The 2020 Asia Travel Year In Review – 10 Q&A Insights

The 2020 Asia Travel Year In Review – 10 Q&A Insights looks back on the pandemic year that changed travel and tourism forever.

Throughout 2020, Asia Travel Re:Set and The South East Asia Travel show canvassed insights from influential figures across the region.

Their straight-forward insights are free of spin and brand filtering – and provide compelling context from key travel markets across Asia Pacific.

This rewind of the 2020 Asia Travel Year features 10 expert insights covering aviation and airlines, the impact of postponing the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, the 2021 travel outlook in Australia, domestic travel in Bali, and the pandemic effects on tourism in the Indian capital, Delhi.

1) Does it come down to a vaccine – is that what will reopen the airport gates for airlines and passengers?

Yes, it is looking that way, although faster testing would be a game changer. At the moment, there are two priorities for airlines. The first is survival. That’s basically bringing your cash spend down to a substantially reduced level. Second, is your future demand assumptions, which link to how airlines resize their business. Airlines usually operate though their cash flow, and when that isn’t being generated you have huge costs and need shareholder support. There’s no other way out.

We can probably expect that some airlines will look towards a 30%, 40% or even 50% reduction in size. Some airlines are probably going back 20 or 25 years in terms of growth, so they will have to readjust their network. Some of the older, larger aircraft will be retired, and there may be a further reduction in staff.

  • Mayur (Mac) Patel, JAPAC Regional Sales Director, OAG
  • Based in Singapore
  • (September 2020)

Check out Mac’s full interview here.

2) 2020 should have been Olympic year in Japan – were you expecting a boom for tourism?

The cherry blossom season in 2020 was due to be the most visited period for Japan in history. Those two weeks from the end of March into early April would then be superseded within a few months by the Olympics. For all of us in tourism, this was going to be a phenomenal year. We had lots of bookings.

Securing the capacity for that period was interesting. All the smaller travel providers will tell you the big guys had sewn up 90% of Japan’s travel capacity up to three years in advance. It was a lot of logistical work, but we were set to have a big period during the Olympics. I’d spent a lot of time building more relationships and more channels, and had made restaurant bookings eight months in advance.

  • Mac Salman, Founder, Maction Planet
  • Based in Tokyo
  • (September 2020)

Check out Mac’s full interview here.

3) What’s the travel outlook for Australia in 2021?

A vaccine will be very important, but we also need a rapid upgrade on antigen testing and we need to rethink our hard 14-day quarantine. We’ve got to seriously look at how we reopen our economy, and reopen our borders to international business. It’s been a devastating year, and will take us upwards of 5 years to recover.

I’m not that optimistic about the international return, but I am optimistic that we can work on some cohorts, such as backpackers and working holidaymakers. I’d also love to see some leisure bubbles beyond New Zealand, maybe the Pacific Islands, or Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China, perhaps with specific provinces. But I don’t think these would be likely until the second half of 2021.

  • Simon Westaway, Executive Director of the Australian Tourism Industry Council
  • Based in Melbourne
  • (December 2020)

Check out Simon’s full interview here.

4) Domestic travel to Bali has been lower than expected. Is that because of a fear factor, are there not enough flights? Or is it a combination of factors?

It’s hard to say. There are quite a few flights. Where I’m where I’m staying, I can see the approach and the flights have been travelling in pretty regularly. I think there’s a fair bit of fear. The airlines are not supposed to be filling to capacity, but there’ve been multiple reports of them jamming the passengers in. You often only need a rapid test, which has a fairly dubious accuracy.

When you look at the charts of virus infection rates, there looks to be a very clear relationship between reopening to tourism and the case numbers going through the roof, but people are only coming here for weekends and that kind of thing from Surabaya and Jakarta. So are they catching it here and taking it home? Or are they bringing it with them? Nobody knows.

  • Stuart McDonald, Founder, Travelfish
  • Based in Bali
  • (October 2020)

Check out Stuart’s full interview here.

5) Before the pandemic, did you feel 2020 would be a positive year?

No, not really. The problem for India was the economic slowdown in the rest of the world, so tourism was going to be a little bit down this year. We were already starting to see that in 2019. However, it was really good in January, and in February we had lots of tourists because people who had planned to travel to China were changing to India and Sri Lanka. This surge lasted into early March until the Festival of Colours. After that, the government began stopping flights.

We had plenty of bookings for 2020 and also 2021. No one expected the pandemic but we would have seen a bit of a slowdown this year – but, of course, much better than what has happened.

  • Ashwani Bhati, Manager of India Food Tour
  • Based in Delhi
  • (September 2020)

Check out Ashwani’s full interview here.

6) What, realistically, can South East Asia expect for travel in 2021?

I would imagine in 2021 we’ll see a downside not just in the health crisis but also in terms of the economic fallout that will come with it. Singapore is one of the few countries in the world, mostly because it’s a city, that can manage the population during this pandemic. But in huge population countries, like Indonesia or the Philippines, it’s much harder to control a health crisis. So it’s wearing down on governments, it’s wearing down on people – and this all adds to the growing lack of confidence for investors in South East Asia. Even if Thailand does recover, it’s going to be very slow and incremental. The image of post-COVID travel will likely be very different to the one we’ve known before.

  • Shukor Yusof, Founder, Endau Analytics
  • Based in Johor Bahru
  • (November 2020)

Check out Shukor’s full interview here.

7) Given the expected slow start to 2021, will the October National Holiday will be a barometer for recovery in Chinese outbound travel?

The calendar for 2021 depends a lot on the speed of vaccination and a consequent lowering of case numbers. Optimistically, Chinese can start visiting neighbouring countries around Chinese New Year, and start visiting long-distance destinations – except the US – during Easter time. By October, a lot of the pent-up demand will be released, after a summer with millions of international trips without new virus problems, so that October 2021 Golden Week should see more Chinese abroad than the October 2019 Golden Week.

  • Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt, Founder, China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI)
  • Based in Hamburg
  • (December 2020)

Check out Wolfgang’s full interview here.

8) What has 2020 taught us about the Chinese travel market, and how can these learnings be applied in 2021?

Chinese are fearless, love to travel and the pandemic has not changed this. Chinese will travel overseas when they feel safe to do so, and it will be in revenge travel mode in 2021. Since group tours were stopped for a long period due to the pandemic, it forced Chinese to travel independently. We saw more self-drive and people exploring less crowded and special interest destinations. Now that they have experienced those in China, some may shift from group tours to independent travel for overseas travel in 2021.

  • Anita Chan, CEO, Compass Edge
  • Based in Hong Kong
  • (December 2020)

Check out Anita’s full interview here.

9) The world has changed enormously, so what does the concept of travel mean to you now? 

Even while I was running Soma Journeys, I always felt very mixed about travel. On the one hand, I actually felt that people should just stay home, myself included, because it uses up so many non-renewable resources. But, at the same time, travel is an effective way to see the other; different cultures and customs. I would love my son to really experience the world, but then for it to really be a quality experience when we go, and not like ‘Hey, let’s fly down to Italy for pizza’. Travel should be a luxury in every sense of the word, rather than something we just take for granted.

  • Cristy Elmendorp, Founder Soma Journeys
  • Based in Amsterdam
  • (July 2020)

Check out Cristy’s full interview here.

10) What are the takeaways from 2020 for Australia’s travel industry, and how can these be applied in 2021?

Large and small travel agencies, OTAs, wholesalers, tour operators and even suppliers have needed to adapt and rearrange their businesses rapidly. Due to COVID-19, and the direct impact this has had on consumer behaviour, a previously successful business model is no longer suitable for 2021 and beyond. Travel businesses are expanding their product offerings to take advantage of domestic demand, tapping into new revenue streams and new distribution channels – including online and virtually. Innovation is critical in building a foundation to remain competitive and identify new opportunity areas as the landscape of travel and tourism changes.

  • Rebecca Esterhuizen, Head of APAC for Traveltek
  • Based in Brisbane
  • (December 2019)

Check out Rebecca’s full interview here.

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