What should travel look like post Covid?
The Covid-19 pandemic has proven to be far more than just a health crisis, as economies across the world have come to a standstill to contain the virus. One of the hardest-hit industries happens to be the tourism and hospitality sector.
However, in beginning the recovery process in the aftermath of the pandemic, hospitality has to plan accordingly and Sri Lanka has started to allow some economic activities already.
From the Asia nations that have sprinted to being ahead of the curve, Sri Lanka has managed to be a leader in containing the virus, not so far behind Vietnam which has done an excellent job in containing the virus.
Speaking about picking up on tourism, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa recently shared that Sri Lanka has many options in speeding up the process, as he suggested targeting high-spending tourists, issuing visas with recognised health certificates to maintain the containment of the virus, and particularly targeting countries where the virus has been contained.
The President also mentioned that we need to focus on promoting medical tourism and emphasising Sri Lanka’s successes in curbing the spread of the virus, and also targeting long-term tourists who travel during the winter season.
We spoke to a number of industry persons to get their opinion on the President’s proposals and also to share their ideal scenario, referring to their respective expertise considering the expectations for business post Covid.
While many echoed the President’s proposals, there were varied opinions across the board.
Teardrop Hotels Managing Director Henry Fitch shared: “Our initial point of view is that people are now able to travel between districts, which will open up the local market for people to stay in hotels.”
Fitch said that it would be ideal if the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) could provide an accreditation for hotels to follow the recommended safety requirements, which will as a result put everyone’s mind at ease to garner confidence in travellers, and that would be most beneficial in the long term. The accreditation will encourage people who are already planning to travel as well as sway those who are on the fence, he explained.
“As for travellers from abroad, Sri Lanka is at an advantage with regard to the extreme low count of Covid patients found and the effective containment of its spread, which can ease the minds of anyone who wishes to fly to Asia and could be the deciding factor in them coming to Sri Lanka,” Fitch added.
He said that there are many who have been stuck in one place for a long time and so there will be many who wish to fly away for an escape or change of scenery. As such, they would feel comfortable flying to a place that exhibits low to no risk.
Safety is at the top of all priorities
Yara Galle Fort Operations Manager Luckshalyan Rajmohan, talking to The Sunday Morning Brunch, said: “Despite all our years in the hospitality industry, we have not encountered such an issue. I have to say that this was totally unexpected and so I think the industry the world over is unprepared and shocked. The travel and tourism industry was a win-win scenario no one was afraid to bet on, but I guess things do not always work out as we expect them to.”
Rajmohan said that since the present situation is unprecedented, they cannot say for certain what an ideal scenario is. However, he did say that safety is at the top of all priorities, adding that sanitation and social distancing as practically and as long as humanly possible should be carried out.
“In our establishment, we have just 15 rooms, and depending how the Government regulations read, we are looking forward to running operations come June. We will minimise our intake at our restaurants and limit guests to room service as much as they would prefer – that is the best we can hope for,” Rajmohan added.
Attracting locals is the way to go
“There will be an entire class of persons who would otherwise never take a foreign holiday looking to travel, and we should offer attractive packages for those people, maybe even air ticket promotions to allow families and couples to travel,” noted Habarana Hotel Association Chairman Ajith Ranasinghe, who is also the owner of multiple homestays including Mutu Village. He said that despite what the Tourism Ministry or even the President himself is saying, he believes the best way to grow the industry is to offer attractive rates to regular people who are simply fed up of living in lockdown or isolation.
Ranasinghe feels that we should particularly take into consideration what we would call as tourist hotspots in the island, the cultural triangle, Sigiriya, etc. “That area is currently very expensive; it would be a great draw if it is offered at a reduced rate.”
Having been a hotelier for many years now, Ranasinghe has personally experienced in his travels that European countries like Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria do not have any exposure to Sri Lanka. “There are (Sri Lankan) embassies, but they do not promote our country. I think it is time we focused on the new market. It can bring in a fresh set of eyes and the authorities should put pressure on those ambassadors to bring in a certain quota of tourism into the country.”
Help to reinstate the status quo
An ideal scenario, according to Roo Mansala Boutique Villas Managing Director Chamika Withanage, would be the moratoriums in place not being so difficult to acquire, upon safety being ensured.
“We have had a successful first year in business and then we had to suffer the Easter bombings, but we were coming back strong and then the pandemic hit. I employed a 12-person staff and I had to give them leave, and some of them asked for three months worth of leave because they had opted to do some agricultural work while we struggled to get back up,” Withanage said.
He emphasised that all they ask for is the banks to help the industry reinstate the status quo. Regardless of what the authorities have said, he went on to note that the hoteliers are disappointed in the way things have been handled. While they are grateful for the effective containment of the virus, he pointed out that it need not have been done at the expense of or while ignoring the businesses that have taken the hardest hit.
“Also, I must mention that this suggestion of ‘quarantine tourism’, or whatever the terminology is, does not sound feasible. In our experience, people travel to Sri Lanka for a maximum of a few weeks, and from that time, how can you assume that even if it is in luxury that they would opt to spend a majority of their time in quarantine? I do not know if there is real logic behind that thinking.”
Regardless, continued Withanage, if the airways are opened up and now that people are able to travel between districts, they are absolutely ready to open for business, come July.
Photo Krishan Kariyawasam