From May 17 to June 3, there have been more nights booked for travel on Airbnb in the US, compared to the same period last year
The Federation of Associations of Indian Tourism and Hospitality forecasts that the Covid-19 pandemic could set the industry back by Rs 10 lakh crore. However, Amanpreet Bajaj tells Sapna Nair that “the desire to travel remains”, and local, affordable options will set the tone for travel in the near future.
With losses mounting and tourism still on hold, how optimistic are you of a revival?
Travel and tourism is one of the most important sectors from an economic impact perspective. We are roughly 10% of the GDP. These are very challenging times, and all stakeholders have been impacted — be it operators, airlines or accommodation and transportation service providers. However, it is one of the most resilient sectors. During the many global shocks in the past, we have seen the sector spring back to rapid growth, as and when people are ready to travel again. We are seeing some very encouraging signs globally. From May 17 to June 3, there have been more nights booked for travel on Airbnb in the US, compared to the same period last year. It may be a short-term spurt, but it is indicative.
In India, the Minister of Tourism has put in place a task force to create a conducive system for travel and tourism to resume again. It is going to involve a tripartite solution — where the government comes in with the regulations, the health authorities with hygiene protocols, and the private sector has to implement these guidelines and communicate them to the guest community. I am very optimistic that as states start opening up borders and release travel guidelines, people will travel. There is a pent-up demand.
How do you envisage the future of travel, given the growing safety concerns and low discretionary spends?
The way we travel is going to change in the medium to short-term. Firstly, travel is going to be more local — people are likely to choose destinations within 300 km. This will be followed by travel within the state, then domestic, and gradually to other parts of the country and abroad, as people get more comfortable with flights.
We are likely to see younger people venture out first. Given that India has a 230-million-strong urban millennial population, we are more likely to see millennial-led travel. These are travellers who like to travel responsibly, and prefer unique, personalised experiences over standardised ones.
In prioritising safety and hygiene, people are likely to choose options where they have more control over their immediate surroundings, and avoid touristy destinations. Globally, we have launched the Enhanced Clean protocol, which is a 40-page SOP for hosts on cleaning and sanitisation. This will be launched in India soon.
Yes, this is turning out to be an economic crisis. And people are more likely to look at affordable options. For businesses, to be able to operate at all price points is going to be very, very critical.
How equipped is Airbnb to cater to the demand for affordable travel?
We have more than 80,000 listings today, spread across 120 cities in India, not just urban areas. Our business has been getting less urban. We have rural homestays in Gujarat, mud houses in Kerala and other community-based listings. As an open marketplace, we have something to suit every pocket. You can rent out a home for as low as Rs 1,000 for a night, or rent a luxury villa for Rs 1 lakh a night in Goa.
Our new campaign called Go Near highlights nearby locations and affordable options. We are encouraging our host communities to open up their calendars and provide more reasonable options to guests. So, we are very well-suited as a platform in India and globally to lead this demand.
You deem India as one of the top three most important markets. How much does it contribute to the global business?
As a global company, there are three key segments for us: inbound, outbound and the domestic segment. Travel in India remains steadfast with vast potential to grow, especially in domestic markets. Our listings in India are growing at 50% year on year; pockets of tier II cities are growing much faster than normal tier I and urban metros. Domestic is our fastest growing segment — 51% of our business comes from domestic travel. Given India’s demographic mix, we are confident that it will continue to represent a significant number of global travellers when travel resumes.