Kerala, fondly known as god’s own country is reopening its tourism gates to soften the impact of the pandemic on the industry. Tourism alone in Kerala accounts for 11.5 percent of the state’s GDP and employs 1.5 million people. The lockdowns in the pandemic have cast a spell of zero revenue on the tourism industry for over a year. With vaccination drives acing its pace, Kerala tourism is beginning to reopen its tourism by strictly adhering to the bio-bubble model.
What is the Bio-Bubble model that Kerala tourism will be adhering to?
Bio-bubble is a sanitised, safe and secure environment in which the tourists administered with a minimum of a single jab will be insulated from the external contacts. It is mandated by the government that all the possible tourist contact with locals right from cab drivers to tour guides and operators to the staff in hotels, resorts, and homestays must be vaccinated.
However, this secured cocoon model adopted in the recent Tokyo Olympics as well as in the 2021 IPL tournament has burst as around 70 athletes tested positive in the opening ceremony despite following strict protocols of RT-PCR tests. The IPL tournament had to be postponed as cricketers from the KKR team were posted positive. With this, the sustainability of Bio-bubble remains a question. Can this be implemented in the travel and tourism sector in a highly populous country like India? Can there be other ways of safe tourism practices?
Tourism alone in Kerala accounts for 11.5 percent of the state's GDP and employs 1.5 million people.
Safe tourism practices to be adopted in the industry other than Bio-bubble
Kerala’s tourism was not the only one to suffer the blows of the pandemic, according to the Rajasthan Tourism Department, Rajasthan witnessed a drop of almost 60 percent in the arrival of foreign tourists and 70 percent in domestic tourists.
As per a survey conducted by JLL property consultancy, 11 major cities across the country witnessed a decline of 29 percent in revenue per available room (RevPAR) during January-March 2020. After the virus breakout, travel and tourism will not remain the same as they used to be, but for revival, there is a dire need to implement safe tourism practices to instill confidence in people about safe traveling.
- Introducing cycle trips: To establish social distancing, sightseeing on cycle trips can be implemented. The earlier manner of sightseeing in groups while walking has a high risk of contracting the virus. The travel companies can organise cycle tours for travellers during low traffic hours and following the tour guide on a cycle where they can experience the nearby local markets, monuments, and short hiking locations. This sustainable form of sightseeing has been implemented in Jaipur.
- Introduce slot bookings: Travel and adventure companies can introduce online slot bookings for activities such as boating, forest safari, kayaking, etc. Travellers will come in the designated time slot to experience the fun in a less crowded environment.
- Contactless hospitality: The probability of contracting the virus remains high in hotels. Adoption of contactless services by the hotel chains is imperative to establish minimum contact. Hotels can keep digital menus or food ordering in hotels can happen through apps. All communication to reception or room service can happen through chatbots or video chats. The check-in and check-out process can be digitised by scanning the QR code and digital payment will ensure minimum contact. The entertainment and cooling systems in the rooms such as TV and AC remotes to be replaced by virtual control systems. The restaurant lounges also hold a high risk of contraction, where they can install air purifiers. Cloud-based Internet of Things (IoT) can be implemented for seamless coordination with the housekeeping staff, assigning staff duties, and adhering to hygiene compliances.
What lies ahead for the small hotels and travel companies amidst high hygiene and zero contact?
Smaller hotels have enough born the heat of lockdowns. Therefore, their growth is critical for the state’s economic growth. As per the data from the Ministry of Tourism, the industry’s collective loss i.e. transport and tourism have been pegged at Rs 1.58 lakh crore.
The big franchise-type hotels can partner with smaller hotels and travel companies that will empower the small hotels to manage day-to-day operations with the help of contactless technologies ensuring hygiene and social distancing regulations. The state’s tourism industry can revive by targeting the millennials who can work virtually from anywhere and offer highly personalised experiences.