#Voices of Travel: Long-term prospects of travel industry are still greats, says Rafeeq from ITL

In this ongoing series, we explore how humans of travel are mitigating the ongoing COVID19 outbreak. Rafeeq Mohammed, ITL World shares his thoughts on the COVID pandemic and its impacts on the hospitality industry. 

Catering to specialised FITs, Groups, Incentive and Educational travel in the Gulf region for clientele from Asia, GCC and European Markets, Arabian Experience is a Destination Management Company with fully owned and operated offices in the United Arab Emirates, Sultanate of Oman, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kingdom of Bahrain, State of Kuwait and State of Qatar.

Amongst many, primary objectives are to strengthen incentive travel to the region, onboard new trade partners across the European markets and overall enhancing inbound movements to the region. Arabian Experience being an Authorized Ticket Reseller for the Expo 2020 Dubai, a large number of activities were underway to attract maximum movements to this unique global event.

Being in the travel & hospitality industry, we have also been closely monitoring the impact of COVID 19. It’s no doubt that the rapid spread of this around the globe has thrown the international travel industry into chaos and the Middle East is no exception and not immune to this outbreak.

There were still sales calls made in Europe even after the initial news broke out from Wuhan, the epicentre. It was initially thought to be contained within China and neighbouring countries to the maximum, similar to what we have seen of SARS in the past. Business in the GCC region was going on as usual, groups were still arriving as scheduled. However, a contingency plan was discussed to mitigate possible effects, but it was never thought to be this severe.

Although positive cases were reported in this region, groups were still arriving as per the schedule and it was only when travel restrictions from certain countries were implemented, cancellations took into effect. Almost two strong months of inbound bookings were instantly impacted, although a tiny percentage of affected bookings were tentatively pushed to winter months. With very limited or no movements even domestically and all attractions as well as some properties non-operational, Product Team is engaged in creating programs together from summer onwards. We feel a rebound is most likely to happen by then.

Thanks to the foresighted authorities in the GCC region and being business friendly, the respective governments have come up with economic stimulus packages worth billions, with measures to protect citizens and businesses from exceptional circumstances brought by Covid-19. Sectors such as tourism, retail, external trade and logistics services were the first to receive attention. All financial institutions were directed to introduce measures to ease financial pressures over the next three months for both the business community as well as individuals on various fronts, including deferring payments.

While this provides a breathing space in the short term, due payments still remain due. Therefore, waiver of licensing fees and influencing other related departments and entities to cut or reduce their fees and charges will help mitigate losses; and the regulatory bodies are closely looking into this.

The Travel & Tourism ecosystem with the help of the respective Tourism Departments have engaged in close contacts to address the impact. Together, all measures to help assist affected guests have been put in place with continuous reassessment.

In addition to Tourism Boards launching confidence-building destination promo activities, incentivising trade partners in their marketing efforts to attract tourism movements back into the countries would be encouraging. Participation fees for Trade Events and Road Shows in source markets may be offered by the Tourism Department at the lowest possible fees.
During this time, we understand health and safety is of paramount importance. We are doing everything in our capacity to ensure we follow governing directives across all regions. Most of our regional offices have witnessed temporary closure with operations shifted to homes.

From a business continuity standpoint, contingency activities were initiated early and staff were kept abreast of the possible impact. A decision to retain all human capital has been taken. A few resources will avail annual leave, while others are working from home supporting Product Development and Marketing Communications. Operations staff are quoting and booking for winter months, although the pace is slow

From an employee motivational point of view, learning should continue, and no better time to do this than at this very moment. To optimize available time, we are constantly encouraging staff to enrol for online training and webinars.

Such outbreaks do have the ability to slow down the global travel and tourism industry in the near term, but the long-term prospects for the sector are great. In the interim, we will do whatever we can to mitigate the impact of this crisis and assist those in need. Travel is the first and the largest industry to be affected, resulting in a temporary standstill. Patience is key, this too will pass.