Earlier this week, for the first time since the arrival of the pandemic, I decided to sit with someone (other than family), relax and have a drink. She came over and, at first, we lingered by the door. Where earlier we would’ve hugged, now we were maintaining a physical distance. There was the joy of finally being able to meet, but also the realisation that Covid-19 had affected the way we were behaving around each other. How would we cope, we wondered, if say, we decided to drive to Goa tomorrow?
The thought of escaping our four walls has been on all our minds. But would we be putting ourselves, or others, at risk? Is it selfish to think about travelling for pleasure when so many are struggling to get by? As the contents of a bottle of red emptied, the questions eased and the world became a little rosier. Ultimately, we realised we’re not there yet, in our minds. To pack our bags and leave the relative safety of our homes. It’s a feeling I’ve subsequently found many others, too, share.
Safety checks in place
Mind you, as a journalist who reports on travel and tourism, getting out of the house is a required act. And I know the travel industry is doing everything it can to assure us and entice us back. Airports, airlines and car rental companies are showing us the sanitised way forward. Hotels and home rental companies have developed exhaustive routines to keep us safe. In fact, these are all entities whose businesses have always relied on keeping us safe. Now they’re having to remind us of that and of their continued existence.
The Oberoi, Hyatt, The Park, Accor, ITC, The Lalit and the Hilton: they’re all delivering food home (yes, they also badly need the revenue) and using social media to broadcast both cooking lessons and the resident DJ spinning tracks. Marriott is using its sheer size to create a new model of conferencing across cities. Smaller boutiques like RAAS and Suryagarh are leasing organic farms to better control the food chain to their kitchens. And operators like Jehan Numa Expeditions and Kipling Camp are taking us on Insta-Live safaris to see dhole (Asian wild dog) packs gorging on a kill. Airbnb is also offering virtual experiences (say, bee-keeping in Portugal) and partnering with local governments and NGOs to showcase local experiences.
They’re all reminders that millions of jobs, and a fair chunk of the economy, depends on our willingness to travel again. Tourism, after all, does have a massive multiplier effect that goes far beyond airlines and hotels. You visit Jaipur, you buy a pair of juttis. That money gets paid down all the way to the family that cures the leather. It finds its way into the hands of the local community, benefiting many more than the industry directly employs. And tourism has not received any direct aid to help it tide over the ill-effects of the pandemic. All the cleaning, training, waiting, paying of bills while they’re waiting, is happening on the industry’s own steam.
Common sense over fear
More importantly, I know I’m not ready to give up on the many trips I want to take. To Manipur and Tel Aviv. To Dudhwa and Rwanda. Across Chhattisgarh and the Stans. And, yes, Antarctica. No virtual medium can match the adrenaline rush of seeing hippos spar in the flesh, or convey the aroma wafting out of a dum biryani on a Hyderabad street.The key, I’ve rationalised, lies in trusting again. You step out of the door and you’re immediately placing your safety in the hands of a taxi driver, an airline pilot, housekeeping staff, sous chefs, bartenders and everyone else who is there to ensure your trip is a success. To travel then is to trust. And to be logical, not hypochondriacal. We know how the virus spreads and we know the precautions we ought to take. I’ll wear my mask, a pair of gloves and even a face shield when I step out. If I do need to take the gloves off, I’ll remember to wash my hands. If I take the mask off, it’ll only be when I’m at some distance from other people.
I should then get into my own clean car and make a road trip of it. Drive to a hotel I trust and stay there. Feel the sand under my feet, the wind in my hair. Yes, I think I can do that. Though I’ve just heard about a luxury camper van being launched in Bengaluru. Oh, the possibilities! But, baby steps.