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Evolving variants and their impact on the travel and hospitality Industry

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The inertia that the hospitality industry had gained in the past, was eroded by the pandemic. Countless small establishments shut shop during the lockdown never to open again. Locations that heavily depended on tourism saw the maximum loss of jobs across sectors. While a fraction of the Industry survived by providing service as quarantine centers there were a few others who benefitted by innovating product offerings. Resort properties, homestays, and small hotels started marketing long stay offers (staycations) in scenic locations by providing amenities such as workspaces and dependable internet connections. The third quarter of 2021 saw the situation under control for many countries including India and restrictions for travel and businesses too started to relax. There were encouraging signs of recovery with travel being planned by vacationers, giving birth to new expressions such as revenge travel or revenge tourism and lockdown fatigue. An India Today article stated, more than five lakh tourists headed to Himachal Pradesh after the covid norms were relaxed in July 2021, prompting the Union Health Ministry to issue warnings to local authorities. While on one side this was the financial oxygen needed for the travel and leisure industry, on the other side fear for the possible third wave made people cautious. 

By September 2021 the hospitality Industry operations were back to near normal. While there still were restrictions at some locations on large gatherings, there was enough potential for the Industry to look forward to for growth and hiring of new talent. The was a huge surge of request  for manpower in hospitality Inner circles and with reference recruiters. Many fresh graduates who had been given deferred dates of joining, started receiving calls to join immediately. These were all excellent signs of recovery for the Industry. Even small establishments and eateries benefitted from brisk business due to the now moderate restrictions. According to an article by The Hindu, hiring for professionals in hospitality and travel roles saw the highest month-on-month growth in October 2021, indicating an overall promising recovery for the travel sector. The travel and tourism industry also witnessed a 7% demand uptick in October, compared to the previous month. 

However, come November, and the entire world was introduced to a new variant of concern. On 26 November 2021, WHO designated the variant B.1.1.529 a variant of concern, named Omicron. Specialists all over the world are still trying to ascertain the exact degree of influence of this new variant. Governments across the globe sprang into action and imposed fresh restrictions on travel from countries at risk. The Hindu Business Line ran an article titled ‘the travel Industry in wait and watch mode’ where business leaders are awaiting clarity on the subject. Local authorities too have started tightening travel norms to limit the risk while a recent article by Economic Times stated that online travel portals were flooded with passenger queries on new testing and quarantine rules in India. Another article by the same website 

stated that travelers are not panicking or canceling bookings just yet, the situation surely stays dynamic for now. The world is in a state of flux and while no one knows the extent of the impact this new variant may have, an article on Forbes gives hope by stating facts of the Delta variant. The variant once thought to be deadly was found to be weak against covid 19 antibodies. Similar studies are now emerging on the omicron variant. A recent post by Netcare Ltd – A firm that operates South Africa’s largest private healthcare network- mentions that the infections are moderate among vaccinated people and very mild among those who have received a booster. Variants will come and go, and the virus will eventually become weaker. That’s what happened with the Spanish flu. 

Hospitality and Travel Industry experts believe in the perseverance of business, many are of the opinion that staff and customers need to be sensitized of the new normal policies, vaccination drives need to be prioritized and boosters should be made available to front line workers. Fully vaccinated people should be allowed to travel and stay and covid appropriate norms to be observed stringently, especially wearing masks in public and social distancing. If businesses of travel and hospitality must survive and thrive under such a virus evolution, then means and ways of doing business need to adapt. 

 

Sagar Chitre,

Principal,

ITM Institute of Hotel Management, Mumbai 

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