Rajeev Nangia, Chief Operating Officer (COO), TRAC Representations has closely observed the Indian outbound market since its inception. In an interaction with Travel Trade Insider, he sheds light on a variety of subjects, from the evolving Indian outbound market to the need for businesses to adapt in the pandemic world.

Q. As a representation company which has been present in the Indian market for a long time, how has the outbound market in India evolved over the years?

A. TRAC pioneered the concept of representation in the Indian market way back in 1992. Since then our focus has been on expanding the Indian outbound travel market. From the days of early ’90s when there were various formalities to be fulfilled before people could travel overseas and had limited access to foreign exchange to the age of liberalisation when people had easy access to foreign exchange with hardly any restrictions, the Indian outbound market has evolved to a great extent.

The Indian outbound travel numbers – over 25 million by the year 2019 are in itself an important indicator of the growth being witnessed in the sector. Moreover, from just a handful of destination, Indians today are travelling to all kinds of places. There were few destinations being marketed in India in the ’90s but today India has become an important market for various tourism boards, cruise liners, hotels and various attractions. This highlights how the market has developed over the last three decades.

India is a young nation with almost 65% of the population under the age of 35 years. Wanderlust will continue to be the top priority and outbound travel is bound to grow at a faster pace. High aspirations and changing mindsets and travel not being considered a luxury but a mandatory activity to get out of daily hectic life and routine means that globetrotting will continue to be a necessity as well as a fashion statement.

Q. The present Covid-19 world has posed never seen challenges for the tourism market, as a representation company how are you adapting to this new scenario?

A. Covid-19 has put almost everything to a kind of halt. This is an unprecedented situation that the world is grappling with and no one has an answer as to how much more time will be required before we start to travel as we used to earlier. However, a new normal situation is evolving and how we will travel in the times to come are still questions that have to be answered.

It is not just representation companies that need to adapt to the new scenario, but all verticals of industry involved with travel directly or indirectly will have to adapt and cater to the new ‘normal’.

We have also started taking baby steps towards this changing environment. We are working towards new ways to engage our partners and clients. In fact, we all, as the travel industry need to adapt to the new mechanism developing, from the phase of traditional to digital and actual to virtual. These are testing times and the sooner we adapt and accept the better it would be for the industry. The new generation travel industry will be far more technology-savvy with different skill sets and working on revenue models that probably before Covid-19 were just a concept.

Q. Though the domestic market has slightly opened up now, many in the industry feel that it will take a long time for outbound demand to be back. What kind of trends or demand pattern are you expecting to see once the Covid-19 curve flattens in India?

A. As you mentioned the domestic market has opened, so has the outbound market with various air bubbles being operational. There is no denial be it any kind of travel, it will take time to revive. Overseas travel will cost higher in the future. The overseas demand will build up gradually, over a period of time and we should prepare for a staggering recovery. The curve will be very gradual for the Indian middle class travelling overseas.

Q. Many overseas markets are reserved about opening tourism to India considering our large number of cases. Do you expect that even when international flights resume to India, destinations will see away from the Indian market?

A. We need to consider and keep in mind, that India is a sub-continent with a large population. So, our numbers of people getting infected cannot be small. Currently, the pandemic situation in India is still active and the curve is still rising so it is for sure, few countries may be reserved to opening tourism to not only India but many other countries too.

These situations will change from time to time as we have seen resurfacing of the cases in some countries where there were none. So, as of now, it is a period of ever-changing situations and we will have to tackle it from time to time and on regular basis.

To me international flights are bilateral decisions and countries who agree to have people exchange will only allow the airlines operations. So, we as an industry should be prepared for some routes opening early and other later, based on situations in respective countries. As mentioned above also Indian outbound tourism will resume gradually and grow over a period of time. Indians have been big spenders and India is among the top outbound markets, but post-Covid-19 it is a restart and India will regain its space in the shortest possible time.

Q. A lot of destinations are promoting and marketing now through virtual platforms. Do you think such a trend is going to stay considering its cost benefits even in the post-pandemic world?

A. Traditional, online, actual and virtual, all forms are here to stay post-pandemic. Travel industry cannot survive only on online and virtual mode but a hybrid model is evolving for promotion and we will have new thoughts, skills and technology to adapt as an industry and should have an open mind to do so.