Ritesh Agarwal imagines robots at OYO hotels while wondering when India will travel again

Ritesh AgarwalOYO
  • OYO's Ritesh Agarwal writes for Business Insider and answers the most important question – Will India travel again?
  • Businesses will need to prepare today for tomorrow’s travellers, and innovate to meet the new standards of good quality travel and hospitality experience, he says.
  • Here’s what will dominate the ‘new way of travelling’ in India in the post-COVID world.
Will India travel again? The answer is a resounding yes! However, the one question we do not have an answer to is when, as it is hard to predict when this pandemic will subside and it will be safe for people to travel once again. But what’s most fascinating for me is the fundamental shifts we will see in consumer behaviour related to travel once the pandemic subsides. Businesses will need to prepare today for tomorrow’s travellers, and innovate to meet the new standards of good quality travel and hospitality experience.

Here’s what will dominate the ‘new way of travelling’ in India in the post-COVID world.


Goa over Thailand, Coonoor over Scotland
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In the short-term, there could be some sluggishness in demand as people postpone any non-essential travel or focus on saving money. In the post-COVID-19 phase, industries will have to comply with distancing norms to reduce risks. In such a world, the aviation industry, for instance, will have to offer limited seats on flights, consequently leading to an increase in airfares. As international travel will be slightly expensive, domestic travel will be a net gainer as wanderlust bites us in the post-COVID world. As the pandemic subsides, tourism hotspots of the country are likely to see an unfamiliar group of tourists show up – the ones who have been spending their summers across European destinations and winters in AZ/NZ. This is almost inevitable – driven by restrictions or fear of international travel as well as the unpredictability of needs to self-quarantine when back. We will see packed Mall Roads as well as the resurgence of newer forms of domestic tourism including eco-stays, rural tourism, and nature tourism. This will offer a unique opportunity for the sector, aided by the government, to use this force of domestic demand to make travel and tourism thrive in India in the post-COVID world. God's Own Country must expand beyond Kerala to cover large parts of our beautiful nation.


Road trips galore

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The famous Indian act of fitting “carriers” on top of their cars is likely to see a bump as mechanics open up shops. As travel by any mode of public transport is likely to get more challenging, more families and friends are likely to pack their bags and hit the roads – in parts also encouraged by the smoother highways. Destinations that are within driving distance of major urban centres are likely to see a boost. However, people are likely to drive shorter distances and initially maybe within state borders as they will seek the assurance of being able to head home if there is a spike in COVID cases in local areas. Not only established destinations but hidden gems near cities will no longer be hidden from the seekers who long to escape urban life. Teekli village near Gurgoan may be the new Alibag. For hospitality players to recover from the financial impact of the pandemic, it’s important to identify these geographies early on and increase readiness to welcome guests, while ensuring their health and safety.

Staycations, the preferred vacations

During the lockdown, people have discovered all kinds of passions – many are experiencing the pressure of cooking, doing yoga, learning hydroponic farming and so much more - and are already looking for a change. A safe getaway, or an escape from home even if it is for a couple of days. We are here referring to staycations, where people check into a hotel in the same city often for short durations. As people begin travelling again and looking for safe spaces to stay, there will be a growing preference for staycations where travellers would prefer independent boutique hotels with limited capacity or even private vacation homes where they can plan get-togethers with friends and family. The idea is to enjoy a vacation but at the same time ensure safety and hygiene.

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Finding your purpose and spiritual calling

Pilgrimages have been an inextricable part of Indian life – right from the ancient days to the present modern age. The allure of a Tirupati or Ajmer Sharif endures and the faithful will visit in even bigger numbers as more people turn to faith in tough times. It will not be wrong to say that the earliest bounce back in tourism could be led by pilgrimages, as restrictions ease up and there is no fear of community spread.

Human touch to zero-touch, the new normal

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For an industry where high touch [the firm handshake, the tikka on arrival, the butler service] was seen as a luxury, this will be a whole new world to navigate. Travellers will want the ease of travel but at the same time, would prefer not to come in touch with people as social distancing becomes a way of life. Check-in robots? Vending machine for packed food? Robots for cleaning? This is a time for hotel chains to think forward and innovate “tap” and “go” models across the length and breadth of daily operations. We foresee many more shifts in the way hotels are run. For instance, at OYO, we are in the process of implementing a minimal-touch policy for check-ins, check-outs and room service.

As an industry, our biggest priority at the moment is to ensure we collectively navigate the crisis, restore our economy back into shape, and take care of livelihoods. It’s also time to hit pause, reset and rethink ways to welcome travellers once they are willing to travel by planes, stay at hotels and socialise again.

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