After nearly two years of being one of the worst-affected sectors of the pandemic, the travel and tourism industry is finally showing signs of recovery. Indian tourist destinations have risen to prominence as a result of strong pent-up demand and the relaxation of domestic restrictions in the face of the limited reopening of international borders.
While specialists were still assessing the depth of the previous waves' damage and as the travel industry was preparing for a return, Covid struck once more with a new strain known as 'Omicron.'
Despite being branded a variation of concern, there isn't enough evidence to suggest that this virus will be any more dangerous than previous ones, allowing people to go about their daily lives while rigorously adhering to safety precautions and regulations.
It will be uncertain to predict the exact scenario for travel in the post-COVID-19 era, but incumbent players have already begun to adopt a few trends to shape the future of travel in the new normal.
As the economic downturn bites, it appears that people are exploring more local and budget-friendly offerings to satisfy their wanderlust.
Travellers seek quick breaks to counter stress from work from home to convenient short drivable distances, raising demand for easy to book, practical holidays such as workstations, staycations, drive-cations, affordable luxury holidays, and so on.
According to credit rating agency ICRA, the industry saw a faster-than-expected ramp up, owing to fewer restrictions, faster vaccination rates, and pent-up demand, which is resulting in 'revenge travel', making it critical for travellers to follow the CDC recommendations before, after, and during their journey.
Plan & pack carefully
Travellers should expect the unexpected and should plan for not only airline delays, cancellations, and baggage problems, but also for Covid outbreaks in their destination countries, stressing the need for caution and vigilance when travelling, especially considering the Omicron version.
Travellers need flexible plans if a booked location has a sudden rise in cases and must have a Plan B destination or activity as a backup.
Before going global, think locally
International travel has ground to a halt as a result of travel bans around the world, with several countries yet to open their borders to tourists and the others re-shutting it due to the fear of Omicron.
While factoring in rising ticket prices and hotel rates, domestic, short-haul trips are becoming more appealing to travellers. Passengers, whether travelling for pleasure or business, are choosing domestic destinations now, to ensure manageable levels of safety and hygiene while also avoiding the fluctuating quarantine rules between countries.
Governments are also encouraging domestic travel, and travel and hospitality companies are adapting by including incentives and insurance in their travel policies.
The great outdoors
Travellers are more likely to choose outdoor, open spaces such as beaches, forests, national parks, wildlife reserves, and other places where maintaining social distance is easier.
As a result, reports claim that nearly 70% of nature camps, hiking trails, adventure sports, national parks, and beaches have reopened to tourists, while only 50% of indoor spaces such as museums and heritage sites have.
For people seeking to escape the monotony of working from home for an extended period, these new-age hospitality players are also offering staycation or working holiday options with high-speed internet and dedicated workspaces.
In this New Normal, this emerging trend is expected to give rise to new models of guest service that will accommodate changing dynamics at work and elsewhere.
While a few countries have already begun to implement automation and analytics in order to be relevant in the New Normal, many more are preparing to scale up their infrastructure, skills, and costs in order to provide the new-age travel experience.
The current economic slowdown offers an opportunity to imagine the future of leisure travel. Tourism is at a crossroads, and the regulations in place today will determine how tourism develops in the future.
While flexible policy solutions are needed in the short to medium term to allow the tourism economy to coexist with the virus, it is also critical to look beyond this and learn from the crisis.
Covid has revealed gaps in government and industry preparedness as well as coordinated action from all levels of government and the private sector but is also seeing huge resilience from populations, who are refusing to stay locked down for prolonged periods and are itching to travel like before again.
If leisure travel is to be preserved, people must implement the greatest levels of safety precautions and adhere to all established regulations in order to prevent another wave from sweeping away what's left of tourism.
(The author is Managing Director, Wonderla Holidays Ltd.)
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