After more than three years with little international travel, how has the industry rebounded?
As you would expect, revenge travel has kicked in big time. You only have to look at how nearly a million people left Hong Kong at Easter, to the dismay of local restaurant operators, to see how the desire to be on the move is back. We work with two luxury cruise lines, Regent Seven Seas and Oceania Cruises and each time their new itineraries are released for sale, new records are being set for first day sales due to the pent up demand. But in terms of actual overall numbers, the recovery is not as fast as everyone would like and that’s mostly because it’s just taking time to rebuild all the travel infrastructure. Airports can’t easily go from zero flights a month to several hundred a day overnight.
How soon will tourism and travel across the APAC region hit pre-Covid levels and what are some of the hot spots to watch?
Most people think it will broadly take at least another year or two to hit those levels. Again, that’s less to do with demand and more to do with the time it takes to rebuild the travel infrastructure. Mainland China travellers are still nowhere near fully set to travel yet, so the return of that big market with a vengeance will also make a huge impact. Interestingly, Japan seems to be the latest hotspot. Travellers from Hong Kong and elsewhere in Asia have always loved Japan, but globally everyone is flocking there too. Kyoto was insanely busy during cherry blossom season – and that’s before the return of mainland travellers who are another huge market for Japan. Japan’s outbound travel has also been very slow to come back so that may be another reason why it’s so crowded right now.
What will be some of the lasting trends to emerge from the pandemic?
Most people talk of how they only want to do the more meaningful bucket list trips, reconnect with friends and family that they haven’t seen much of the past few years and do less of the routine short trips that we all used to do in the past. They take longer to plan the perfect trip and are willing to invest more to make it memorable. It’s been a phenomenon for some time which is only increasing, that people want to travel to have unique one of a kind experiences. These experiences are the new wealth which not everyone can have and which enable you to grow as a person as well as appear ‘cool’ and ‘sophisticated’ to others. Much more so than buying expensive branded goods.
Will hotels, travel and tourism operators use the lessons of the past three years to rethink how they communicate with customers?
For sure they will, but it’s always easy to be wise after the event! The pandemic presented some unprecedented challenges which just hadn’t been faced before and which created all kinds of difficulties for the travel industry. One thing that is likely to stay as a win for the consumer is flexibility in travel. Offering flexible options to make changes due to travel plan uncertainty has become a new normal which people will expect and probably be willing to pay extra for. Those travel suppliers that reacted with compassion and flexibility, and also looked after their own teams well during the pandemic will win longer term favour with customers in a world where a strong ESG mindset is becoming not just an advantage but a necessity. Fast, close to real-time responses are becoming more and more important too. We can certainly expect to see a big role for AI in helping to answer detailed travel enquries in real time in the near future.
What will be some of the lasting impacts on the travel media industry?
It has obviously been a tough time for the travel media industry, and of course for the travel PR industry too. With disappearing travel revenues, travel promotional spend largely evaporated too. Quite a number of travel titles scaled back, went to digital only, or disappeared completely. One interesting phenomenon has been the rise of “local experts” – where travel editors might previously have been constantly on the road to report new destinations, they are now more likely to commission local experts to write pieces instead.