This time of year, any year, is usually full of vacation plans: frenzied bookings for the weekend of August 15, extended plans for a short trip abroad in October, or perhaps a slow Christmas vacation in December. But as any cooped-up family under a lockdown caused by the COVID virus will testify, this year is different. Petrified by the pandemic and homebound since March, people resisted the urge to travel.
With India opening up after the lockdown, more daring travelers are starting to venture out, while others searching and booking. People have started driving to hills, where COVID-19 cases were low, and to beaches with open spaces. Since they are working from home, they won't need to take time off and keep working during the holidays, "says Manmeet Ahluwalia, Marketing Director for Expedia, India.
What are the new Holiday trends?
This is the reason that ‘staycation’ and ‘bleisure or workation’ trips are becoming new vacation trends. People combine business and pleasure, booking hotels within the same city or driving to farms to get out of the home. "There has been a significant increase in searches for accommodation to destinations within 300 km of metropolitan cities in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, and Goa," says Vipul Prakash, MakeMyTrip's Chief Operating Officer.
"In the corporate travel sector, business and shopping centers in Tier 2 cities like Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, Jaipur in Rajasthan and other markets in different regions are leading the search and booking numbers," says a Goibibo spokesperson. These numbers are confirmed by the results of an online survey of 1,750 participants. Almost 63% of people have started making vacation plans, 47% intend to take a break this year, and another 37% early next year. While most of them travel within India, almost 37% of them are overseas bookings until late summer 2021, with the hope that international flights and global tourism will take off by then.
Will holidaying change forever?
Does this mean that the travel experience is likely to change dramatically? Most industry players agree that there will not be a complete change in the long term, but the new normal is likely to hold for a few years in terms of hygienic safety. Therefore, the use of masks and disinfectants, greater hygiene in resorts and airports, as well as a greater reliance on contactless digital transactions will continue.
Most domestic flights will be determined by central and state government guidelines, based on the reduction in the number of COVID cases and the introduction of a vaccine, as well as the willingness of hotels and airlines to cope with the situation.
International travel, however, will also require reciprocity from other countries. "After all, you don't want to travel abroad just to be quarantined for 14 days," says Ahluwalia. "Our long vacations are likely to begin in the United States, Japan, or Europe in the first quarter of 2021," adds Cali. Many people still have doubts as to whether they should initiate travel reservations. Is it safe to take your vacation now or make reservations for next year? Are hotels and resorts doing enough to keep people safe? We will try to answer these and other questions so that you can make a more informed decision as soon as possible.
Q1. Should you start travelling now?
Most people are craving for a special vacation because COVID paid to their summer vacation plans, but doubts remain about the feasibility of such plans. Should you start traveling?
This will largely depend on the policies of individual countries and COVID compliance regulations. Aloke Bajpai, CEO of Ixigo.com, says interstate travel restrictions are easing and many states are expected to announce further easing in the coming weeks. However, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Bihar, Assam, Chhattisgarh, and Nagaland still require a valid driving license to cross the border. Some hotels also require guests to carry a negative COVID certificate from ICMR, in accordance with government requirements. By mid-September, there should be more clarity from the government and more quarantined hotels should open. Until then, we don't want our customers to get in trouble, so we'll wait and see,” says Cali.
According to Ramesh Ramanathan, CMD, Sterling Holiday Resorts, the answer is "yes and no." "Yes, if you drive your car to nearby destinations, you know they are safe. No, because long vacations to unknown or unsafe places are not yet recommended." Tourists are likely to face risks in two stages: during the trip and at the destination. If you can manage these risks well, there is nothing wrong with traveling. The best way to do this now is to choose short-term vacations in autonomous vehicles and thoroughly research the safety of the geographic location and the hotel or resort so that it is not in the containment zone or the red zone.
Q2. What is the best way to travel?
Most travel experts agree that self-driven vehicles, whether owned or rented, are the best way to travel right now. Travellers have more control as they can avoid too many halts in the journey and are definitely safer than public transportation like buses and trains. These wouldn't be too stressful for short trips either. Some tour companies also take short, private trips in their own cars. For example, SOTC offers chauffeured van tours to take private trips and explore a destination in private.
However, if you were to go from Delhi to Goa, for example, then you would have no choice but to take a trip. "Air flights are the safest way to travel between cities at the moment. Airports are only 20% occupied and flight occupancy is only 50-55%," says Bajpai. Also, ventilation in airplanes is better than in hospitals, and strict protocols state that everyone must wear face shields, masks, and gloves.
The choice of this mode of travel is clearly reflected in the Economictimes.com survey, with 64% of people planning to travel by plane and 26% by road in their own vehicle. Ixigo claims that based on its booking data, there has been an increase in non-metro-to-metro trips per week over the course of the week, and reservations on major routes in June have increased between 45% and 50% compared to the last week of May when domestic flights were reopened.
Q3. What precautions are being taken by hotels & airlines?
Travel, hotels, and airlines have taken advantage of four months of lockdown to equip and implement strict security protocols. While people prefer hotel chains and well-known brands, the best way to confirm security standards is to check the hotel's website.
Hotels - Many independent hotels and hotel chains are implementing COVID safety standards as per the guidelines of the World Health Organization, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, and the government. They do this through internal resources, launching their brand hygiene initiatives, or hiring external agencies to do so.
For example, ITC Hotels launched its WeAssure initiative in collaboration with the National Accreditation Council for Hospitals and Healthcare Providers, Sterling Holiday started the Sterling Cares program with Apollo Clinics, Marriott launched the We Care project, while Thomas Cook and SOTC Travel provided the Assured program in partnership with Apollo Clinics. "The proven program ensures accurate health and safety protocols at every stage of the customer journey, from contactless bookings to pre-tour and during the tour," says Daniel D'Souza, president and national director of entertainment for SOTC Travel.
How safe is your hotel?
These are some of the new security measures and standards that you are likely to find in larger hotels and resorts, as most chains have started their security protocols. If you've booked a room at an independent hotel or resort, visit their website for security procedures before logging in to one.
Verification of all contact details.
A thermal screening conducted.
Digital/advanced processing check-in and check-out.
Provision of masks/gloves.
Common areas: lobby / elevator
Hand sanitisation stations at high touch point areas.
Higher frequency of disinfectant spraying.
Ordering meals by phone or digitally.
Family activities like board games available in the rooms.
Option to avoid cleaning/maid service until the duration of the stay.
Provision of disinfectant wipes.
Close to the spa, pool, gym, and recreational areas.
Spa, swimming pool, gym, fun zones shut.
Digital menus, QR code, or single-use lists.
Cancellation of the buffet service. In the case of a buffet, self-service is replaced by manned counters.
Arrangement of furniture according to social distancing.
Determine the number of people in the dining room at any one time.
"Most hotels have changed their operations from normal hygiene standards to clinical hygiene standards," says Ramanathan of Sterling Holiday. This includes thermal screening, contactless check-in processes, digital money transactions, disinfection of public areas multiple times, ensuring that employees wear masks, face shields, and gloves, sterilization of luggage, installation of hand disinfection stations in public areas, voice commands in elevators and Use digital menus or lists of QR codes for food, among other things.
While spas, pools, gyms, or health clubs are closed, some offer small-group outdoor activities, and some offer board games indoors. Most restaurants also have closed buffet services, and some are open and staff-run. Guests are also encouraged to dine away from visiting restaurants and take advantage of room service with specially packaged and delivered food. In restaurants, furniture has been rearranged to follow social distancing standards, and a limited number of guests are allowed on an overlap. Guests also have the option of declining housekeeping services during their stay.
Some, like Sterling Holiday, have trained their employees to use gestures and hand gestures to communicate with guests while maintaining social distancing.
Airports: Both airports and airlines also follow strict standards. At the airport, it may take longer than usual due to the new security system in place, so make sure you arrive on time. Thermal control is carried out while passengers are tasked with carrying out web check-in processes and carrying a printed copy of their boarding pass. They even have to put their checked luggage on the conveyor belt and only interact with the staff if there is a special need.
Inside the plane, passengers have kits that include masks, sterilizers, and wipes, while most of them have food and drink services. The crew is equipped with PPE equipment and face shields and has minimal interaction with passengers. Because the middle seat is no longer empty and reservations are allowed due to revenue coercion, airlines offer discounted fares on two or more seat reservations or an entire row.
Q4. What precautions should you follow?
Rather than relying only on hotels and airlines to stay safe, take these steps to ensure a COVID-free trip. Start by looking at state guidelines for navigating the area you are traveling to. Choose a destination with fewer COVID cases and, if possible, opt for branded vacation rentals or residential hotels. In hotels and resorts, family suites or detached villas will keep you safer by having less contact with guests and staff.
One of the most important things is to bring your health insurance policies and check travel insurance for COVID coverage. Also, make sure it covers trip cancellations and delays. Also, follow basic hygiene procedures such as wearing a mask, washing your hands with disinfectant frequently, not touching public places, and wearing enough clothing to change into. As you drive, bring your food and water instead of stopping on the road in Dhaba.
Q5. Are discounts on offer?
Given the humongous losses suffered by the hospitality and aviation industries, logic dictates that there are no deep discounts. In fact, Sterling Holiday's Ramanathan argues that low prices won't be enough to attract customers. Kali from Thomas Cook (India) agrees: "Lower prices will not drive demand. To meet the aspirations of tourists, hotels are innovating to improve hygiene and vacation experience."
However, there are many offers made by travel companies, collectors, hotels, and airlines to appeal to the reluctant traveler. "Hotels everywhere offer discounts of 15 to 40%, while some airlines have offered fixed discounts on ticket prices during the rainy season," says Ahluwalia. Hotels also offer room upgrades, value-added services and discounts on a second stay throughout the year, and early-booking offers such as discounts on future trips.
Travel companies and service aggregators also prepare various offers. Thomas Cook (India) offers the COVID passive authentication service, hotel upgrades, loyalty bonus, free stay for children for the family segment, date change without cancellation fees, among others, while SOTC Travel offers flexible cancellation options and booking, early booking benefits, payment, and easy EMI options and hotel upgrades. "With indoor ceilings for air travel through November, this is the best time to travel. Airline ticket prices have decreased by 20% to 25% weekly in May, June, and July," says Bajpai.
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