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India, COVID and Travel: Leaders on 2021

India COVID variant

Call it kite flying, a gut feeling, studied analysis, or just a shot in the dark. Any description of how India, COVID and travel will behave in the coming year will depend on how one views it and from which angle.

Surely, 2020 has been a year like none ever before. Yes, never before has COVID-19 shook the world, especially striking hard the travel and tourism industry. In India, like in most parts of the world, everything went haywire when COVID-19 made its appearance with flights being grounded, hotels standing near empty, and travel agents and jobs in the news for all the wrong reasons.

Industry leaders are looking at 2021 and beyond in several ways, some more positive and optimistic than others. The one thing that stands out is that the much-awaited-for vaccine is keeping many hoping for better days, but that too may not be as simple as it looks at face value.

Nakul Anand, the Executive Director of ITC Hotels and Chairman of FAITH, the apex body of the travel associations, feels that stringent health and hygiene regulations along with sanitization will be the new normal, as will be physical distancing.

Hotels will see major changes in operation, said the veteran hotelier, and “location, location, location,” will be replaced with a slogan for “cleanliness, cleanliness, cleanliness.”

The vaccine will bring some relief, he predicts, adding that domestic packages and staycations are picking up, while international tourism will take more time.

Ms. Priya Paul of The Park chain, Apeejay Group, revealed that they are already seeing about 70 percent occupancies in their hotels, and what is more, at Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) levels of 2019. She predicts foreign arrivals to pick up in the 3rd and 4th quarter of 2021.

J. Taneja of Travel Spirit International has high hopes for the vaccine to bring positive effects but is quick to add that administering it will be a challenge due to the new normal of distancing and sanitizing having to be followed. He feels that the campaign to travel within the country has done well and that responsible tourism, wellness tourism, and nature tours will be more in focus now.

Subhash Goyal of STIC Travel and Secretary General of FAITH, predicts that travel agents will have to adapt new itineraries to suit the new situation after the pandemic. Operators will have to be more  creative, and people will want to travel to remote destinations where there is less congestion.

Sunder Advani, an industry veteran who is active in various segments of travel and CMD of Advani Hotels, sees more importance on insurance, even as the vaccine will play a role. The different quarantine rules are an irritant, points out Advani, who has been active in WTTC, cruises, and hotels. Outbound will take time to recover he predicts.

Rajindera Kumar of Ambassador and a former FHRAI President, suggests that the hotels focus on volume traffic at the moment, rather than ARRs. He regrets that government policies are not helping tourism, which is taking a back seat in official thinking in spite of claims to the contrary.

Ajay Bakaya of the Sarovar group looks at 2021 with cautious optimism. He thinks leisure will do better than business travel and expects the chain to have 70 percent occupancy compared to 2019.

Bhim Singh of Rajasthan Tours predicts a 25 percent  growth in tourism if the vaccine sees the light of the day, while Mukesh Goel of Oriental Travels predicts that things will look up only in 2023.