Travel and tourism companies, grappling with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, should focus on building up their resilience by listening to and understanding their customers' behavior and preferences, which they can then use to come up with more personalised experiences, said Asim Arshad, Group CEO of Orient Travels/Orient Tours/Orient Cargo.
Arshad, who is also the current president of the Dubai Travel and Tour Agents Group (DTTAG), described the travel and tourism industry, over the past six months, as "trying to navigate" its way after being hit by the "hurricane Covid-19."
"We in the travel and tourism industry have always been hit by several hardships, but nothing has been as damaging as this pandemic, which has resulted in all of us bleeding," he said.
The challenges facing the industry, he said, are manifold. In comparison, online travel agents (OTAs) have fared better because they have the advantage of distribution scale, customer loyalty, and their variable cost structures allow for greater adaptability to market downturns.
"The demand is latent, apparent but not visible," Arshad said. "When you talk about the corporate segment, they are willing to travel even before a vaccine is available, but unfortunately they are not allowed to by their corporate policies. In the UAE, the repatriation traffic has almost come to an end, and when you look at the insight of those travellers who are keen to travel for leisure, they are restrained by the inability to do anything meaningful at the destination because of mandatory public health measures, safety precautions, quarantine, closures and many other restrictions."
"Today's strategic planning has become an impossibility with health advisories and travel restrictions changing on a daily basis," he added.
Addressing concerns about a second wave of the pandemic, and what it will mean for the industry, he said that the short-term challenges will continue on into the long-term. "The pandemic continues to be destructive, and the second wave is not destroying it any further but is prolonging our agony. Travel continues to be hit in the short and the long run; non-essential travel continues to be stalled; the tourism sector continues to see its biggest decline at over 85 per cent. The challenge comes more from this sector because of their focus on group travel, which is being completely avoided. The result is that hotel demand has also declined completely."
In addition to creating more personalised experiences for travellers, Arshad advised travel companies to design "thoughtful" customer experiences which are not only safer but better. Customers need to be comfortable with all touch points in their journey, he said.
"Build partnerships that restore traveller confidence and build a stronger ecosystem," he said. "Stay nimble, cease the reset moment, focus on effective decision making, as well as day to day execution and talent allocation. Historically, business travel has always been more volatile and slower to recover, compared to leisure travel after an economic downturn and other disruptions. However, corporate travel buyers still maintain a positive outlook on the long-term health of business travel."
Looking ahead, Arshad also shared his thoughts on a possible recovery period for the industry. "Global tourism recovery is expected by 2023-2024. Tourism recovery is expected to progress in four stages which include: the crisis period, the pandemic recovery, the economic recovery, and, finally, a new normal." Â
Â Reports from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and McKinsey paint a picture for a very slow recovery.
"Let's say the demand for travel would go down by 66 per cent by 2020 and 47 per cent for 2021, compared to 2019," Arshad explained. "As per IATA forecasts, air travel demand recovery to the levels of 2019 are not likely to take place till 2024 globally. Indications are that the Asia Pacific region could recover in 2023, followed by North America and Europe in 2024. IATA feels that even in the most optimistic scenario - which is that we get a virus that is effectively contained and the economic policy response is moderately effective - the full air demand recovery is not expected before 2022. Hotel demands are not expected to reach pre-Covid levels till 2023, while revenues per available room may not recover until 2024."
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