Fallout of Covid-19: Helping Indians Discover India

If Covid-19 is responsible for devastating the tourism sector never witnessed by anyone in living memory than at the same time the pandemic has opened up a plethora of opportunities for India’s domestic tourism segment like never before, writes Prasenjit Chakraborty.

Emergence of local tourism markets (in respective states) is the most significant change that the pandemic has brought in. In other way one can say that India has emerged as a new travel market for Indians.These local markets are playing a pivotal role in sustaining the business and at the same time preventing further job losses. Not only that such local markets or destinations will continue to be a key driver for recovery in the short to medium term.Take the example of Debjit Dutta, Director & CEO, Impression Tourism Services (India) Pvt. Before the pandemic Dutta used to sell the North East market and concentrate only 10-15 destinations of West Bengal. Today, he sells 66 new destinations in North Bengal alone. “People in cities are desperate to travel and looking to explore nearby destinations which are less crowded and have small boutique properties, etc.,” said Dutta. He also spoke about Jhargram in West Bengal which is also a historical place and drawing huge attention from travellers now like never before. “I have never seen such traffic in Jhargram before and it is completely sold out now,” he revealed.Sabina Chopra, Co-Founder and COO, Corporate Travel & Head Industry Relations, Yatra.com, feels that with travellers turning to domestic destinations as international borders remain beyond the bounds for some time, there is indeed a demand to travel to lesser-known and off beat
destinations in India. “There are a lot of small businesses, boutique hotels and properties in offbeat areas in India. Additionally, travellers are looking to explore such destinations, engage with locals and take in new and personalised experiences,” said Chopra. However, there is a need for aggregation and standardisation of the properties that is fuelled by the ever-increasing domestic traveller segment.

“Some of the offbeat destinations that have seen an uptick in demand are Kasauli, Saputara, Shillong, Khajjar, Hampi, Chitrakoot, and Chikmagalur among others,” Chopra said. India is a huge country and offers ample opportunities and destinations for travellers to explore.The ongoing pandemic has hown that there exists a huge opportunity on the domestic tourism front that are yet to be unleashed. So far, the industry was busy promoting the existing or well-known destinations and never thought beyond that. “If we as stakeholders work aggressively with the local state tourism boards, jointly we can surely identify and develop new circuits and destinations which would be really interesting for the domestic travellers,” pointed out Paras Lakhia, Executive Director, Utopia Travel Services Pvt Ltd. Citing an example, he said that Tirthan Valley and Jibhi in Himachal Pradesh are not very well-known as of now but have all elements to become a relaxing holiday destination amidst nature. “There are many such off beat destinations which can be promoted with excellent opportunities like homestays, villa and private houses to stay,” opined Lakhia.Daniel D’souza, President & Country Head, Leisure, SOTC Travel, feels that rise in local tourism, offbeat places, and wildlife tours are expected. “Demand has similarly increased for drive-cations and rural getaways to experience the local culture. The pent-up travel demand due to the lockdown has resulted in a new-found interest in Destination India,” said D’souza.

First vs Second Wave

By and large it seems that impact of the second wave was more in the domestic tourism sector when compared with that of the first wave. Since travel is purely associated with mindset, and the magnitude of second wave clearly unnerved people, it forced them not to think of it. “The impact of the second wave has been much more than the first wave. Practically everyone has had some casualties or Covid cases in family/among friends. It definitely affects the mindset,” observed Lakhia. According to Dutta, the second wave has made people more cautious and responsible. “After the first wave, people thought coronavirus was gone and they embarked on travel with families and friends. This witnessed a brisk business from November to January in the arena of domestic tourism.
But I strongly feel business is not going to be same compared to last year (September to December) as travellers become cautious and learnt a lesson from the first wave,” pointed out Dutta.Despite higher fatalities in the second wave, the recovery of the sector was faster primarily due to vaccination and phased reopening of sectors. “The second wave comparatively has seen a faster revival due to pent-up leisure demand remaining optimistic, pace of vaccination and phased reopening of services and sectors has led to considerable consumer confidence being restored,” said Chopra.

The Way Forward

The government and key stakeholders have introduced several initiatives that aimed to further boost the confidence of travellers, and they are making informed decisions leading to an uptick in travel demand in the past weeks. But, Chopra believes that promotion of digital activities across the tourism sector is utmost important. “The two key measures that need to be taken on a priority basis is
promoting the digital transition of tourism activities across businesses and rethinking tourism for the future is critical in reviving domestic tourism,” she said. For Lakhia, the priorities are different. He strongly recommends abolishing the existing RTPCR norms pan India for fully vaccinated people. Besides this, he also feels that there has to be more synergies between tourism boards and the stakeholders. “All state tourism boards should play an aggressive role in promoting domestic tourism along with the travel stakeholders. The concerned authorities should ensure that appropriate precautionary norms of safety are followed when travellers visit different states,” stated Lakhia.Dutta made an interesting observation and said fresh ideas are needed to be infused both in domestic as well as inbound sectors. “You have to carefully see what the demand in the market is so that you can supply accordingly. Post pandemic, India is not going to be a favourite destination for foreigners any more unless we take steps,” he pointed out. He said that as far as branding is concerned there has to be a fine balance between cultural and natural heritage. “The Incredible India is definitely a fantastic campaign but is time to re-look into it. Our branding was always complementing our cultural side which is synonymous with crowd. It is time to emphasis on natural heritage like Himalayas, forests,” he pointed out. Another initiative is to include regional destination in the branding process.Because, every region has its niche areas and can attract travellers from different segments. “Traffic needs to be well distributed because responsible travel is the future of tourism,” emphatically said Dutta.

prasenjit.chakraborty@saffronsynergies.in

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