Travel Trade Journal
Eastbound Group staying relevant and logical till inbound tourism recovers
Eastbound Group’s USP has been to cater to discerning travellers looking for ‘Journey beyond usual’, experiential and special interest travel. Their reach in this segment has been across continents, including Australian, European, and US markets. We at TTJ interacted with Manish Pratik, Director, Eastbound Group, to get some insights into the inbound travel in the country. He tells us that even while travel looks positive, there is still a long way to go before inbound travel fully recovers.
Over the past two years, a lot has happened over the last two years in the Indian travel and hospitality industry with new destinations and products, including a fresh crop of boutique resorts, new concepts like ‘staycations,’ improved infrastructure – roads, flight connectivity, etc. This has allowed Eastbound to reboot its product profile for inbound travellers. With such varied quality options in various parts of the Indian sub-continent, they also educate their staff with training and FAM trips. The same is now being done for their international partners as well.
With scheduled international flight operations gradually gaining momentum, Manish feels that there are some positive signs at this stage. However, there is still a long way to go before inbound returns to its good old days of glory. “It’s primarily because the disruption has been so severe that it has affected the whole supply chain. We still do not have sufficient flight connectivity, airfares are very high and visa processing is severely backlogged for many countries. FTOs are busy with international summer destinations, which are an easier sell for them than India. They too have constraints on staff, as many of their India experts have left the industry. Having said so, tourism has always seen a V-shaped recovery that we are already witnessing in Indian domestic leisure and MICE markets. We remain hopeful for similar traction in inbound as well,” informs Manish.
While outbound tourism is gaining traction and many countries are looking at faster visa application processes, there seem to be challenges in the faster recovery of inbound tourism in India. On this, Manish says, “If I had to pick one major challenge, it would have to be the lack of initiative at the central level. Historically, the voice of the Indian tourism industry has never been a loud one with a
negligible say in policy matters. It has never been a priority sector for the Governments across party lines due to reasons better known to them. Smaller countries whose priority is inbound tourism are making more efforts to remove hindrances. They are also making better marketing efforts in promoting their countries. DMCs such as us, who have been the ambassadors of Indian tourism, have our own limitations with depleted resources as a result of the business is at a standstill for the last two and a half years.”
At Eastbound, their optimistic estimation is that by 2023-24, the industry may see a full recovery; however, one cannot predict, as it remains subject to many pre-conditions. Presently, the world has, by and large, accepted the COVID-19 pandemic as a part of life and is not going to be wiped away so soon. “We must learn to live with it and life must go on. With uncertainties of life, people want to travel sooner than later and tick through their bucket lists. So, unless there is another severe wave, I don’t think the pandemic will be a deterrent to travel. Instead, the revival of inbound would most likely depend on logistical reasons such as seasonality, flights, visas, etc.,” assures Manish.
On their latest offerings in experiential travel to attract international travellers to India, apart from creating innovative itineraries based on experiential travel in lesser-known parts of the country like Northeast, Central India, Sikkim, or Orissa, where infrastructure has taken large strides over the last few years. Eastbound has been focused on creating innovations through activity-based programs like cycling tours, hiking, wilderness trails, and day-to-day interest-based experiences in several parts of the country.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping the staff motivated has been a major challenge for the industry, apart from convincing international partners to start selling India again. At Eastbound, they spend a lot of time training the sales force of their foreign partners. They have also spent a lot of their energies on technological advancements, which will likely be a gamechanger for inbound tourism.
Regarding technological advancement, Manish mentions, “The world is more fastpaced now and the next generation of travellers and operators will prefer better technically equipped DMCs. Due to access to high-speed internet, OTAs and the desperation of the industry to get back into business, margins will definitely come down and the answer to all this is technology, now. We are working on tech innovations to become faster-paced and have wider offerings for our partners at better pricing along with a better support system for their operations. Travel is designed to bring the world closer and so our eyes are set not on regional dominance but on becoming a global player.”