Block by block: Building the confidence of Indian travellers | HT Brand Leadership Series

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Block by block: Building the confidence of Indian travellers

  • Manish Dureja, MD & CEO, InterMiles
  • June 9, 2020

“Why did the chicken cross the road?”

“To get to the other side.”

This commonly-told riddle, which first appeared in the 1847 edition of a New York City monthly magazine – The Knickerbocker, became the standard example of anti-humor. The set-up leads the listener to expect a traditional punch line, but leaves them with a simple statement or fact.

However, owing to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, a modern-day chicken might be asked if it really needed to cross the road. Was it wearing protective equipment? How many roads had it crossed before this one? Did it stay in the coop for 14 days after its previous crossing? The year 2020 will go down in history as that which challenged the fundamental privileges we took for granted. 

This pandemic, caused by a microscopic organism that is 1/900th the width of a piece of hair, is causing big businesses and individuals alike to rethink behaviors, and  steadily forming new habits. With no end to this viral spread in near sight, the global economy begs the question: how can we best adapt to what seems to be our new reality, at least for the immediate future? 

The travel and tourism industry has, due to its obvious implications, been the most severely affected. The pandemic has created the need for the sector – all the way up and down the supply chain – to revolutionize itself. Even the most basic behaviors need to be modified and new protocols laid down. These new ground rules will need to be sustainable and oriented for the long term. 

Common sense will lay the foundations of secure travel, and help restore consumer confidence. The industry needs to be a part of the traveller thought process, and consumer insights will be key, as governments, businesses, and all stakeholders in the value chain, navigate roadblocks in a collaborative manner.

The new normal is here and now

The need for travel exists, even amidst a health crisis. Keeping leisure travel aside, people still need to cross borders for education, business, medical treatments, visiting friends and relatives, and important occasions. The rush for bookings – although some of it was pent-up travel demand – as India opened up domestic travel, is a testament to this fact. With processes getting streamlined and consumer confidence steadily heightening, we’re seeing an organized pattern emerge.  

This organization, amidst the chaos, is reminiscent of the planning and execution that went into guiding SpaceX, the first commercial space company to ever fly humans on orbit, as it completed its first manned mission – something considered unrealistic not very long ago. It was the fruit of collaboration and creative, collective thinking – similar to what is happening across industries at present. 

The travel sector, or any sector for that matter, cannot afford to wait for the pandemic to tide over to establish a ‘new normal’ for the industry.The new normal is now – we are already experiencing it. This is the moment for disruptors to arise and ingenious solutions to be implemented.

Evolved consumer behaviour

Demographics: Unlike previously, age will play a considerable role in impacting travel decisions. We foresee the segment between 25 and 55 years of age being more open to air travel, at least initially. Children below 12 years of age, and those above 60 years of age, may seek to opt for  a more private and confined means of transport. Age demographics will also impact the kind of travel insurance issued.

New choices and trade-offs: Road trips will make a comeback in a huge way, especially for short to mid-range distances. Private vehicle hires are most likely to increase. Local destinations and establishments will witness more native patronage, and will need to start repositioning themselves in that light, at least for the near future.

Tightened pursestrings: A large number of incomes are under pressure. In a bid to conserve cash, annual vacation plans for many aspiring young individuals may now shift from visiting tourist destinations to travelling to their native places or staying with friends and relatives. 

However, individuals who can afford luxury travel and deem additional precautions necessary will now consider spending a little extra to ensure their own space and privacy, especially on flights. Businesses will need to have a relook at their target audiences and the means of engaging with them.

The atmanirbhar traveller: Imagine a future where you walk out of your vehicle, unload your bags and walk straight to the security and immigration desk. Airports will have to re-orient their processes and manage passenger influx by using the space vacated by check-in desks. 

We can anticipate the rise of the self-serving or atmanirbhar traveller, as businesses seek to use smart technology to improve consumer experience, de-congest otherwise crowded airports and do away with serpentine queues. The future of the travel and hospitality business will be recalibrated as we explore solutions for critical questions posed by the pandemic. Measures adopted by the industry may also help set ground rules for sectors such as education, commerce, and health. 

Laying new foundation blocks

Consumers will seek constant reassurance and displays of safety procedure efficacy. They will prefer trusted brands and value human guidance, as they step out to travel. 

The industry will need to reorient itself to ensure that there is a good amount of information available to travellers looking to assuage their qualms. Campaigns assuring consumers that their safety is of primary importance, along with efficient practical measures, will form the building blocks as India starts to travel again, first for business and then for leisure. 

Visual representation of strict hygiene and sanitization measures will go a long way in allaying fears and building confidence. The initial set of travellers will be the biggest ambassadors of travel, and word of mouth, personal reviews or, in some cases, ratings, inspections and checks, will impact the sentiment of other travellers. 

Manish Dureja
Manish Dureja, MD & CEO, InterMiles

Manish comes with over 20 years of experience across loyalty management, business and marketing. He is an active member of many professional societies and a thought leader on marketing, loyalty programme design and development, strategic planning, airline revenue management, and CRM. He has been recognized as one of the top 30 loyalty professionals in the world by the Loyalty Magazine.

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