty of every person involved to do their bit to ensure the guests’ safety and hygiene. Random checks should be made by the top management at regular intervals so that a slack can be nipped in the bud. Similarly, each individual traveller must ensure that proper protocol is being followed by them

 

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