Design to drive the return of Tourism

The insurance industry needs to design new products around communicable diseases.

Published: 11th May 2020 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 11th May 2020 06:13 AM   |  A+A-

An illuminated Qutub Minar at Mehrauli in New Delhi. (Photo | Shekhar Yadav, EPS)

Every time I travelled to a remote place that had only small, shabby hotels, I carried my own cotton sheets and towels. This was my way of ensuring my cleanliness bubble. I did the same on overnight train travels. Now, I will extend this to all travels in the foreseeable future. Theplas and khakhras accompanied me to all the places that were not too vegetarian friendly. Now, they may accompany me for all travels. The same goes for water—to minimise touchpoints with strangers. The sanitiser would be the new shoes; you can’t step out without it. Where possible, I would stay with family and friends, as homes seem safer than hotels.

Like me, as and when holidaymakers do come back, some of their habits would have changed forever and businesses would have to respond innovatively and creatively to cater to them. The corporate world has more or less adapted to digital meetings. Business travel would be restricted by companies to a large extent to take care of their own balance sheets. After the lockdown, for three-six months, we would mostly see only emergency and absolutely necessary travel taking place.

The tourism and hospitality industry is not only the worst impacted by the ongoing pandemic but would probably be the last one to get back on its feet. Capacity utilisation would go down for airlines, hotels and restaurants, pushing the prices up, which in turn would act as a deterrent for leisure travellers, creating a kind of negative spiral. New hygiene and touchpoint protocols will add to the costs.

People, stuck at home for months now, would need to work for some time to earn their next holiday. A fear of getting stuck in a distant land would keep them in the vicinity of their homes. Couple it with lack of public transport, travel would be limited to distances as far as people’s own vehicles can take them. Large events of any kind, personal or professional, remain out of question.

Nature and wellness holidays are likely to pick up first. I see a surge in learning holidays, where people travel to a destination in a small group and stay in one place to learn a skill. These could be yoga camps, spiritual retreats, writing retreats, bird-watching sojourns, family gatherings or anything where you stay in one place. This also means less travel overall but longer stays at one place.

On a positive note, we should see the onset of a much-needed balance between over-tourism at a handful of destinations and untapped potential at less explored destinations. This is the best time for tourism boards to revamp their destination maps and promote geographically spread-out destinations in their regions. A proactive reach-out can place these destinations in the wish list of future clients, especially domestic clients. This can not only contain losses but also create new revenue streams and expand the customer base. International borders being closed is a great opportunity for the domestic tourism industry to offer alternatives within the country to this 25 million-plus base of tourists who travel abroad.

Destinations like Sicily are leading with incentivisation plans for tourists who plan to visit them soon after the lockdown, by way of free entry to attractions or heavy discounts on flights and hotels. Every destination would need an ‘ab initio’ approach to re-establishing its branding.

Start-ups can look at designing products that expand the industry footprint beyond just selling rooms and flights. This includes curating and creating engagement opportunities for visitors that encourages them to stay longer at the destinations. India has a range of under-explored experiences—right from culinary to cultural, from nature to adventure, to cities to tribal, from wellness to spiritual and sports to entertainment. Robust collaborations between tourism and the handicrafts and handloom industry to design new-age souvenirs soaked in Indian ethos are the need of the hour. After the pause, these products would come in handy when tourists would look for destinations that offer something to do for a longer duration.

The insurance industry needs to design new products around communicable diseases. Covid-19 free certification may become a requirement for crossing borders. However, one would still need to insure for any infections picked up during travel, to contain the financial and social risks it comes with. Governments would not do free evacuations forever, and the medical costs would be prohibitive with long cycles of recovery and isolation. Touchless interactions would have to be enabled using technology-led interventions.

‘Design’ would be the keyword. Public spaces would demand re-design, public interactions would need new process designs and it is an opportunity to design new local products.It is heartening to see innovative brand management by a few jungle lodges as they send sights and sounds of jungle life to their regular and potential clients. It shows that the industry has not lost hope. Let’s hope that the hospitality brands that lent a helping hand by becoming quarantine facilities or running the food kitchens for those struck away from home will be amply rewarded by travellers in future.

(Anuradha Goyal is the author and founder of IndiTales and can be contacted at @anuradhagoyal)


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