Future of luxury travel after COVID-19- in conversation with Yuyiii's founder
Nidhi Sharma, the founder of Yuyii, talks about the future of luxury travel industry after COVID-19
There used to be a time in the not so distant past—when the hotels spread all over your Instagram feed were touting luxury amenities like Frette sheets, movie theatres, and their perennially full Michelin-star restaurants.
Fast forward some months and the travel & tourism business especially is on its knees worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Country borders are sealed. Cities are at stand-still. Flights are grounded. Cruise ships are docked in harbours. Trains are stationary. Buses are not plying. Hotels are shut. Restaurants are shuttered. No one knows when the fury of the virus will abate; no vaccine is in sight; people are cloistered in their homes. Social distancing is the new mantra. Masks and gloves are the new safety accoutrements. And no one is even thinking of a holiday, let alone planning for one.
Nidhi Sharma, the founder of Yuyiii, talks about how much has the travel industry being affected, presents insights into the world of luxury travel, and shares what could the world after COVID-19 might look like for the travel industry!
How much has the industry of luxury travel evolved in the last decade in India?
The way we travel and the flavour of Travel has been through a paradigm shift.
In India, Travel has come a long way from Religious Travel, Travel to meet family members or for Weddings and other Family occasions to Pure Leisure. That in itself had the seed of the growth of Luxury Travel.
While the Travel & Tourism sector contributes about 10% to the national GDP, approx. 95% of that contribution today comes from Leisure Travel. Travel has been successful in attracting a significant part of the consumer wallet.
It has evolved from ‘touristy’ sightseeing to several Travellers maturing over the last decade having their own taste of travel. They travel for ‘Me’ time or ‘Quality Time’. This is the new class of Luxury Travellers who don’t mind spending Rs 10,000 per Night for great properties which pamper them and make them feel good.
Growing Disposable Incomes & Aspirations, Rise of Social Media and the Millennial generation who love to spend more than the previous generations and leverage Travel Loans as well, have all contributed to the demand of Luxury Travel.
Supply-side got a boost from the development of new Destinations and Luxurious Standalone Properties. Luxury travel market became larger than just 5-star branded Hotel chains, more than just lavish rooms to rooms with splendid views or exotic locations.
For example: IHCL today has several brands like Taj, SeleQtions, Vivanta and The Gateway catering to different needs of Leisure Travellers.
Which trends majorly dominated this industry during the last 2-3 years?
Several trends helped shape up the new face of Travel:
- Rise of Weekend Trips as a trend for Celebrations like Birthdays and Anniversaries
- Alternate Stays like Luxurious Airbnbs at exotic Locations, Standalone Properties like Farm Stays, Plantation Stays or Fort and Palace stays have boosted the supply side and allowed Travellers a lot of choice
- Trends like Wellness and Spa Holidays extended the meaning of Luxury Stays from just Brand Names and Fancy interiors
- Group Travel like Women Travellers across age groups, Retired folks travelling at least once a year
- Better Road and Airport Infrastructure along with Rise of Low-cost airlines
- 100% FDI in Travel and Tourism under the automatic route allowed a lot of Brands to undertake development of new Projects
Millions of Indians travelled within the country for holidays, pleasure and leisure, and the number was expected to increase this year. But, the pandemic has destroyed all the calculations. How many has this industry been already affected and how much it’s going to be affected in the times to come?
The Travel and Tourism Industry as we all know was the worst hit and it was all of a sudden. Hilton celebrated its 100th year just 6 months ago and within a few months of that, it had to furlough more than 60% of its 4.3 Lakh workforce according to a Phocuswire report.
“The travel and tourism industry provided 87.5 million jobs and accounted for 12.75% of the total jobs created in the country in 2019” – as per the Grant Thornton India Report of June 2020. For such an important and large industry, numbers like losses of Rs 15,000 crores in March and April alone of this year are very grim along with a CII estimate of around 2 Crore job losses.
But there are glimmers of hope streaming in from countries which have reopened. After China’s lockdown relaxations, domestic tourists took trips with enthusiasm in the 5 days of Holiday owing to May day.
50 million Trips in the first two days alone with a revenue of $1.38 billion. These are great numbers when tourist attractions had a capping on the number of Tourists to 30% of total capacity.
Few Marriott properties in the Resort destinations of China welcomed an occupancy rate as high as 70% around Labour Day. Numbers released by Sedona Chamber of Commerce show occupancy rates as high as 91% on the Memorial Day Weekend in the US.
Road to recovery might take a year or two because it will be a while for some vaccine to come out and Inbound and Outbound tourist numbers to be the same as pre-COVID. Domestic Trips will be the forerunners to Recovery. 26 Million Indians took International Trips in 2018. A large number of these Tourists will also look to explore India in 2020 and 2021.
How long, according to you, will it take before the majority of the people even start thinking of indulging in luxury travelling?
To be very frank, no one knows when and how soon due to the number of uncertainties. But Travel will not go away, it’s part of the innate Human nature to explore. Lockdown has been very taxing.
Remote work blurred lines between personal and professional hours. Household duties and no recreation has taken a toll. Post lockdown if we look at recreation options, people might still hesitate for visiting malls or friends but a Road trip to a Safe property will work.
For this to happen, states need to come to a conclusion on how to keep their borders open without significant quarantine time needed and Hotels have to be prepared to host Guests with comprehensive Safety and Hygiene measures. We expect a significant pent up demand to arise around September.
Q. Once everything gets back to normal, what would the new normal look like for the travel industry?
Just how Airport security changed forever post 9/11, there will be new norms in the Hospitality Industry. Technology will play a key role in this transformation. Safety & Hygiene Standardizations and Certifications by prominent Bodies like National Accreditation Board for Hospitals & Healthcare Providers (NABH), DNV GL Business Assurance, Bureau Veritas etc. will be significant in winning Guest confidence.
Strategic partnerships like Hospitality Insurance Companies to help with the medical cover of the Guests could become a norm. Accor’s ALLSAFE Label, Marriott’s Global Cleanliness Council and Hilton’s tie-ups with RB which manufactures Lysol and Mayo Clinic are mirrors into the extreme care and meticulous implementations of new cleanliness measures.
Overall measures like UV disinfection technologies for Luggage, Hospital grade cleaning agents for sanitization of High touch points like door handles, elevator buttons, light control panels, Masks and Gloves, Social Distancing training of Staff, Hand Sanitizer stations, Contactless Technology and QR codes for automation of processes like Check-In, Check-Outs and Dining, Digital Payments, Disposable Menus and Cutlery will be very common place at least in the renowned Hotel brands. OTAs could put up a new filter and rating on the sanitization to help guests shortlist better.
Travellers will read reviews more in conjunction with safety and hygiene of the Property. Wellness Travel could see an impetus as people have woken up to the holy trinity of Mind, Body and Spirit. Also, new Properties under construction could see a new kind of architecture which allows better social distancing
Q. Which new trends are expected to dominate the travel industry in general and luxury tourism in particular?
Trips that guests perceive as safer will be in trend like Weekend Trips via Road which allows them to sit in the safety of their car and go to a property at a drivable distance. Travellers might increase their frequency of trips in a year and take shorter trips rather than one long trip. Indians who would keep aside a few lakhs for that one landmark international trip every year could use that to explore domestic destinations in 2020 and 2021.
Preference will be for Luxury Brands and Hotel Brands which demonstrate implementation of stringent safety and cleanliness standards. Brands which have strong 360 degree communication channels will win more number of Guests as just implementing standards and not communicating it to Guests will not help in re-instilling Guest confidence.
Guests will need more consultation-based approach to book initially and a direct online booking on OTAs with no human intervention may take longer to revive. Small to mid-size Properties in remote areas which have less than 15 rooms like Individual Cottages with large open spaces and new hygiene measures adopted will also see recovery sooner.
Hotels will need to come up with new and flexible cancellation policies and options like Open Bookings which allow paying now but travelling later can also become popular. Players like Airbnb can see a jump in Monthly rental kind of bookings owing to the flexibility that professionals will get with remote booking. So, an IT professional from Bangalore might consider working from his hometown or peaceful destination like Coorg and pay less in monthly rent.
Q. What is that most important thing that any organization in this industry should be doing right now?
Employee Safety and Guest safety should be the primary focus. This interval of time should be used to evaluate, frame and implement comprehensive safety & sanitization measures.
A lot of synergy can be derived with collaborations. Importance of Strong, Effective and 360 degree communication using all channels to help Guests understand that they will be well taken care of will not be overrated.
As many processes as possible should be digitized to enable contactless approach. Also, making sure that the cost doesn't increase too much before Revenues.
Q. Take us through the journey of Yuyiii so far!
Yuyiii’s journey has been beautiful. It started from my own travel experiences around 10-12 years ago.
I was a Showhost with a TV channel called StarCJ – joint venture between Star group and South Korea’s leading CJO. It was an upcoming premium lifestyle home-shopping channel and along with the joy of hosting shows ‘LIVE’ and selling a variety of brands like Satya Paul, Tanishq, Lenovo, Vichy etc, I got the financial freedom and some time to explore.
Touristy destinations took away the romance of travel for me and I started researching places away from the run-of-the-mill destinations, lesser-explored and more authentic. OTAs would list hundreds of properties in the known touristy destinations and even the filters could not help in finalizing the property meant for their taste. Photos of the properties were either photoshopped to show unreal stuff or were too low in quality.
Like I remember a property in Fagu, Himanchal Pradesh at 9000 ft. with a revolving restaurant and a 360 unhindered view of the Himalayas. But their website and photos didn’t match their standards at all. I took a bet and booked the property. I have somehow had intuitive powers in discovering such goldmines .
On reaching there, I was the only guest along with Rocky from the NDTV Goodtimes show ‘Highway on My Plate’. There was another time when I booked a Family run Orchard Stay with an actual Treehouse which also swayed a little bit with the breeze and a 180 deg view of the Himalayas. It was spacious, spick and span at a very affordable Tariff of Rs 3500 per night in Katrain, a village 17 Kms from the main town of Kullu.
It has an orchard land of plum, apples and cherries. Breakfast had a plate of freshly plucked cherries from the garden and parathas with the lovely kids who had red apple cheeks and were absolutely adorable.
But how would other Travellers discover these gorgeous properties? Videos are a powerful medium too and help us dream about travel.
At the same time give better clarity than Photos but were perceived as very expensive and Hotel owners lacked the knack of making apt Travel videos. Tripadvisor reviews helped but a lot of times the Traveller disparity in their ways of travel caused confusion. Like some traveller reviewing a Corbett property as poor because they didn’t spot a tiger in the safari or a poor photo uploaded by a Traveller with a crumpled bed sheet and empty plastic bottles strewn in the room.
With these realizations coming in, I was excited to start work and offer a platform to many Travellers like me who wanted to Discover new destinations and great Properties with Nonphotoshopped Images and Videos plus In-depth Travel expert reviews. Yuyiii’s empanelled Travel experts travel to each property and give their honest review on 25 parameters and highlight important things like Room lights are dim, so the stay may not be apt for a reading holiday.
We launched last year and raised an angel round in June 2019 with two very inspiring and supportive angel investors. Yuyiii received love from travellers and within a few months we could clock great booking volumes with more than 4500 registered users. Our Travellers and Property partners love us for World-class Videos produced by the Yuyiii Team which also feature interviews and stories of heroes from the properties.
Sharing Two such Property Videos.
1. Property Overview of a Treehouse Property in Wayanad
2. Owner Story of a Property in Rajasthan
Q. Looking at how much things are affected during this pandemic, what are your immediate plans?
We used the Lockdown period to integrate Voice Technology by SlangLabs for our esteemed Guests and are very excited that Yuyiii is now one of India’s first online platforms to have this technology which is Voice to function and not just simple translation of Voice to text.
We are reading the situation week-on-week and in close communication with our Partner Properties . Yuyiii is known for its content and communication capabilities. We understand the Tonality and Sensitivity needed for our segment of Evolved travelers in form of text, images and videos.
Our videos are inspiring and informational and strike a chord with the travelers. We plan to extend this expertise to a lot of our Partner brands so that they can use all their energies in implementing the new SOPs and guidelines released by MoHFW and we can help them in communicating this to the Guests.
Q. What would be your advice to all the young individuals aspiring to become an entrepreneur?
Having crystal clear clarity on why you want to be an entrepreneur will add meaning.
Primary motto to earn a lot of money quickly or it looks cool are wrong reasons and will not help you sustain. Ideas are dime a dozen but execution is the key.
This journey will test you, break you and there are no shortcuts. Only when you love the process as much as the final achievement of goals, giving up will not be an option. Please have great mentors and coaches. Build a great team who will stand by you when times are tough.
Yuyiii is lucky to have such team members to look at silver linings in this crisis. If you are true to your purpose, this journey will be the most enthralling and enriching one!
Ideas are easy, Implementation is Hard, learn from the ones who knows how to start. A Publication by Tealfeed.