Thomas Cook's Abraham Alapatt on looking beyond the pandemic

Contactless, yet personalised holiday planning to revive tourism sentiment, says Alapatt

MUMBAI: Travel and tourism were among the first sectors to be hit in 2020, due to the outbreak of the Covid2019 pandemic and the resultant closure of borders. It has also been one of the most affected industries and probably will take the longest to revive, with both leisure and business travel taking the brunt. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTCC), the pandemic is likely to cost the tourism sector almost $22 billion and 50 million jobs. Last year alone, India's hospitality and tourism sector suffered an economic wipe-out estimated to be up to Rs 15 lakh crore. And just when it began to show signs of recovery, the country is witnessing a resurgence in cases, dimming the outlook for the sector.’s Anupama Sajeet spoke to Thomas Cook (India) president and group head of marketing Abraham Alapatt about how the travel industry plans to beat Covid 2.0 and assuage consumer fears. Alapatt also talked about the company's roadmap to deal with the large-scale disruption caused by the second wave of the pandemic.

Edited excerpts:

On the humongous challenge facing the tourism industry.

The travel and tourism industry has been one of the hardest hit due to the Covid2019 pandemic. Given the vaccine rollouts, we are now witnessing a growth in positive consumer sentiment and are seeing fear being replaced with cautious optimism. In the short to medium term, the opportunity for tourism will be dominated by a few new keywords -- safety and hygiene, clear focus on less crowded, more open space, sunshine-oriented destinations, and as a result possibly more unexplored, undiscovered, destinations and experiences.

Going forward in the new normal, marketers have talked of the post-pandemic ‘3C’ customer, who is effectively going to be constrained -- mentally, physically, and financially and will be connected to what’s happening in their country and the world. The post-pandemic customer is going to be defined by 4Ds, especially for travel:

· Will Deliberate more on decisions on leisure travel

· More Discerning about the choice of destinations

· Demanding/Detail-oriented regarding all aspects of the travel programs

· Discovery-oriented

On marketing strategies for the upcoming summer holiday season.

Summer is one of the primary seasons to travel for families given that most school vacations are during this time. While our marketing strategy in 2020 had been primarily digital, we have now reintroduced print to our mix of promotions. We believe in an omnichannel approach, giving the customer the choice to connect with us digitally, at our outlets, or via our toll-free numbers. Customers have now become more digital-savvy post-2020. We have seen an increase in the web traffic on our sites as well as walk-ins at our stores for final discussions and closures. We will continue to invest digitally and boost our retail network across the country.

Also, we quickly adapted to the new normal and created products and services in line with the requirements of the Covid2019 era. The consumer wish-list had changed and our teams worked accordingly to create easy to book, practical holidays such as workations, staycations, drivecations, affordable luxury holidays. We focused on quick breaks to counter the stress of work from home and home chores at convenient short drivable distances.

As international borders reopened, our teams negotiated deals with our vendors/partners to offer customers the best rates at Dubai and Maldives’ luxury and super-luxury resorts. The reopening of borders for additional countries has boosted outbound demand to destinations like Russia, Turkey, Egypt, and Seychelles. We have added the exciting Aurora Borealis/Northern Lights experience in Murmansk and launched our Nepal tours with a special offer. We are seeing growing confidence in international travel and the return of group travel. 

On Thomas Cook’s roadmap for 2021 and beyond.

We conducted a survey with over 2500 customers across India’s metros and tier-1 and tier-2 cities to understand key consumer behaviours and trends. Our Holiday Readiness Travel Report - Future of Travel post-Covid2019 revealed key drivers in this new era of travel. Health and safety ranks as the primary concern for 75 per cent of respondents. We took this challenge head-on and put together a three-pronged customer confidence-building program in the form of 'Assured-Insured-Secured', that covers every aspect of physical safety, as well as mental and financial security to give the customer complete peace of mind.

We also launched the Assured Safe Travel Program and Doctor on Call 24x7 service in partnership with Apollo Clinics; a free-service offering expert guidance and assistance for safe holiday planning via a tie-up with ICMR accredited labs.

Given the situation, the demand for virtual and contactless sales and services has accelerated. Our survey also revealed that given the prevailing uncertainty, a significant 71 per cent of respondents stated that they require the guidance of a holiday expert and preferred to visit an outlet/Virtual Store/video chat while planning their holidays. We introduced Virtual Holiday Store and our dedicated team of travel experts will be available over video chat to guide customers with contactless and convenient holiday planning. This is in addition to our retail outlets pan India, that are operational where permitted by local authorities.

(In addition to Thomas Cook, the Thomas Cook India Group operates leading B2C and B2B travel brands including SOTC, Asian Trails, AlliedTPro (ATP), Australian Tours Management (ATM), Desert Adventures, Luxe Asia, Kuoni Hong Kong, TC Travel, Private Safaris East & South Africa and Sterling Holidays.)

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