COVID-19 has given impetus to domestic travel and PM’s vision of ‘DekhoApnaDesh’: Harshit Vyas, SVP & COO, Oyo India and South Asia

One of the youngest CXOs in the country’s hospitality segment, Harshit Vyas, is an early OYOpreneur and he led OYO’s first foray into the international market.

Rising optimism among travellers is giving domestic travel a much needed boost! One of the youngest CXOs in the country’s hospitality segment, Harshit Vyas, is an early OYOpreneur and he led OYO’s first foray into the international market. In conversation with The Financial Express Online’s Swapna Raghu Sanand, Harshit Vyas, SVP & COO, Franchisee Business – OYO India and South Asia, shares his key insights pertaining to travel trends across the country.

“COVID-19 has given impetus to domestic travel and the PM’s vision of #DekhoApnaDesh,” Harshit Vyas told The Financial Express Online.

He cites how leisure destinations – Jaipur, Kochi and Goa – witnessed an uptick during Diwali, “We’ve been witnessing similar trends during other long weekends too. We are sure that the current trend will continue with month-on-month growth. As we anticipate steady growth in bookings in the coming months, we are working towards safe and sanitised stays to every guest who walks through our doors at OYO.”

Notably, OYO has been strengthening their safety and hygiene measures with initiatives such as ‘Sanitised Before Your Eyes’ with Sonu Sood and launching a one-stop solution for all travel-related assistance on the OYO app. This also includes COVID-19 testing with some of the leading ICMR approved pathology labs. In addition, the launch of Contactless Check-ins and Yo! Chatbot, enables OYO customers to adopt self-serve product features.

He cautions, “The pandemic isn’t over yet. It will be too soon for us to comment on the outlook for 2021, however, we’re confident that the rise in bookings will continue month on month.”

In what ways has COVID-19 redefined leisure travel in India and on what parameters do you expect travellers to define and make their informed decisions on where to stay and why?

When we recently conducted our consumer survey, we understood that a majority of respondents (57%) wanted to travel for leisure after spending months in lockdown and out of these, 61% had already decided their next travel destination.

As India started unlocking, combined with the efforts of the travel, and hospitality industry to ensure safety precautions, travel aspirations among city-dwellers began rising, leading to enhanced customer confidence. However, safety continued to be a top priority for all travellers. This led to the popularity of road trips to nearby hill stations, beach destinations and exploring local hidden gems.

Air travel has taken a backseat compared to pre-covid days, however, with the holiday season kicking in, there seems to be a steady demand for air travel to domestic destinations as well. To sum it all up, shorter distances, longer stays, exploring the unexplored, and staycations are the new leisure travel trends brought about by the COVID disruption. And of course, travel and hospitality in itself have been redefined for the better, with higher consciousness for hygiene, sanitation, and safety at the forefront.

Historically, as we know it, the travel and hospitality ecosystem is a high touch one full of greetings and gestures. This year, when it comes to safety, the tourism industry at large which was one of the worst affected by the pandemic, buckled up, reinvented itself and implemented all the necessary protocols and measures to enable social distancing, ensure hygiene and digitise efforts to eliminate processes that require physical contact.

At OYO, we’ve implemented Sanitised Before Your Eyes (an initiative wherein the guest can request hotel staff to sanitise high touchpoints right in front of their eyes), Contactless Check-ins and Traveller Assistance. These efforts combined with the flexibility of cancellations, offering value for money, quality stays and seamless experiences give customers the ease of mind to travel safely.

Will travel and hotel bookings boom further as we inch closer to Christmas and New Year? Do you see a demographic change in terms of long-distance travel preferences now?

Based on OYO’s predictive analysis, what does 2021 have in store for travellers in India?

Absolutely. Since Unlock 4.0, we’ve seen rising optimism among travellers across India during the holiday season, which is a welcome change for the tourism and hospitality ecosystem. To further put things in perspective, as per our Diwali booking trends, we witnessed the intent to book is at almost 100% levels as compared to Pre-Covid for consumers visiting OYO platform. Notably, the traffic is at more than 50%.

When it comes to travel trends, our surveys highlight that the majority of our leisure destination bookings are made by group travellers, followed by solo and business travellers. Amongst these, group travellers and business travellers consider safety as their topmost priority, whereas, solo travellers are more cautious about affordability.

What are OYO’s specific initiatives for travellers during the new normal?

Over the past couple of months, we worked towards strengthening our safety and hygiene measures, leveraging innovative technology to enable seamless and contactless exchanges. Considering that travel is coming back slowly, when we spoke to our consumers at a deeper level, we understood that 81% of consumers said they would opt for rooms that have been sanitised before their own eyes as opposed to opting for an unused room that has been sanitised before. This is what will give them peace of mind. And that was it.

We rolled out the Sanitised Before Your Eyes initiative with Sonu Sood, who is not just our brand ambassador but has been and still is an OYO hotel owner for some time now. This initiative walks the talk by disinfecting the room in front of a guest’s eyes and reassuring them of all the precautionary measures we are taking, so that they can enjoy their stay without worries.

We launched a one-stop solution for travel assistance on OYO app. We have also leveraged technology in a big way to offer meaningful solutions to consumers during the new normal.

We launched Contactless Check-ins to eliminate processes that could be digitised and Yo! Chatbot, a real-time 24*7 chat assistant. This helps to nudge the customer to adopt self-serve product features rather than call for queries.

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