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Fridays with Firdosh

Lately, the number of e-mails and media-releases on what the new face of travel will look like has got me thinking. Now, I know there are several more pressing issues than thinking or dreaming of a holiday and the buzz words - Covid Fatigue and Second Wave - probably have you worn-out. So far, and for a good number of months to come, the protocols of sanitization, social distancing and masking etc. are now pretty much set in stone, as they apply to travel and this is a good and necessary expectation to have.

What doesn't get mentioned is the disregard for these very same measures and protocols during pre-Covid era. Of course, not all airlines or hotels cut corners, but one only has to Google-search to read disturbing statistics about the lack of proper cleaning, sanitization, air filtration, etc. The same was true at more than a few hotels, with some of them notoriously infamous for their neglect in proper cleaning and sanitizing of rooms between guest check-ins.

The current climate is nothing short of a wake-up call! Check-out the plethora of ads, messages and videos that are making the rounds in the trade and consumer media. Everyone seems to be in a race to showcase their newly installed protocols as stipulated by the World Health Organization and by their own local authorities. Presumably (and hopefully), travel in itself will become healthier and safer and customer experiences will become better. The industry is raring to go, and dare I say it...rightly so! The question is: will the industry remain vigilant about maintaining the quality and hygiene standards after the pandemic or will we face a return to the deficient practices of the past as companies start to make up for their losses? We owe it to our clients (who also happen to be our livelihood), to stand united in raising the level of awareness and continue to insist that quality and hygiene remain intact in the travel and hospitality industry in the post-Covid era, even after business returns to pre-Covid levels.

Here's something else I've been thinking about: luxury travel v/s budget travel. With all the changes due to the current environment, luxury travel has emerged the front runner in the recovery process. Guests are invited to travel in a bubble. Families and close friends are enticed to enjoy a worry-free vacation in smaller numbers, safe-distancing in business and first-class sections on flights (or even have their own chartered plane), stay at boutique hotels and resorts or on small luxury river barges, enjoy wide open spaces, indulge in fine cuisine, and have a totally private bubble experience with great emphasis on health and safety. Of course all this comes at a hefty price, and more importantly, when requested, we are happy to arrange it all. We simply love such clients!

But what about the budget traveller? Does limited affordability become an issue in order to enjoy travelling safely as in a bubble? This category does not have the luxury of premium flights and deluxe resorts. It’s in this regard that I made my point of the importance of raising a collective voice to ensure that measures stay intact and vacationers, whether rich or not-so-rich, are able to enjoy their travel experience at its fullest.

For much of my life, I could only afford to be a budget traveller. In the current climate, all I can do is reminisce the ever-so-frequent interactions I enjoyed with the locals and the opportunities they provided me to fully immerse in their country’s culture, cuisine and lifestyle. That, to me, remains the most fun part of my adventures around the globe. Believe me, it takes some will power to stay crammed into the back of the aircraft especially when you are boarding 14-hour flights, and I've had more than my fair share. That’s when you so wish the flight attendant greeting you at the aircraft door would say: ‘To your left, Mr. Bulsara!’

Times are bound to change and travel will return to normal, but whether you travel luxury or budget, in or outside a bubble, I remain convinced that it’s always the destination experience that wins the day. Showcasing destination experiences is how I inspired clients to travel in the early days. In 1986, I met Peter Langer at a British Airways event where his creativity was on full display in an impressive audio-visual presentation. We got chatting and immediately hit it off. Peter is a Vancouver-based geographer, travel photographer and a lecturer extraordinaire! During those early days of struggle trying to find my footing in the world of wholesale travel and looking for ways to capture market-share, Peter stepped in and assisted me hugely with attractively customized audio visuals. His brilliant photography helped create dazzling presentations and my company began generating good business. More crucially, during the early 90’s when we were going through tough times due to upheavals in Africa, India and the Middle East, he continued providing help at heavily discounted costs. I owe Peter this grateful mention for all his help. To date, he remains creative, having recently developed a series of imaginative, virtual travel presentations on faraway destinations. Look him up as The Ultimate Traveller on the internet.

Until next time

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