- By: Deepa Misra Harris
It would not be wrong to state that for most people, COVID-19 has rendered 2020 to be the stuff of dystopian nightmares coming true. The reality of ‘social distancing’ is a true irony in the hyper-connected world we live in.
As statistics indicate, the travel industry has been one of the worst affected and the new face of tourism is unlike anything we have known before. While experts are still analyzing the post-pandemic scene, it is safe to assume that the current concerns of ‘self-care’ and ‘safety’ won’t just define the wellness travel economy but will also give an important shot of revival to the industry as a whole.
While countries across the globe take tentative steps towards recovery with cautious destination and hotel re-openings, tourists are championing the cause of more mindful travel options. So, what will be the shape of the ‘new reality’ of travel post COVID-19?
Travel will have to follow new rules
In the post-pandemic travel world, besides visas, travellers will have to respect the revised rules of entry and exit with regards to standard precautions and quarantine guidelines. Unfortunately, there will be no ‘free fly at will’ till all the boxes have been ticked. With the growing number of corona cases, passengers from India especially, may not be free to travel to several countries due to restrictions set by them.
Some borders may still be closed unless one is lucky to be part of the European Union! But as some experts have suggested, this may positively impact Indian tourism as India is a vast country, with lots of areas still to be discovered by discerning travellers.
On another note, even those countries that have opened up for tourists have strict quarantine rules. An assumption is that few people would want to self-isolate themselves in a hotel room and waste seven to 14 days of their hard-earned holiday. So if you are looking to fly out on a break, these new rules will have to be adhered to.
The dining out regulations
Earlier, the busier a restaurant or bar, the more its popularity. A buzzing vibe with a colourful crowd would attract zillions of walk-ins but now, the selection criteria for those wishing an eclectic dining experience will be safety standards and accreditation. Choosing to sit at community tables or at the bar to rub shoulders with locals may be a thing of the past.
Restaurants will shift to a more local and off-premise delivery of experiences with stricter norms of social distancing and stringent sanitisation processes. Diners, expected to be more conscious of their choices, will increasingly value quality over quantity.
Restaurants have recognised the need to adapt to these difficult times as well. For instance, currently, the latest buzz in the food world is that “Noma is serving burgers”. Renowned chef Rene Redzepi announced he was converting his famous Copenhagen Michelin two-star restaurant into a hamburger joint, reinventing his business model entirely. Closer home, the Taj group just launched their new food delivery app, Qmin, for a differentiated delivery option, bringing cuisine from their iconic restaurants into their customer’s homes.
Sharing economy will get more popular
People will increasingly seek safety amongst their own. The unifying theme will be privacy or private space over public gatherings. Therefore, private hire rental options such as Airbnb, secluded pared-down boutique hotels, dinners at chef’s private kitchens, supper clubs or at strangers’ homes (discovered and booked via Eatwith or SecretSupper) and catered dinners at home will become de rigueur.
Private travel will get a boost
Chartering boats and private jets will become more popular among those who can afford it. The Aman and Four Seasons group have been pioneers in promoting their own private jet experiences. The Aman group, especially, has taken a lead in how they envisioned leisure travel.
Their resorts are secluded havens of space and privacy boasting of utmost balance with nature. Their latest opening in 2020, Camp Sarika by Amangiri, in the middle of the Utah desert amongst 600 acres of towering mesas and canyons, is a fine case of luxury travel, ideal for a socially-distanced world.
Strangely, most openings in 2020 are in similar locations. Examples include Rosewood Little Dix Bay in the British Islands or Arctic Bath on Luke River in Sweden (a hotel and wellness center with just 12 cabins) or Xigera Safari Lodge in Botswana on the edge of Moremi Game Reserve (again with only 12 luxuriously appointed suites) or closer home, the Six Senses, Fort Barwara with 48 rooms.
Travellers will explore and seek curious corners of the world that are not swarming with crowds yet offer offbeat travel experiences. Off-the-radar culture/places/people will become more attractive as will road trips. Another example of holidays being a time to reflect is the SLOW LIFE philosophy propagated by the Soneva Resorts group in Maldives and Thailand.
SLOW LIFE stands for Sustainable, Local, Organic, Wellness, Learning, Inspiring, Fun, Experiences. Not only does it redefine our lens on what true luxury is but brings us closer to that which is pure and rare.
The spotlight on holistic wellness
With health becoming the biggest concern during the pandemic, people will travel to places that assist them in enhancing their holistic wellness goals. Wellness tourism will shift from the simple add-on spa at hotels to properties that have wellness at its core.
Not only will it be taken more seriously but it will be executed more authentically, such as the experiences at Viva Mayr in Austria, Sha Wellness in Spain and The Farm in Philippines. Words like Healing Concierges, Healing Hotels, Mindful Journeys, and Healing Summits will become a regular part of our travel vocabulary.
Building immunity will be the new mantra with time-tested ancient practices of Ayurveda, yoga and meditation becoming central to hotel programmes. Instances include the ‘Traditional Medicine Support Retreats’ at Amanbagh and the holistic ‘Anti-ageing Programme’ at Six Senses Spa, Gstaad.
Small businesses and travel
The coronavirus may actually prove to be a boon for small businesses as they will flourish with greater support for artists, master craftsmen and artisanal products. Their creativity, imagination and skills will be used to bring palpable change for travel spenders. The mission of travel organisations should, therefore, be to carry and revive the ecosystem that has temporarily collapsed in the wake of the pandemic.
Deepa Misra Harris is Founder & CEO BrandsWeLove LLP, a unique luxury hospitality and brand specialist with proficiency in branding, marketing, sales and public relations. She has a three decade long experience in the high-end luxury hospitality segment and was a significant success driver for India’s original luxury brand, The Taj Group of Hotels.