Why Hospitality-Sector Must Focus On Responsible Travel

The ‘responsible travel’ proposition needs to go beyond measures like hand-sanitisation, wearing masks and social distancing

The economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic has spared few industries. However, no industry has been as severely hit as travel and tourism. For marketers, it is a time to pause and rethink our plans.

These days, almost every other product or service can be bought online. You can’t go to the store or mall, but you can order groceries, medicines and electronics on a website or app. You can’t go to a restaurant, but you can always order in. But there really is no viable virtual substitute for travel.

Pandemic or not, there will always be a demand for travel. If anything, the pandemic and the resultant lockdowns led to a feeling of ‘cabin fever’ that only whet people’s appetite to head out.

However, as the very nature of travel changes, the way we market holidays to travellers must change too.

After the first wave washed over the country, relieved in our erroneous belief that the worst had passed, we let our collective guards down. Now, having lived through a devastating second wave, we have to be more cautious.

The second wave, too, did not sap demand for travel – after all, exploration remains an intrinsic human need. But it has bred caution and made safe and responsible travel the need of the hour.

As an industry, the aim of our marketing should be to highlight the ‘responsible travel’ proposition. We don’t need to stoke demand for travel – there’s plenty of pent up demand already – but we need to absorb it responsibly.

The ‘responsible travel’ proposition needs to go beyond now-established measures like hand-sanitisation, wearing masks or social distancing. These measures, critical as they are, are customer-facing initiatives. Responsible travel should extend to, for instance, the communities we operate in. We need to be as cognisant of the safety and well-being of the communities in which we operate our hotels and resorts, as we are of the safety and well-being of our guests.

Let me give you an example. Goa was flooded with tourists after the threat of the first wave had passed and the lockdowns had eased. While the state and its heavily tourism-dependent industries welcomed the opportunity to salvage a travel-starved year through revenues from domestic tourism, it left them grappling with an unduly severe second wave. At one point, India’s smallest state had the country’s highest test positivity rate.

All tourism-related enterprises in Goa, such as bars, restaurants and casinos, were forced to shut as a result. They ave only just begun to creep back to life. The move to reopen in haste has exacted a heavier toll on the state’s tourism sector than it would have if we had collectively been more responsible after the first wave.

Just to be clear, the Goa example is not a call for curbing tourism. Our businesses rely on people travelling. We want occupancy rates at our resorts to go up. We want people to come and stay with us. The intention of my example was to emphasise the importance of responsible tourism.

As an industry, we may not be in a position to drive states’ travel and tourism policies. But we can do our bit to facilitate travel practices that keep our local communities safe, which in turn would reduce the threat of lockdowns and allow our businesses to run without interruption.

We can, for instance, create a ‘bubble’ for our guests from the minute they arrive at the airport or station or drive up to our resorts. This can be done through measures as simple as arranging a dedicated car to ferry guests around, so as to minimise their contact with local communities.

So why can’t hotels and resorts bring experiences to their guests, rather than make them go and seek them out?

Then there are other ways to market holidays that don’t actually require people to travel. Of course, as I’ve said earlier, you can’t substitute travel. But you can get people to engage with your hospitality brand from the safety of their homes. This way, you’re not losing out on the existing demand — they are still engaging with your brand and you’re still stoking their appetite for travel. But you're absorbing the demand more gradually, and therefore responsibly.

Ultimately, we are all born with an innate desire to travel, to get away, to explore the unknown. This curiosity for new experiences is what makes us human. So, yes, we must travel. But let’s do so responsibly.

The Author is Pratik Mazumder, Chief Marketing Officer of Mahindra Holidays & Resorts India 

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