Priyanka Saxena Ray
Surviving the Pandemic
Firstly, our main instinct when the pandemic broke was to preserve our cash and now in hindsight I think it was something which has really paid up. We took some stringent measures in the company and all of us had to obviously take some cuts across the board, which, personally, was very painful for me. However, I think we were the first ones to even roll it back when the market opened up and I am glad to say that there were no layovers.
Secondly, I think communication with the team is critical and that is something we followed diligently. I used to speak to my team on a weekly basis and stay connected at all times. I could understand their emotions and addressed their unanswered questions. The goal was not just to communicate but also comfort the team regularly and assure them that the worst will be over soon. Infact, during Covid, many of our staff or their families were caught up in the storm and we stood strong with them to ensure they were taken care of and their issues sorted.
Motivating the Team
For us there was no lockdown – we simply followed the government laws. We did whatever was permissible. May 23, 2020 was the first day when we opened our office during the first wave and then kept coming till the government asked us not to. But the attitude was always to be at work because I believe decision making is quicker when people are sitting across the table from each other. Your motivation levels are higher, your emotions can be seen and so much more. Most importantly, coming to office keeps your mind away from a lot of negativity. We paid back refunds on time and I’m very proud to say (which you can check from the industry too) on helping our partners face the stress during the pandemic. Our suppliers, our clients – be it the airlines or hotels or the travel partners across the world, everyone was happy to see how we operated during the most challenging times. We operated 24/7 – emails, phones, virtual meetings – my team was out there! Everybody was responding because I always told my team, don’t run away from this problem, and lets face the same with a brave and positive attitude. But sooner or later the crisis will settle down, which has happened. And I think today with the all the strenuous effort we did in the Covid times is really helping us to build our business back over the last one year.
While I am happy that life is back to normal, the pandemic also taught us a lot, starting with not putting all our eggs in one basket – therefore our cargo business was born. We also started with our Zam Zam business, which is the business serving the Umrah pilgrimage and is head quartered out of Saudi. We further strengthened our European products with Rail Europe, etc. We hired a little more than 110 people during Covid, which was surprising for a lot of people, but we wanted to do it because we were getting some great talent, which was available as companies were doing layoffs. We acquired Gemini Travels in the peak of the 2nd wave in June 2021. So as a team I think we stood very tall and did things differently.
Evolving Travel Trends
Initially TBO and many other travel companies never really focused on domestic hotel business as much, but Covid taught us how important this sector is and it is now part of our revenue and will continue to stay relevant.
India has tasted the amazing part of travelling within India, especially Rajasthan, the hills in Uttarakhand, Goa, Kerala, Kashmir, Dharamshala, Manali, Coorg became some popular sought after. Even the monolithic Statue of Unity became very popular. The other good thing that happened to domestic market in India is the Cordelia Cruises. I am very proud to say that India has seen a local cruise line, which the middle class, who had aspirations to travel on a cruise, will be fulfilled. And who knows that this could be a start for India becoming a very large cruise hub for this part of the world.
Post Pandemic scenario
Honestly, I think there’s a lot of happiness at the moment. Everybody across the industry is very busy. There are plenty of possibilities and positivity in the air. Everybody’s back to their fullest work regime. And I think most of people who I speak to are in very good spirits right mind frame now.
Omicron was absolutely mild and hopefully no wave should come now in the summer. The summer season looks very promising after almost two years.
There is a revenge travel now – that includes both international and domestic last minute bookings for summer holidays. The challenges are different now not in terms Covid the Ukraine war has forced oil prices to go up. People are expecting the fares to come down, but it hasn’t happened because of the oil prices. Also, getting visas right now, especially for Europe, etc. is tough as people are either not getting appointments or getting them too late. But I am sure that this lack will soon catch up – it is basically a demand and supply issue which will self-resolve, given some time.
When will be go back to the figures of 2019?
I think domestic is almost there. The numbers of domestic travellers released in April 2022 is very encouraging. This number will only grow further. It’s just that the complete airline inventory still has to normalise and should be by July 1, 2022, whatever little vacuum is left will also fill-up. We will make up for what we’ve lost, domestic for sure, international, even if we get there by 80%, I think that’s a good news as industry. What I have also heard in the recent time is that even the business travel within domestic has started to come back with large companies. So sooner or later the international business will also come back.
I think the worst is over and it’s behind us. We all waited for two years to pass by and though some little bumps might happen, I think we are back on track and probably much stronger as an industry and I always say 2023 will probably one of the best years industry has seen in the last many years.
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