The industry has had to deal with shifts in travel behavior as a result of COVID-19, while also having to consider how to make travel safer for everyone, implementing expanded safety protocols, considering the possibility of vaccine passports and ensuring greater use of technology.
However, in countries that are still trying to bring the virus under control, such as India, the industry has had to reckon with additional challenges, with the focus remaining on prioritizing the health and welfare of their employees ahead of trying to meet business targets.
Because increased vaccinations in these countries have kept the virus in check, several countries in the West are beginning to welcome tourists back., However, in Asia, the second wave has led to large-scale death and devastation, especially in India. Due to this tragedy, the travel industry has been upended by a series of travel bans, with many countries advising their citizens not to travel to India.
This has created a far greater challenge for the Indian travel industry: providing support to employees and their families to overcome these difficult times. Some companies have risen to this challenge by making sure that the physical and mental health needs of their employees are taken care of, which showcases a more humane way of running businesses.
OYO, an Indian hospitality chain of leased and franchised hotels and living spaces, introduced a four-day workweek in May, for example. This change offered unlimited paid leaves to its employees until July. This has been followed up by offering mental health counseling sessions, providing medical assistance during the peak of the pandemic in April and May, and ensuring monetary support through various initiatives.
Dinesh Ramamurthi, chief human resources officer at OYO, said that looking at how the employees of the company were affected during the peak of the second wave sent a clear message:
“Well-being is first priority, and targets and deadlines are flexible during these times,” Ramamurthi said. “We felt everyone was dealing a lot with news of deaths and infections not only coming from within families but also from colleagues. We told our employees that they should simply tell us when they want to take a day off and take time to deal with whatever they are going through. We decided to give them a day off on Wednesday and make it a four-day workweek from May to the first week of June. Also, they can take as many paid leaves as they want until July with just a short notice.”
Similarly, Yuvaraj Srivastava, group chief human resource officer at Indian online travel company MakeMyTrip, said their employees’ health and well-being have been the company’s “topmost priority” during the pandemic.
“Over the past few weeks, our teams have been working on a war-footing to offer medical support, financial assistance and most importantly, help employees prioritize mental health and emotional well-being during these stressful times,” Srivastava said. “We have been organizing emotional counseling sessions, fitness and nutrition webinars, yoga and meditation sessions to take care of employees’ health holistically.”
MakeMyTrip has also arranged for a 14-day teleconsultation for all impacted employees who are recuperating at home. “To further support our employees and their family members, we have set up isolation facilities across partner hotels and hospitals in Gurgaon and Bangalore,” said Srivastava, who says the company has also taken steps to recognize and reward its employees for their hard work and commitment over the past few months.
Meanwhile, OYO has also come up with “bereavement support” for the families of employees who lost their battle against COVID-19.
“We have offered to pay eight months salary to the families of employees in these cases [and to] provide education support and extend medical coverage for the families by three years,” Ramamurthi said.
The company has also provided mental health sessions for those who need it. Additionally, OYO has provided quarantine and isolation spaces while connecting with select partners for anyone who needed such facilities, especially for frontline workers.
While talking about how COVID-19 has affected business, Ramamurthi said the pandemic has resulted in some changes, such as an increase in domestic travel and people seeking to stay in properties for longer time spans. OYO hopes to be ahead of the curve by studying these trends and providing for the changing needs of their customers when things ease. Another focus area for the company is greater use of technology to lessen human contact that is otherwise necessary to check into a property.
“People don’t want to take flights; they want to use their own vehicles. Before the second wave hit, there was also a significant increase in domestic travel,” he said. “People now want to travel longer and stay at properties and work from there and are looking at a hybrid work environment. In OYO, we are looking at providing for these opportunities.” While things might take a while to finally pick up in India, OYO is already seeing a growing demand for their properties in the U.S., the UK and Europe, according to Ramamurthi.
Also highlighting the trend of increased domestic travel, president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators Rajiv Mehra, said, “When travel had opened up [after the first wave subsided], people preferred local travel and wanted to go to remote or offbeat areas to avoid crowds.”
Meanwhile, restrictions on travel and lack of foreign tourists have led them to significant downsizing for local tour operators in India
“Offices of inbound tour operators have been shut since 2020. We have had to let go of 75% to 80% of our staff,” Mehra said. He has been emphasizing the importance of vaccination for tour operators and their staff and informing foreign agents about the vaccination status so that they “feel safe to travel with us. During the peak of the second wave, a COVID-19 helpline had been set up to help people with their medical needs.”
According to many people in the travel industry, one of the most important things required to ensure that the industry bounces back from the present situation is ensuring vaccinations for everyone. According to WorldatWork’s “COVID-19 Employer Response: India,” 84% of organizations will offer on-site vaccinations or other resources to help employees obtain a vaccine.
In addition, OYO has started collaborating with corporate allies and hospitals to ensure vaccinations for employees, families and their partners.
“To build confidence among our customers, we launched VaccinAid, a feature on the OYO App, which displays the vaccination status of hotel staff,” Ramamurthi said. “During this time, momentum has been created to help each other. This has led to an upbeat morale among our employees.”
About the Author
Ruhi Bhasin is a freelance writer for WorldatWork