With the outbreak of Covid-19 in the country, tourist bookings decline majorly but domestic options see an uptick. So tour operators are introducing discounted schemes and suggesting measures to ensure safety, says Chahak Mittal
Out there, a new deadly virus is ready to threaten our lives once again. This time, it’s very much alive in the air that we breathe. And there’s no way to find out if you have inhaled it already. It has the potential to wipe out millions of us and affect a country’s economy and various businesses. And the first industry to have been seriously hit is the travel & tourism sector. History is evidence of how epidemics have a direct and immediate impact on hotels, restaurants, airlines, and travel aggregators and agencies. The Covid-19 or the Coronavirus is badly affecting the travel economy with a global curfew and restrictive advisories. A China tour operator recently declared bankruptcy and Chinese tourist enterprises are shutting their services one after the other.
With the recent outbreak of the virus in the national capital, travel operators are complaining of a sharp decline in tourist bookings, especially to South Asian countries and parts of Europe. Tourists are cancelling their long-planned vacations, honeymoons and corporate trips. But there is a silver lining. Those who have cancelled their plans are shifting to domestic travel options. As per the Travel Agents Federation of India, with a number of cancellation of bookings, there has been a loss of `200-300 crore. One hopes that by travelling within, we can survive the aftershocks.
Number of bookings declines
Nishant Pitti, co-founder and CEO, EaseMyTrip, said, “There has been a huge drop in outbound travel, especially in the bookings for the Southeast Asian countries. We have witnessed a sudden hike in the number of cancellations since the outbreak. Travellers have become very cautious about their travel plans and they are either postponing their trips, changing their destinations or cutting trips short to return home sooner. Cancellations have risen up to 30 to 35 per cent.”
Specifying the destinations, MakeMyTrip spokesperson said, “Data on our platform indicates that flight bookings for Southeast Asian countries have been significantly impacted. Countries in the West, including the US and Europe are seeing a huge dip. However, we continue to extend complete support and comfort to our travellers amid the chaos. And together with airline partners, we have been proactively offering refunds to travellers in impacted areas.”
Spotlight on India
Even though international travel might have been adversely affected, travel experts claim that domestic travel in the country has seen a surge amid the outbreak. Nishant added, “There hasn’t been much drop in domestic travel, which is only 10 to 15 per cent.”
Anand Menon, brand leader, Travel Tours, Leisure Travel Brand of FCM Travel Solutions, said, “We have seen a 12 to 13 per cent dip in leisure and 10 to 11 per cent dip in corporate travellers from India to abroad, especially China. While the east-bound traffic has been adversely affected, domestic traffic has seen an uptick.” He added that apart from domestic destinations, there has also been a surge in Eastern European countries like Czech Republic, Hungary, Croatia and Serbia.
Rajeev Kale, president and country head, Holiday, MICE, Visa, Thomas Cook (India) Ltd, agreed that with the international condition worsening, the spotlight has “clearly shifted” to India. He said, “We are now encouraging the uptake of over 15 per cent demand for domestic tourism. Destinations that have witnessed high demand for summer 2020 include Andamans, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Kashmir, Kerala and the North East.”
Opting of domestic destinations is also coupled with the growing trend of Indian travellers choosing multiple micro-cations or bite-sized breaks against merely one long annual vacation, points out an expert.
Ensuring safer travel
Cancelling a trip or taking a short haul are certainly the safest options in such a crisis. However, what are travel operators doing to ensure safer travel options for travellers? As a safety measure, experts suggest that travellers should avoid visiting affected areas and follow all guidelines prescribed by the Health Ministry.
Daniel D’souza, president and country head, Leisure, SOTC Travel, said, “We have instituted a safety protocol for our tour managers, coaches and on-ground operations relating to travel from affected areas. We have also rolled out the ‘SOTC Ultra Flexi Scheme’ for new customers. Under the scheme, travellers can be reassured on flexibility on departure dates; only actual visa charges will be charged in case of cancellations which are due to the virus; cover under our DIGIT Insurance will be provided for the full sum insured for Europe, USA, Africa and Australia and New Zealand.”
Experts suggest basic tips like washing hands regularly with soap or an alcohol-based solution, coughing or sneezing into a disposable tissue, watching for symptoms such as of respiratory infections, wearing a mask at crowded places. Rajeev (TCI) said, “Our tour managers are being equipped with emergency contact numbers on-ground at each destination and are co-ordinating with our local destination partners and suppliers to ensure every care and precaution is taken towards the safety of customers.”
Varesh Chopra, regional director, South Asia and the Middle East for the Globus family of brands, Cosmos Vacations, said, “As an added precaution, we are restricting anyone who has travelled from/visited or transited through China, Macau, or Hong Kong, within the 21 days prior to the start of their vacation. If anyone has recently travelled overseas, we recommend that travellers check the current travel policy of their final destinations, which has changed or regulated by many governments.”
For TIRUN (The Indian Representative of Royal Caribbean Cruises), regardless of nationality, boarding is being denied to anyone who has travelled from, to, or through mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Italy, Iran, or South Korea, 15 days prior to embarkation. Varun Chadha, CEO, added, “Our policy also denies any person who has had contact with, or helped care for, anyone suspected or diagnosed with COVID-19, or who are currently subject to health monitoring for possible exposure to virus.”
The cruise company is also making sure that the ships and the terminals are sanitised before and after every sailing. Varun said, “There is also special sanitising of high traffic areas onboard multiple times a day. We’ve added medical staff too.”