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NEW DELHI : Corporate travellers who spent good money on the best airline seats and five-star accommodation may not come back in a hurry post the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, said Glenn Fogel, president and CEO at Booking Holdings and CEO at Booking.com, the world’s largest travel e-commerce business. In an interview, he said India will need to promote itself to bring back international tourists who watched the country go through the severe covid wave earlier this year. Edited excerpts:

Is the Omicron variant affecting the travel industry?

When governments make changes... there are restrictions, or require certain types of testing or quarantines in different countries, that certainly puts a damper on enthusiasm to travel and cause some people to cancel.

There are always some people who are going to travel no matter what, but the country says you can’t come no matter what. So, that definitely is something that is going to impact travel.

Obviously, we are all extremely concerned reading the news about Omicron. We have had variants before and there will be new variants in the future, too. One thing that’s very encouraging is that scientists are working faster and faster nowadays, discovering variants and coming up with ways to deal with them.

What about India as a travel market?

India is going to be for a very long term a big, growing travel market. As the country and economy continue to grow, people get more money and want to travel more as well. We see this across the world.

It’s not only the very large number of Indians who travel, but also India is a great place to travel to. But what we have to do is when the pandemic goes down, we have to make sure that people know that India is a great place to travel to and get people to come there.

Unfortunately, India had a terrible time with the pandemic some months ago and that was seen by the world. People were so empathetic but also concerned about India. So, it may be a while for inbound travel to come back.

Providing great value to travellers and showing the great places to go to in India will absolutely help get people to come. But it’s going to take some time because memories about how terrible the pandemic has been is going to inhibit all international travel for a little while.

When will business travel revive?

As the world’s economies continue to grow, come back, eventually, someday there will be business travel again and it will be a larger amount of total travel than there was in 2019. But business travel, I think, will be a smaller share of all travel going forward. And the reason I say this is because people are using incredibly sophisticated technology like video communication that’s costing practically nothing to do their meetings.

So, what used to be a business requirement—travel to meet somebody face-to-face—which is expensive, and uses a lot of time, we don’t have to do that as much anymore. I know there are a lot of companies that say, ‘Hey, I don’t need to spend all that money to send that person from New York to New Delhi, that’s a long trip and it’s really expensive. Let’s not do that. Let’s just do it like this’.

So, business travel is not going to be as big a thing as it used to be. But over time, just by the growth of economies, it will become bigger and bigger.

How will this affect the travel ecosystem?

It is kind of obvious that it will save companies money, but it’s going to cost the airlines and it’s going to cost the hotels, because corporate travellers were the people spending a lot of money. They were the ones who bought the expensive seats up in the front of the aeroplane and they were the ones who were buying those beautiful five-star hotel rooms.

So, if there aren’t as many (business travellers), then the airlines and the hotels have to shift, and they need to get more leisure (customers) where people don’t spend as much. So, there’s going to be a structural change, I think in some places for a while.

Has travel become more expensive?

Inflation seems to have picked up significantly in many parts of the world. And this is a function of a lot of different factors. We see that in the rates in hotels at some places and the cost of airfares going up. Now, obviously, part of the airfare is due to the cost of fuel and things like that.

Will that affect how people travel in the long run?

As the costs go up, some people say, ‘well, we can’t afford that kind of a trip’. So, they step down to a different way to travel in a less expensive way. That being said, I don’t see that as a big factor for a very long time. People’s desire to travel is so great right now; we know it because when restrictions go down in a country, we see the number of bookings that immediately appear. So, they are fairly confident people will pay higher prices for some time.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Varuni Khosla

Varuni Khosla is a journalist with close to 14 years of experience in writing business news stories for mainstream newspaper companies like Mint and The Economic Times. She reports and writes on luxury and lifestyle brands, hospitality and tourism news, the business of sports, the business of advertising and marketing and alcohol brands.
Catch all the Corporate news and Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates & Live Business News.
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