The Indian travel and tourism industry is massive. In 2019, India received over 10 million foreign tourists, and more than 25 million Indians travelled abroad for holidays. A humongous 1.8 billion Indians undertook domestic holidays. With COVID-19 hitting the world hard, such numbers are presently off the table. However, despite the challenges and uncertainties, the travel sector has the resilience needed to recover from the setbacks. The new post-COVID world of travel is going to be different in the way that it will offer greater opportunities for offline travel agents than before. It is imperative for them to understand these changes and take the right steps to benefit.
Several countries have now started opening up their borders and with progress of vaccination, the number of travellers globally will continue to increase in the months to come. However, travellers are apprehensive about safety, quarantine requirements and ever changing restrictions/COVID-19 negative reports requirements. .. Therefore, majority customers have started reaching out to travel agent to help them plan their travel peacefully.
Even for domestic travel, there are a lot of new travel regulations and entry requirements across state borders which keep changing constantly. For instance, many states in India require RT-PCR tests before allowing entry to visitors. Similarly, there are variations in quarantine and isolation rules which can confuse even the most seasoned travellers. However, travel agents can play an invaluable role in addressing their concerns by constantly updating their knowledge of such changes. From basic information like weather to expert details about things such as hygiene rules for different airlines, state/country entry, etc., travel agents have to now fill in as expert advisors.
Leveraging online resources
In the aftermath of the pandemic, there is a digital transformation across all industries. It is time for offline travel agents to integrate online resources for their operations. They need to introduce features such as a web platform for communication, information sharing alongside making contact-less payment options available. Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram must be proactively leveraged for the lead generation. Social media presence can also help them understand their customers better.
By creating a website-based platform which integrates social media and news feeds etc can work wonders for offline travel agents in the current scenario. Travellers will constantly seek information during planning and booking their trips and also in the days prior to the trip.
Offering best deals and customisations
Luxury hotels are expected to get cheaper as travellers will put more emphasis on discounts. This will encourage more people to undertake customized luxury trips, private group holidays with family and friends etc. There are personal celebratory trips that require a lot of personalization such as birthdays, bachelorette or bachelor parties, honeymoons, baby moons and so on. Organizing such destination events through online aggregators leaves a lot to be desired, but, a travel agent can act as a planner and facilitator to make such trips successful and memorable. The focus will be on finding accommodation that follow hygiene and sanitation protocols and offers all desired comforts to the travellers.
Unlike the past when fixed itinerary tours were major revenue generators, customers will now seek personalized travel options. Personalized travel with value additions will help in building a strong brand for the travel agents. Novel tourism practices such as sustainable travel practices and eco-tourism, rural tourism experiences are also going to gain momentum now. Travel agents that deliver great experience will see a lot of word-of-mouth business coming their way.
Trust and flexibility
A large number of hotels, hostels, tour operators and trekking companies have already introduced options such as cashless bookings, zero cancellation charges etc. These are uncertain times and situations change rapidly. In such a scenario, a traveller might not be able to undertake a trip that is booked months in advance. However, if they are charged for it, that would be a double whammy. This is where travel agents need to build trust by displaying flexibility. A refund of advance paid, zero-cancellation or flexibility to undertake travel whenever the situation allows, are some of the things that travel agents can do to gain trust of their clients and ensure future business from them.
The travel business will bounce back and it is only a matter of time. However, travel agents and service providers that move with the changing times and display adaptability will stand to gain the most in the new normal. Travel operators now need to move beyond being service providers and emerge as advisors and facilitators.
Arun Bagaria is the Co-Founder of TravClan, a B2B travel platform