The hospitality and aviation industry have taken a major beating due to the Covid-19 pandemic which has been ongoing for a year and a half. Fleets of aircraft have been grounded, hotels are empty, and a large number of aviation and hospitality staff have been laid off. We don't know how the future is going to be, because things are completely uncertain at this point in time. During these uncertain times, however, we got to see lots of things changing, and one is people. Hospitality and tourism are all about people-to-people contact. But we have now moved to a ‘contactless world’ due to the pandemic.
Many people across the world are still staying indoors. But when this situation ends, they will come out of their homes and start travelling. That is what we are looking forward too. However, it is going to be tough. After the pandemic started in 2020, people began working from home and it soon became the new normal. This work-from-home model worked for many types of corporate entities. But unfortunately, it has not worked for companies of the hospitality and tourism industry, as it requires people to people contact, and because of the pandemic, people stopped making such contact. People stopped travelling to airports, hotels and visiting new places. What has started in many countries is private holidays as people are taking their cars to nearby locations to hang out with their families and friends.
This has benefitted lots of smaller hotels and resorts. After all, people have avoided going to big and crowded places. So, how things are going to come back and what the differences are going to be are very big questions for the tourism and hospitality industry at the moment. Almost 90 percent of the international airlines have their fleets grounded, and it is not so easy for them to quickly restart the flights. When normalcy returns to international and domestic travel, all the grounded aircraft will have to go through expensive airworthiness checks. So, there might be lots of unpaid leases, and the leaseholders will have to pay them for their aircraft to fly. Pilots, engineers go through regular certifications once or twice a year. Many of those might have got lapsed, resulting in many of these professionals becoming jobless. Many of them might already have switched to alternative jobs, so it is not so easy for the airlines to start again.
Hotels have cut their inventory, shut down rooms, closed part of their business and laid-off employees heavily. So in terms of restarting the business, they don't have much data to work with. Revenue management in hotels is the most crucial function. On its basis, predictions are made about the business outlook and budgets are prepared accordingly. It is based on past figures and if you look at figures of 2019 and 2020, you don't have too much to go on. So, the gut feeling about the future is- what is to there to get back to? This is where you need to rethink, take a step back and change the way we look at this business otherwise, it's not going to work.
Moving forward, taking the right STEP is vital for the revival of the travel and tourism industry. Here, ‘S’ stands for safety which has become a factor of paramount importance for businesses today. Earlier, it used to be about fire safety and food hygiene but now it is about the overall health safety of the guests and staff of hospitality companies. One of the most successful stories in tourism last year has been the Maldives and the reason behind it is their adherence to health safety measures. They tested everybody coming into the country for Covid-19. Once people were tested and cleared of Covid-19, they didn’t need to wear facemasks and could spend their holidays without any kind of restriction just like in the old days. This is what guests look forward to.
Second in STEP is ‘T’ which means technology. The whole world has gone digital very fast which is one good silver lining to have come out of the pandemic. People getting onto an aircraft still have to go through the counter to get their baggage and physical boarding pass. So, this should change, and technology needs to be incorporated. People should be given choices as they don't like to be told what they can do. They want things to be convenient for them and this is where ‘E’, which stands for ease, comes in. People will avoid using complicated systems and processes. Let me present an example. You want to book a flight, chances are that you will go to portals like Makemytrip or Booking.com. Many people find it easier to use these aggregator sites when buying plane tickets or booking hotel rooms rather than the websites of the airlines or hotels.
Now all these things will not work without the right process or ‘P’. Things need to be well thought out, all eventualities need to be taken into consideration, teams need to work together to put all the processes together. Maybe the service charges are low because of competition in the market and low business, but you can upsell and cross-sell and give customers a superior experience. The processes need to be completely redesigned so that it will be a step up for the guests, customers and the industry.
(Majumdar is Head of Practice -Tourism at Dolma Consulting UK. The article is based on views expressed by him during a recent TEDx web event on ‘The Future of the Hospitality and Tourism Industry’. The text has been edited for clarity-Editor.)