COVID-19 to fuel new wave of innovation for travel industry: What will it take for things to go back to how it was?

August 26, 2020 1:14 PM

A multi-dimensional innovation approach is absolutely critical in these times, especially for the travel industry.

COVID-19, travel industry, bus travellers, Post Pandemic Travel, Online bookings, domestic traveller, latest news on travel, coronavirus outbreakThe travel industry in India has grown massively in the last few years to become a major economy contributor. (Representational image)

By Mr Shailesh Gupta

The Twin Crises

We are on a dual fight with COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic pressure. Crises such as a pandemic and economic downturns have happened in the past but we have always recovered. A multi-dimensional innovation approach is absolutely critical in these times, especially for the travel industry. Right now, travel brands must earn the trust of their customers by investing in relevant, safe solutions. Certain current trends of the pandemic are showing a positive turn. Once this improves, we can expect a surge in travel and be prepared to handle it. COVID-19 has, in many ways, accelerated some much needed changes in this sector in India. For example, bus travellers in India had come to accept dilapidated conditions of buses and infrastructure as normal. Not anymore. The pandemic has steered hygiene and safety as must haves. Travellers are no longer going to accept anything less.

The travel industry in India has grown massively in the last few years to become a major economy contributor. India attracted 10.5 million foreign visitors last year; 5 million NRIs travelled back home to be with family and friends; 1.8 billion Indians travelled within the country for holidays, pleasure and leisure; 26 million Indians travelled overseas for tourism. From being on the periphery, it has come to occupy a part of the economic centre stage. According to a report by Grant Thornton & FICCI, the travel and tourism industry provided 87.5 million jobs and accounted for 12.75% of the total jobs created in the country in 2019. We have an opportunity to bring in out-of-the-box solutions that can change the course of travel norms for the better. Restrictions are progressively being lifted as people return to work and start travelling again on a limited scale. The process will be a slow, steady one, based on real time happenings. Initially, the sector will have to be nimble footed while planning its services because the demand will be staggered.

Post Pandemic Travel

Is travel going to be how it was pre-COVID 19? The answer is not straight forward and will be driven by rationality and sentiments. Safety is not going to be the only factor responsible for instilling confidence in people to travel. The perfect experience will come by leveraging new age technology that seeps into every aspect of the business. Innovation is, as such, inevitable.

Convenience in using services, customization, extension of safety and hygiene to stations and other common areas, traffic control, crisis management, etc. are all important. People today are used to technology based services and experiences. There is no reason why they should be disconnected from it while travelling on a bus or train. The rate of this adoption by players is going to be directly proportional to their rate of business success.

Online bookings and payment, real time updates, better work hours management systems, reduced physical touch points, better crowd management systems, sensors for social distancing, masks and sanitisers availability, regular sanitisation, wearable technologies, camera surveillance, the possibilities are endless.

COVID-19 will fuel a multi-pronged impact. We have seen behavioural changes in India that include quick adoption of safe practices such as wearing masks and using hand sanitisers. The fact that in a country like India, a majority of people need to step out for their livelihoods has somewhat driven this swift and mass adoption. Business changes are also evident. We now have deals being closed over a video call. This means higher digital interaction. Travellers were, earlier, okay to travel in crowded modes of transportation. This is going to change significantly. They will now opt for less crowded means and reduce chances of contamination. One might even see a temporary increase in the use of personal vehicles. Crucial to delivering an end-to-end safe experience is collaboration between the industry and the government to leverage each other’s strengths. As with any other industry, this too is people led. Leaders must stand at the forefront to keep motivation levels up and focus on innovation led strategies. The travel industry is one with one of the most diverse set of workforce which makes it all the more crucial for the leadership to engage them and steer focus towards the right direction. This is also a great time for entrepreneurs to dive in and help deliver required, effective, efficient and sustainable solutions.

How Will Priorities Change?

In the first phase, we are witnessing people going out for a short drive in their personal vehicles. In the second phase, this will transition to weekend trips followed by inter-city travel in the third phase. For customers, the overarching priority has transitioned to safety. And for businesses, it will be to ensure that. Also, customise their services that will be relevant, hassle free and innovative. They must stay close to the customer and be easily discoverable. As of now, they will have to maximize their revenue opportunity from available opportunities. Post COVID-19, travel will have a sure but staggered upward trajectory.

Summing Up

As a lay of nature, the travel industry will once again take its upward curve. As customers start welcoming slow, incremental for their own well-being, they will enjoy better experiences as the focus of the industry will stay on the domestic traveller in the near future.

(The author is Founder & CEO at Yolobus. Views expressed are personal.)

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