Here’s a 60-second speed-read of Asia Travel Re:Set Issue #31, published on 7 March 2021.
This special issue analysed 10 Shared Learnings for Travel & Tourism from the dark 12 months that we have just experienced.
So, here are 10 things we learned in Travel & Tourism in Asia Pacific last week…
No-one Was Prepared
The pandemic showed how little pre-planning had been accomplished. Governments and corporates ignored the pre-COVID-19 risk reports. The travel sector paid no attention to the short- or long-term damage a pandemic would inflict. It was too easily assumed that a pandemic could not occur “in our lifetime.” There will be no excuse in future. The world must build pandemic readiness into all economic, social and healthcare planning.
Vaccines Can’t Solve Every Problem
The travel industry – aware that vaccine rollouts in many countries will take most of 2021, and probably longer – wants global collaboration on pre- and post-flight testing to open up borders. Governments, who have kept borders closed on the pretext that it is unsafe to reopen them until vaccines are widely administered, seem unwilling to change their stance on testing. However, a universal – or at least, in phase 1, a regional – vaccine passport or Digital Health Pass is vital for travel to start recovering.
Island Destinations Will Drive a Recovery
Islands may dominate the initial reopening phase in Asia Pacific. Free of border constraints and land-locked populations, and with their own infrastructures and ecosystems, islands are appealing destinations. They are also easier to manage. Maldives reopened in July. Sri Lanka is open. Seychelles reopens on 25 March. Indonesia’s Bali, Bintan and Batam may be close behind. Thailand’s economic strife will influence a reopening of selected Andaman islands. Malaysia wants to create a travel bubble between Langkawi and Indonesia. The Philippines has myriad choices.
The Race to Attract ‘Comeback Markets’
Two 2020 case studies highlight the importance of comeback markets. Bali unsuccessfully attempted to reopen to inbound travel last September. In addition to Indonesia’s high COVID-19 infection rate, most of its key source markets retained outbound travel bans. Ensuring people can visit is vital. Maldives reopened in July, and has attracted visitors from Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, India and Russia. It benefited from competitor destinations being closed, but that will change in the coming months. Competition will intensify to attract tourists from Asian outbound markets like Japan, South Korea and the most coveted: China.
Domestic Travel is Here to Stay
Domestic travel’s pandemic-era pre-eminence in the tourism equation is up for revision. Governments and tourism boards have urged citizens to travel as part of a patriotic duty to support struggling economies. Although local destinations have responded with creative promotions, tour operators and travel agencies have struggled. Domestic trip choices and spending priorities are very different to inbound visitors. But home-grown travel has gained a greater resonance, and this should be nurtured and developed. A recent survey in Vietnam revealed that ‘Safe & Nearby’ may still be a guiding travel mantra for much of 2021.
Travellers are Rethinking the ‘Meaning of Travel’
The travel sector divides its attentions between tourism providers and travellers – them and us, supply and demand. More than a year of international travel inactivity across the region has rebalanced the equation. Travellers will dictate terms. COVID-19 has united everyone who travels to take stock of their personal wellbeing and taken-for-granted mobility. Consumers understand the post-pandemic sacrifices they will be required to make, and expect travel businesses to reciprocate. Adapting to this capricious quest for meaning and purpose will define travel’s immediate future.
Economic Scarring is Deep
The pandemic ruptured economies throughout Asia Pacific. Travel infrastructures have been badly damaged. Airplanes remain parked, pilots and crew furloughed, hotels, restaurants and stores closed. Many travel businesses will never reopen. Despite growing, China’s economy has shifted structurally and small businesses are suffering. The economies of India and Japan shrunk considerably, and South Korea faces its highest unemployment rate since 1997. These are vital travel markets for the region. In ASEAN, intra-regional travel was vibrant pre-2020, but Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia – which are three important sources of travellers – are facing tough economic times. An anticipated travel rebound in late-2021 won’t mask the structural issues that will act as a drag on Asian economies and consumers.
Ancillary Travel Costs Will Change
Low-cost carriers made travellers more aware – and accepting – of extra costs. The range of additional fees will increase when travel restarts. Cambodia took South East Asia by surprise last year with a USD3,000 deposit requirement to cover tourists’ potential medical bills. Thailand won’t be the only country introducing a new tourism tax. The on-hold Hong Kong-Singapore Air Travel Bubble was based around a series of self-paid COVID-19 tests, and buy-now-pay later deals are notable for what they don’t include. People may even request extra costs for their own safety and comfort. Emirates is now selling spare airline seats at discount rates in response to passenger feedback.
Contact-Free Travel Counts
When domestic travel recommenced in China last year, ‘High Touch, Low Touch, No Touch’ was a ubiquitous hotel hashtag. It was used to grade public areas that can be contactless, those that rely on minimal human touch, and others – such as gyms, spas and restaurants – that require a high-degree of hand contact. China is one of the world’s most frictionless economies, and Chinese travellers seamlessly use smartphones to board a flight or check-in to a hotel. Consumer trends from China filter into South East Asian markets. Having spent 12 months social distancing, scanning health-check QR codes and spending via cashless wallets, contact-free travel will be a pre-requisite not a ‘nice to have’ for Asian travellers.
The Climate Crisis is an Arriving Storm
Consumer shopping trends in Asian online markets show that up-cycled items, biodegradable and plastic-free packaging are credible and popular. Since the pandemic began, people have reassessed the state of the planet’s resources. Sustainable and responsible travel are terms that need reappraising, because the tourism sector must address its eco-deficit. This extends beyond plastic trash to food and waste management and air pollution. Land degradation from over-development and the poisoning of marine life will gain rigorous scrutiny. Travel needs to be proactive. Gone are the days of green-washed branding and questionable carbon neutrality. Travellers will not accept excuses, and they now have a clearer handle on the climate crisis – and tourism’s role in it.
This is a summary version of Asia Travel Re:Set Issue #31: “The Pandemic 12 Months On: 10 Shared Learnings for Travel & Tourism”