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  • Jay Jhingran

All Zoomed up!

A Hotel and Travel related Blog summarizing dozens of virtual sessions in April-May

By Jay Jhingran, Hotelier, Vienna, Austria

Chapter 1: 30 thousand feet facts about the status of Tourism during Covid-19

Our wish as Hoteliers is for travel to reset in a responsible yet profitable manner. In case this blog gets too long for you, allow me to sum up the sentiments that the aspiration for travel remains undiminished. People want hope. Life cannot and will not come to a standstill.

” Over tourism” has gone to “zero tourism”. This is the first global pandemic that is taking place in the age of mass-tourism. It is also the first crisis of this kind in the modern economy. However “unprecedented”, it does also reflect on how really un-prepared most of mankind and countries were, when this all started in Q4, 2019.

Most of us, whether individuals or companies have been used to economic growth versus our own historic past. It does not matter whether it is a nominal inflationary appropriate raise or solid double digit & beyond jumps in Emerging countries. Well, how much growth and when is very uncertain. Firstly, this crisis in itself has come at a wrong time as economies such as China and Germany were already slowing down, prior to Covid-19. In addition to that, stocks for oil plummeted. There have been several debates with statements such as the G-7 not been talking openly, World Bodies such as IMF and WHO not being as prominent as they used to be. As a world power, the “natural leadership” of the US seems to be coming to an end. Whilst Europe is very skilled, it fights to remain competitive and whilst Asia has seen tremendous growth, politics in the region are unstable.

Chapter 2: The current challenges!

So what are the essential current challenges making the pace of Travel/Tourism acceleration uncertain?

a. Many are scared about the second wave. The impact on this can be seen by poll results outlining that more than 50% of travelers either have no desire to travel or feel they may not be allowed to travel. They fear being trapped or in lockdown and exposed to double quarantines.

b. Travel in itself, especially Air, Coach or Cruise is less appealing due to safety checkpoints & physical distancing norms. There are rightful concerns on the sustainability side with the Aviation and Cruise industries.

c. Larger countries are maintaining restrictions on international travel. The approach is to carefully reopen without risking the health progress made so far.

d. Due to un-employment and pay cuts, discretionary spend is much lower for people to prioritize travel.

Chapter 3: Requirements for travel to re-start and it’s global timelines

We have uncertainty & projected timelines between 5 years to 6 months for travel to pick up again and ultimately reach previous levels. So what needs to happen for people to travel again?

First and foremost, both Society and Governments need Confidence. This confidence level will mostly be achieved when a vaccine is available or a status of herd-immunity is reached. However, till then, Confidence could be building in pockets and regionally via the emergence of travel corridors or bubbles. Travelers will need to positively react to following the current health & social protocols. Travel businesses are in the midst of detailed planning for a full re-opening whilst a partial opening has already occurred. Confidence can begin to be re-ascertained fairly soon during the Summer of 2020. This is when businesses will be delivering on the promise of increased virus-mitigating environments (they just cannot be virus-free! That I personally think is an illusion). Confidence by Governments to allow entry will come only when the chance of any visitors bringing in the virus is low.

Following confidence, people do need money & resources to travel. Now with the recession, there is much less of that around. Having said that, there is also a pent up demand for travel.

Chapter 4: What opportunities exist and what are Travel colleagues already focusing on?

Given the fact that in several countries travel restrictions are being eased, bubbles and bridges being formed, pent up demand present, what opportunities are there for Tourism, in particular Hoteliers?

Inter-country & Intra-country travel, both leisure and Corporate will begin in June. Those who have maintained contacts with their client base, updated some of optional contact-less technology, on-boarded their returning staff carefully and qualified their prospecting of accounts from the potential bridge countries and neighboring domestic regions, will tend to gain market share and benefit. Rubber (auto) traffic will start off first and hence affiliations with automobile clubs are a no-brainer. Through increased on-shoring or regional production of goods, one can expect winning new corporate accounts or expanding share of existing.

On the food and beverage side, immune boosting dishes and drinks, ideally locally sourced, pre-ordered minibars, seamless options of booking on-site meals as also delivery or take-out could benefit. Regulated entry times to restaurants, elevated & unique in-room dining revamps will assist in removing the initial fear of crowds. Resorts or city hotels that have enough space will expand their operations to cover up for the loss of diners in existing restaurants and bars.

Whatever it may be, everything is expected to be at minimum half of what was achieved earlier.

Pivoting or making fundamental changes to business and the potential to do so is something that this Pandemic has taught us. Hoteliers or People in tourism have one common strength - making people happy. Principally, if using current strengths to Pivot is a method, opportunities in people related industries could continue to be areas to pivot into. Interestingly, the effect of this pandemic and the lockdown is also very psychological.

Without having to stray too far from the business of hospitality, here is a rundown of stress factors and trends that Hotels and Tourism businesses need to focus on as opportunities:

Investors are focusing on mixed use developments (not just dependent on leisure tourism), mid-market to affordable luxury and re-generation related projects involving wellbeing, nature, sustainability and regionality. Cash burn analysis, under-writing hotels as well as making full use of Government subsidies is the focus. The very same investors and of course management companies are also looking at a full list of under-performing hotels to re-brand or acquire. Several owners/investors have been very co-operative in giving access to FFE reserves to free up cash-flow. Some are even replenishing these reserves.

Designers and Architects are engaging with conversions, virus-repellent surfaces and more simplicity.

HR Managers are focusing on converting as many recruitment and learning processes becoming digital. Proper on-boarding of returning personnel in terms of managing the next normal for guests will surely pay off in the customer-staff relationship.

Revenue and Marketing managers are looking at further improving their direct share and questioning the relationships with OTA’s, monetizing their e-commerce efforts and products and maximizing on loyalty programs.

Engineering and purchasing managers are focusing more on repairing versus new purchases and thus reducing Capital expenditure. The additional costs of sanitation and evaluating the supply chain to go more local are projects in the making.

Travel technology start-ups are going to consolidate and provide back of house Robotics, Biometrics and Gesture recognition to go touch-less, ethical use of Artificial Intelligence & Data, virtually enticing experiences & so much more.

Chapter 5: Closing off on a High:

Ultimately and to close off: Despite the uncertainty of anything and everything, the inspiration to travel is undiminished. There are plenty of negative economic projections as compared to the recent past. The key challenges we face are lack of travel confidence and lesser money required to be able to travel. Having said that, there is a lot of pent up demand. As Hoteliers, if we continue to focus on giving confidence and high-value offers to a range of experiences, old and new, the industry will build up nicely over again.

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