Booking.com CEO Glenn Fogel takes us through the ups and downs in travel and the future of tourism, beginning with a hub in Bengaluru.
To say that tourism has been the Covid-19 pandemic’s worst sufferer will be an understatement. Many were quick to write obituaries, but the industry has demonstrated remarkable resilience and innovation to bounce back from the mountain of the pandemic’s rubble.
Prominent national and international industry leaders discussed ideas and actions for the future of the industry in one of the most vibrant conversations at the recently concluded Economic Times Global Business Summit 2022,
It has been a stop-start-stop situation for industry, punctuated by newer variants of the Covid-19 virus, and, now, the ongoing Ukraine-Russia war. It has always been the first one to face restrictions and the last where the conditions were eased.
“It has definitely been a difficult time for the travel industry over the last few years. We had all hoped that we were going to return to normal after the initial outbreak of Covid-19. And then there came the Delta variant, which, as we know, is just so devastating around the world and set us back. And then we felt things were getting better. And then Omicron came on. We were just beginning to think, okay, things are going to get better. Travel will come back. And now we have this terrible, terrible situation that’s going on in the Ukraine with the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. So many problems for travel. But here’s the interesting thing to me is that people will always want to travel,” said Glenn Fogel, President & CEO, Booking Holdings.
What kept the industry going even during the worst periods of doom and gloom was the belief in the basic principle that people will always feel like moving places when they feel safer and that will stoke demand for travel.
“When government restrictions are lifted, people begin to book right away. I feel it immediately. I see it in our numbers. So, yes, it’s been a terrible, terrible problem. And yes, we have to continue to monitor and make sure we can do what we can to make things better everywhere. And in certain parts of the world, it is better,” Fogel said.
Domestic tourism has picked up really well in India. The question is to see how global travel, particularly leisure travel, works in the next six to twelve months.
Airbnb’s India business is almost back to pre-pandemic levels and the recovery has been very robust, said co-founder and chief strategy officer Nathan Blecharczyk.
“In 2021, we almost met our 2019 numbers. So, we’re almost back to where we left off. Additionally, we saw that domestic stays within India in rural areas in Q3 of 2021 were double that of the same period in 2019. This is a shift we’ve seen in many countries during the pandemic,” Blecharczyk said.
India remains a growth destination for the travel giant with new investment and hiring plans lined up for the country, as well as partnerships with state governments.
“We will be opening a technology hub in Bengaluru. We are very excited to be part of the Bengaluru tech ecosystem. We hope to hire more than 100 high-tech employees in the near future. We have always wanted to bring our culture of innovation to the Bengaluru ecosystem. I think this is going to be very important as we serve India. We will soon see a tourism rebound in India, and we look forward to partnering with local governments across the country. The centre will help us and our local teams to better localise Airbnb in their markets,” Blecharczyk said.
There is something unheard, a community-led innovation, which has really caught the world’s attention. A lot of people are supporting Ukrainians in the Ukraine-Russia war by booking Airbnb apartments in Ukraine.
“This is the first time we have seen something like this happen. What is happening is that people from around the world are booking homes on Airbnb in Ukraine for next month. They do not have any intention of actually traveling to Ukraine. But, their intent is basically to give money directly to other people whom they found on the Airbnb platform. Again, these hosts are not soliciting. This is really kindness amongst guests around the world, wanting to help out, wanting to contribute again. We have never seen this before,” said Nathan Blecharczyk, Co-Founder, Chief Strategy Officer, Airbnb.
In parallel to that, Airbnb has made a commitment to house 100,000 refugees from Ukraine over the coming months.
The idea about housing refugees was born actually way back in 2012 on Twitter. “We saw one of our hosts in 2012 during a Hurricane in New York City, offer up her home free of charge to local New Yorkers who might need a place to stay during the storm. And we were so impressed by her generosity that we thought to ourselves, maybe there are other New Yorkers who want to do the same thing. So we created a platform where people could list their spaces free of charge. Over the years, we have improved that functionality and we have made it available. Most recently, as Afghans have left Afghanistan in August, we’ve housed more than 20,000 of them, helped them find their permanent housing. But in the interim period, house them,” said Blecharczyk, underlining the process of creative innovation that the hospitality industry has demonstrated in the face of extreme adversity.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members