Covid-19 brought the tourism and travel sector globally to a grinding halt for almost two years. Countries and holiday spots with a huge dependence on travellers have borne the brunt of Covid the most. Many countries are cautiously reopening their doors to visitors. But it will be some time before airports, shopping arcades, hotels, restaurants and entertainment shows see business getting back to normal. International arrivals in 2021 were 72% below the pre-pandemic year of 2019, and the industry suffered a loss of almost $4.5 trn, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council, Economic Impact Report 2020.
In many countries, domestic tourism is picking up momentum faster than international tourism due to the relative ease of processes related to testing and vaccination, eagerness of travellers to venture out and the opening up of the skies and rail systems. Amidst the churn that the sector has been experiencing are some interesting trends thrown up by the digital transition. The surge in the adoption of digital media in the tourism sector has been phenomenal. While governments and large establishments are trying to woo back customers with digital campaigns and attractive promotion packages, this boost from unexpected quarters has the potential to disrupt the travel and tourism sector.
This change is being led by the individual stakeholders, namely drivers, tourist guides, guesthouses, small restaurant owners and others who have learnt to use the digital medium to their advantage and offer personalised experiences to travellers at affordable costs. They have been quick to understand the impact of Covid-19 on travellers and innovated the fastest to find customers and rebuild their businesses. For instance, in the paradise island of Bali, drivers have figured out the importance of providing excellent service and building relationships with customers. They have also mastered the art of seeking reviews from their customers to grow their business.
Even in the remote Indonesian island of Nusa Penida, small restaurants perched on cliffs offering panoramic views have set up comfortable cliffside seating to not only woo customers to spend time and money there but also motivate them to take selfies and share them with their friends. Such unpaid publicity via the digital medium is boosting businesses.
Closer home, priests of temples in Madurai and Kanchipuram not only offer personalised temple visits through apps but are also providing tourist guide support for travellers interested in knowing about the art and culture around the temples. To take another example, painters and artists in Leh, Ladakh have started promoting their creative renditions through digital exhibitions and are designing personalised assets for their customers.
Simply put, the pandemic has led to offerings centred on personalisation and customer intimacy – many of which have been made possible by digital tools. While the many young, solo operators have been able to get their act together quickly because of their comfort with the digital medium, large establishments need to invest in digital-led business approaches and, most importantly, change their mindset towards customers in order to succeed in the post pandemic scenario.
The writer is chairperson, Global Talent Track, a corporate training solutions firm