NEW DELHI: Hit the hardest by the pandemic, the travel industry continues to face unprecedented disruption. With consumer behaviour expected to see significant shift, the industry would require to adapt to changes.
In an interview, Ritu Mehrotra, country manager, India, Sri Lanka and Maldives at Booking.com, an Amsterdam-headquartered firm, shares how travel trends will change in the post-covid world and what the travel and hospitality sector can do to reassure travellers. Edited excerpts:
What has been the impact of covid-19 on Booking.com?
The impact has been such that we expect it will be years, not months, before travel rebounds to pre-covid levels. Travel was one of the first industries to be hit and will likely be the last one to recover. Our global revenue for the first (March) quarter was $2.3 billion, down 21% year-over-year. Our adjusted EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) for the same period was $290 million, down 60%.
We are seeing some early signs of recovery in some countries across Asia Pacific and are certainly seeing appetite for domestic travel in markets where restrictions are easing. We have witnessed a wide array of interest from travellers in the past few months, indicating their keenness to travel again, when it is safe to do so.
What kind of travel trends do you foresee among Indians?
Domestic and more localised regional travel will recover before long-haul international travel, as it is easier and safer to travel locally. Globally, our domestic accommodation bookings increased from 45% to 70% in April. Even for India, we are seeing a similar trend.
Drive-to destinations will find favour as travellers are less likely to take flights, with initial trips planned for nearby safe destinations in the safety of their car. Staycations are also becoming a popular, where people can escape the pressure of work and daily routine and recharge in their own country after an intense period of lockdown and working from home. In addition to short-haul domestic travel, outdoor destinations are more appealing to travellers.
Shorter booking windows, flexibility policies and free cancellations, competitive pricing and deals, overall value for money, health and safety and mobile bookings are some of the trends we are seeing emerging in the new normal.
What can the travel and hospitality sector do to reassure travellers?
A key motivator for travellers will be both the flexibility to make changes to bookings and the price or promotion discount available. Travelers will also be looking for easy and quick communication with accommodation partners who should be able to offer flexible policies.
In addition, recent and verified reviews from other guests will play an important role as they’ll bring the most relevant, up-to-date information to ensure travelers’ experiences match their expectations. A feeling of safety will also be top of mind for travellers.
What are the top wish-listed destinations of Indians on your platform?
In May-June, the top wish-listed domestic destinations were Bengaluru, Delhi, Mumbai, Goa and Lonavala, suggesting that in the lockdown people have been dreaming of sunshine and beaches. Most wish-listed international destinations included Dubai, at the top of the list, followed by Ubud (Bali), Istanbul (Turkey), Bangkok (Thailand), and Seminyak (Bali), while Paris (France), Kuta (Bali) and North Male Atoll (Maldives) also saw traction.