Travel is never at a standstill: every move we make physically contributes. Tourism provides humanity a hope. The present circumstances endure a wide range of impact on travel-related businesses. The issues of lockdown and social distancing has curbed the visitation and has enhanced the interest in digital tourism. The on-ground impact is immense as the sector is unable to understand the future of travel. Meanwhile in India, the front-line engagers in tourism are slow to convert existing customer requirement. Though it is a considered opinion that time as a natural healer shall conquer this chaos through closely monitored effective interactions with safety as a priority. However, on the other side, destination management organizations, the operators and vivid entrepreneurs are looking forward to survival and revival while considering the uncertainty of future traveller.
Before Covid-19 took place the human impact on the environment was significant and was happening in patches. The ocean plastic, forest fires, urbanization because of population explosion, global warming, flooding and over-tourism were few issues which got highlighted in the public domain. The solutions to these problems motivated local businesses to create models in exchange for an everlasting impact. The tourist phenomena never got disturbed but stalled based on access and exclusivity to the chosen destinations. India is a diverse nation, where there is a heterogeneous offering at each step on the road to tourism. For most, it seems chaotic, but the opportunity is to unravel chaos, conquer it and thus, the continuity of tourists will flow. Destinations like India require multiple strategies to counter this challenge. The problems such as lockdown and social distancing are opportunities to re-connect and adapt to oneself as it brings limitless scenarios for humans. The tourism business has been peoples business and operators are being on networking mode to acquire clients. The businesses owners forgot to spend time for deep thinking and crafting a plan on what if the world stopped? Today, the lockdown brought the entire humanity to a stand-still and with no strings attached, it gave everybody time to pause and think.
While coping with business loss, positive campaigns are afloat on digitally cluttered social media platforms. Human nature is curious and with the intent to increase visitation, organizations have to keep imaginative potential away from destination realities. The always inquisitive attitude to gather information has led to anything is possible syndrome with the speedy digital shift. There is a surge in devising a strategic virtual zone for product-driven, market-driven and customer-driven tourism offerings. In India, the gradual confidence in the traveller is managed by targeted awareness on the measures taken by the government. The visually inspired curiosity to travel to lesser-known places, less populated, hidden gems of each urban and rural spaces is establishing new archetypes for revenue generation.
Travel again will certainly happen, however, this time the informed travellers will be more cautious while choosing the destinations. The businesses have to create continuous demand and get onto individual pathfinder strategy while entering into different markets with differentiated products. The itineraries, maps and precision led digitized approach make travelling engaging and unique concepts will be the key driver to motivate destination discovery. The travel marketing companies will have to return the responsibility of marketing the destination to respective authorities and for stakeholders, the unity in diversity mantra has to be imbibed with a focus on implementation. At every step, outsourced marketing companies have to extend support to disseminate accurate information keeping desire and reality differentiated for increased tourist movements.
To gain the trust of the traveller back, to ensure a continuity of tourists – tourism development bodies should ideally focus on creating policies for travel management, bring medical insurances models, plan contingencies to increase economic impact at every stage. The revenue-making scenarios have changed and so are the purchasing behaviours. There are unique drivers to tourism strategy befitting each type of tourist and is connected to market-driven implementation. The new-age travel businesses have to mitigate socio-cultural and environmental impacts. The technology-driven interactions will surge feedbacks and it is must to have a user-directed behaviour response where visitors can integrate emerging technologies incorporated into their daily lives.
In the digital age of unlimited choices, the business of travel has to be supported and mandated by governments for authenticity and to garner public trust. The public sector should shake hands with small, big, large companies to entice discovery for a new traveller. This in return will result in increased visitation numbers. Knowledge management will create scope for collaborations and the accessibility of private technologies for interpersonal communications will offer new openings for convenience-based learning. The dynamic capability to adapt, a can-do travel attitude, balanced with responsible tourism choices, will make the traveller secured at a given destination. At each stage of the value chain, it is must to keep digital appearance and disseminate appropriate information for a profitable existence. In this profitability, one will also have to ensure community contributions.
In this entire tourism revival process, the role of local communities will be valued more than ever. Needless to mention, commercial relationship with host communities once formed will improve conversions, and drive revenues. The key ingredients to be successful and attract more tourist is by addressing the root of the purchase journey, discarding duplicity and align policies with destination vision. The destination attraction and accessibility will tactically depend on the condition of a visiting destination based on socio-economic sensitivities like cultural spaces, travel purpose, engagement & safety level, and past experience. Maintaining continuity of tourists by combining destination centric lucrative offerings will bring forward new normal scenarios. It is only then tourism businesses will be able to manoeuvre through uncertainties of health and environment-related challenges.
As the world is gradually opening up from a stringent lockdown, the destinations reputation management will boost consciousness selling to bring sustainability for local resources as part of brand image. It is time for the tourism boards, state authorities, private bodies to directly engage with activity providers and bring certified operators to attract and transact with customers. In this process of regaining the confidence of the travellers and tourist, it would be mandatory to also gain the consent and support of the host communities. Until and unless the host communities agree upon collaboration, it would be difficult to bring unique selling propositions to the tourism ecosystem. The travel strategies should be crafted for a specific period and are to be implemented after conducting surveys among residents and onboarding all those interested to become part of tourism delivery. This could enhance the immersive showcase of the destination and excite locals to achieve sustainable competitive advantage alongside, highlighting environmental sensitization for neighbourhoods.
The disruptive theories will define destination success through resources, processes and priorities. Ensuring relevance and distinctiveness for customers, stakeholders, and employees through an individual framework will bring continuity of tourists, attract tourism and drive economic development. The new approach towards conscious travel and mobility opportunities will trigger motivations such as food, culture, heritage within the area and also influence more days spent discovering periods in human history. The underline tactic for being experiential is to promote cultural heritage as an integral part of development processes through digital media and authentic storytelling. The beneficiaries such as host communities and small businesses transacting in the tourism value chain can further maximise regional tourism development.
Tourism as a business cannot or does not grow in isolation, it grows only when the overall economy flourishes.
At City Explorers® a private limited company in India having multiple flagship brands, offering immersive city sightseeing and real-life experiences, the intent has been to embed the business operations centred around local communities. The endeavour has been to support locals and bring job opportunities closer to them. In recent times, the core business strategy for the company, considering elements of tourism consumption in the changing times, has been to digitally manage information and awareness for carrying sustainable operations. Once lockdown restrictions slowly get lifted then issues related to the recovery of businesses will be validated through practical understanding and transformative ways.
In the months to come, the visibility of tourism products with benchmarked operational capabilities aligned with sustainability factors will drive the tourism economy. The businesses which innovate will flourish and those who copy will be categorised similar to middling traders maximising benefits through commissions gained from periodic transactions. The product differentiation through working groups interactions will take a leap and should incorporate issues of future human resource management. The delivery enablers like tour guides, ushers, hosts will become integral to destination imagery mirrored through brand campaigns. The assessments of quality control plus variables to measure customer satisfaction will become imperative to map travel motivations.
The necessity of a virtual presence to claim physical presence will only come through place sense™ and creating safe zones by resonating experiential delivery outcome (redo)™. There will be many initiatives that will inspire change through positive branding and substantivity in tourism business will be created by managing destination curiosity. In the near future, adaptive inquiries will be managed through digital platforms where virtual concierges will add to the competitive advantage of companies who embrace new age ideas. The new value chain has to be understood by destination market divisions of the tourism boards and imagination challenges have to be left onto the sectoral stakeholders.
Customer engagement after 2020 pandemic has to be more about optimisation, hyper-personalisation leading to transformative opportunities in the changing market. The destinations have to remain true to their core offerings and acknowledge that the travel fulfilment scenarios will have to be aligned with delivery on the ground. This also means developing skills, generating employment for a sustainable ecosystem and dealing with environmental concerns alongside COVID 19. Lastly, in the digitally cluttered space, the customers have to be part of expectation satisfaction frameworks and should be able to upfront extract the return on monies spent. Domestic tourism in India will gradually revive and in this journey, tourism businesses will have to work as a team with the trade associations, governments for shaping the tourism of the future.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors’ and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.