#Voices of Travel: India’s fledgling travel will prosper and rise, urges Roshan Burman

In our ongoing series, we explore how the humans of travel are mitigating the ongoing COVID19 outbreak. Today Roshan Burman from Handmade Homes speaks to us. 

2020 was our year of expansion. We have grown from one to five serviced apartments. Recently, we have signed on two new apartments and also have a boutique hotel/co-living space slated for opening in June 2020. For our existing apartments, we already have confirmed bookings as far as December 2020. In fact , the response for service apartments was so positive that our latest apartment which we launched on the 7th of March was pre-booked from January 2020.

Normally the 2nd quarter is the slowest time of the year. The weather gets warm and wedding season (a big draw) dies out from mid-March onwards. However, we already had a host of bookings for the season. Since we had achieved some scale (14 rooms from 3 in 2019) we were looking to invest in marketing, technology, etc. Our main goals were twofold- attracting a broader client base to drive direct bookings (lesser reliance on third-party providers line Airbnb) and build a brand image. We had set aside funds for this, spoken to brand and technology agencies and drawn up a timeline. Now we are in complete limbo.

Needless to say, all our April bookings are cancelled. We have refunded all the money to our customers. For May, we have some bookings scheduled which haven’t been cancelled yet. However, the clients have an option to cancel. I guess everyone is waiting and watching to see how this situation plays out.

We have already suffered losses up to 6 lakhs for cancellations in April. We are looking at a total loss of revenue amounting to 10 lakhs up until the end of April. Our staff is homebound because of the lockdown prevalent in most parts of India. Although they are receiving their salaries for now, we don’t know how long we can sustain this, if we don’t get any business. What’s more worrying is our indirect staff like laundry, water, and other ancillary service providers. They are currently not getting any business at all. Physically no work is possible because of the lockdown. We had planned some jobs like wifi upgrades, deep cleaning, renovations, etc. Everything is in limbo right now as the country is completely closed for business.

Even if the virus magically disappears overnight, the repercussions are going to last for at least the next six months. Generally, travel expenses come out of disposable income, and if people have limited income, they will not travel or defer their plans. Generally, our clients are returning NRIs, families and group travellers from overseas and different parts of India. Going forward, in the short term we will probably have to approach an entirely new demographic. This means reaching out to business travellers, unmarried couples, etc. We are also looking at renting out individual rooms as opposed to entire apartments. Suppliers and service partners will sadly have to ride out the wave.

I am an eternal optimist. I don’t think this affects travel in the long term. Yes, people will now be more careful about their travel choices. They will be selective about destinations, accommodation, culinary choices. I feel that India’s fledgeling travel will become more competitive and for the better. Higher standards will be expected. Cleaner properties, better design and superior service will stand out. The mediocre will perish. And this isn’t just for the hospitality market but all industries in general.

Also, what is vital is the ‘image’ that a post-COVID India presents to the travel world. We have to be perceived as a healthy, clean and safe place to be. Otherwise, no one will come here. This responsibility lies on everyone; us, the media, the tourism ministry and in general the people of the country.

My message for travel service providers would be to just stay patient. If possible use the downtime to improve your services through research, internal audits and planning. Demand will come back soon. People will travel. For travellers, this is a good time to make future travel plans. China and Korea are defeating the virus and normalcy is being restored. Worldwide airline and hotel prices are down. It’s probably never been cheaper to travel. It’s going to take time but equilibrium is inevitable. Plan but plan long term.