Tue. Dec 1st, 2020

Even though some demand has started coming back, the travel industry may take years to get back to pre-pandemic business level, said Ritu Mehrotra, country manager — India, Sri Lanka, Maldives at Booking.com.

“Travel industry was one of the first industries to be hit and I think one of the last industries to maybe make a comeback,” she said in an interview.

“There are pockets where we are seeing demand coming up. We also feel that recovery will happen. It may take time,” she added.

She added that it may not just take quarters but years for the industry to reach pre-COVID-19 levels.

Pointing out that globally over a dozen airlines have had to shut shop, she said that impact across sectors had been severe and she expected to see consolidation in the travel industry.

“I think that the fittest will win the battle and it is very important for companies to have a razor-sharp focus on their operating costs and besides, consolidation is inevitable, in my mind,” she said.

Ms. Mehrotra added there was a need for greater collaboration between the industry and government.

“No one company or no one player in the market can beat this kind of a pandemic. To support recovery, the government will have to consider subsidising consumer holidays. This is something that we have seen in a lot of other countries like Thailand, Japan and Italy.”

Booking.com is also in conversation with the Ministry of Tourism on how to make India as one of the topmost destinations for travel, post corona.

“I also feel that the government has a very large task in hand and so far, they have been able to support…there was a relaxation in taxes just a couple of months back.” she said.

“I will not speak on behalf of the hotel partners because their business model works very differently and it’s very capex heavy as well,” she said, adding that while there was some rationalisation of taxes previously, taxes in India are still on a higher side compared with countries such as Thailand and Malaysia.

Booking.com has incorporated health and safety policies on its platform, which have been adopted by 14 million partners globally and 0.7 million partners in India. According to a recent survey by the company, 77% of Indian travellers will only book a particular accommodation if it’s clear what health and hygiene policies it has in place.

On the current demand trends, Ms. Mehrotra said globally, the platform is seeing a preference for alternative accommodation such as villas, apartments, beach huts and homestays.

This business has increased from 20% to 40% for Booking.com. Additionally, domestic travel has become a focus area. “Our domestic business globally was 40%, which has now moved to 70% and in India, we were anyways much higher,” she said. Ms. Mehrotra added that almost 52% of Indian travellers still plan to travel within the country in the medium term (7 months-12 months), with 41% planning to do so in the longer term. Additionally, 70% of Indian travellers want to travel more sustainably in the future.

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