Akanksha Garg, director and CEO of the Waxpol hotels, a group of boutique sustainable wildlife hotels in India, has championed sustainable tourism as one of her guiding business principles. In an email interview, The TiE Tiger awardee for tourism development initiatives in the Sundarbans weighs in on sustainable tourism as a response to new normal of tourism post-COVID-19.
The COVID-19 crisis is changing people’s perception of Travel which can also have a positive impact on tourism and the industry. What do you say about it?
Akanksha Garg says that across the world and industries have been affected by COVID-19 pandemic, most organizations have either shut down or adapted to the new normal. This has been a constructive time for organizations to rethink, rework and re-strategize on how to move forward and utilize their resources efficiently alongside ensuring a safe, sanitized environment for their guests and colleagues.
Akanksha Garg also mentioned Effective communication to guests and reskilling of your workforce plays an important role in changing people’s perception of Travel. Guests, travel writers, hoteliers, homestay owners should share their experiences of any positive impact any organization is making to ensure guest safety and encourage people to travel with their bubble groups to drivable distances.
How do you see domestic travelling responding to reopening of lockdown?
Akanksha Garg said that Domestic Travel has already opened up, and the wonderful news is coming in from cities such as Jaipur, Rishikesh, Goa, where hotels are located in the outskirts and close to nature are getting more business as compared to the ones inside the city. We have also opened our wilderness retreats in Sundarbans, Dooars, and Pench for extended stays, workcations, and bubble travel from the 15th of September.
Airbnb is offering a lot of online experiences, and there are takers. What do you think people in India can do to support the travel industry at the moment?
The Travel industry contributes to almost 10 percent of the country’s GDP and has never been given the status, subsidy and support it deserves.
With online travel agents turning their back to their customers for handling cancellations and refunds when the crisis initially hit, it has become imperative to support your local travel agent and smaller responsible hotels which are not a part of international chains. These small organizations support indigenous livelihoods which not only form the base of our country but also share localized experiences and promote acculturation.
With international travel restriction, the hotel industry in offbeat locations, followed by city hotels should expect a good surge in domestic travel in the upcoming season as travellers will prefer to explore destinations within our country.
What does the future of travel look like to you? Will it be different as per the new normal?Whenever there is a rise, there is a fall and vice-versa. Travel has already resumed in small numbers, and as people get more confidence in the health and safety standards set forth by their travel partners, the numbers will increase exponentially. Staggered timings for swimming pool usage (where allowed by the local authorities), accommodations with natural distancing and smaller room inventories will be the “new preferred getaways.” Where do you think travellers go first? Travellers will travel anywhere, which is within 8 hours of driving distance, followed by a short flight away. Locations such as forests, mountains and beaches will be preferred in comparison to city hotels.
The minute the lockdown ended in NCR, my 6-year-old and friends which have been a part of our COVID-19 bubble group for a nice weekend getaway to Rishikesh where we stayed at Atali Ganga.
How are the Waxpol hotels preparing to welcome the guests again? What steps are being taken to ensure the safety and comforts of the travellers?
In the CoVID-19 crisis Waxpol Hotels & Resorts has led the industry preparedness through formulating safety and sanitization guidelines for the Adventure Tour Operators Association of India (ATOAI), Responsible Tourism Society of India (RTSOI) and Tour Operators for Tigers (TOFT) which have practically been implemented by many hoteliers, homestays and travel trade partners.
Sanitisation has always been an integral part of our company, which we have championed doing sustainably and responsibly.
Our design structure of the resorts has cottages which are distanced and in nature, with seating spread out. The resort team members have been briefed and trained during lockdown to follow safety and hygiene protocols in guests’ rooms and common areas in the resorts which includes closed areas such as bathrooms and open areas like resort lounge, reception area, children’s park, inside walkways to name a few. Manual contactless hand sanitization points have been installed in designated points along with the contactless check-in and check-out being introduced to reduce touchpoints and ensure guest safety. Special care has been taken for ensuring the highest standard of safety in house dining. Seating capacity has been reduced and spaced out to maintain social and physical distancing norms. Digital menus and order systems have been put in place for a contactless dining experience.
To support the team, a Special COVID Officer is appointed at each of our resorts to ensure safety and hygiene protocols being followed strictly. Health screening of all team members has been made mandatory with body temperature being checked twice daily using an infrared temperature gun. This is to keep a check on early identification of symptoms (if any). Each team member has to wear a face mask and face shield and regularly wash/sanitize their hands at regular intervals.
We, as an industry, will revive and survive if we have the basics in place.