Catch the Experts: Travel Beyond COVID-19


Catch the Experts: Travel Beyond COVID-19


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As the novel coronavirus grounds more than 2 billion worldwide, tourism industry experts weigh in on how the global pandemic will redefine travel in the near future.

Whether we like it or not, COVID-19 has fundamentally altered how we view and approach travel. While gauging the ongoing global pandemic’s direct impact will be challenging at this time, industry experts have shared learnings based on first-hand experience in the first of our Catch the Experts webinar series, held on March 25th.

Here, key takeaways from our panel discussion on travel beyond COVID-19, supplemented with insights from Ian Moore, Chief Commercial Officer at VistaJet; Guy Heywood, Chief Operating Officer of Six Senses; and Holger Jakobs, Vice-President of Sales and Marketing at Wharf Hotels, who share lessons learned, unexpected opportunities in these fast-moving times, and thoughts on how travel will evolve after this unprecedented time.

1. In a time of social distancing, humanity comes first.
At the end of the day, tourism is a people-centric industry that relies heavily on the human touch. At every point of the journey, travellers connect with staff, whether at the airport, on the airplane, and at their destination. “Our priorities at this time are safety and our crew,” says Moore, speaking in behalf of global business aviation company VistaJet. “In such unprecedented times, we saw passengers willing to share flights and vendors join hands so that people could go home safely – proof of a fragmented industry coming together.” The company is working directly with governments and consulates around the world, helping repatriate citizens by providing complimentary empty leg flights. For Wharf Hotels, Jakobs shares that the Marco Polo property in Wuhan has been supporting local medical teams in coping with the pandemic at ground zero. The hotel is on Day 62 of the lockdown and remains COVID-19-free. “Today, they have 300 occupied rooms and are serving three meals each day,” Jakobs says. “That’s an incredible achievement and shows the spirit of hospitality in its truest sense.” Adds Heywood, “It is an important time to show who we are, what our values are, and what we stand for. The health and wellbeing of our hosts and guests are of utmost importance. It’s ridiculous to think of selling right now. Our number one focus is to look after our people – our hosts, guests, and owners – both physically and financially.”

2. Vigilance and flexibility are key in this fast-changing environment.
While businesses across various sectors are slowing down during this crisis period, it is more important to stay vigilant and flexible. Wharf Hotels shares that experiencing SARS in Hong Kong in the early millennium taught a valuable lesson. “Hotel groups joining hands to think of recovery plans is unprecedented,” Jakobs says. “We are seeing how private and public sectors can collaborate and come up with solutions.”

According to Heywood, Six Senses is making the most of this time by providing online training to their hosts. Its sustainability funding, meanwhile, is being directed towards NGOs’ relief efforts. VistaJet, for its part, is offering complimentary empty leg flights for governments and medical transportation, and helping move critical medical products at this time.

3. Trust matters.
With uncertainty and ensuing anxiety in high supply, it will be important to ensure a level of trust. For instance, dedicated safety measures such as enhanced aircraft cleaning and meticulous medical checks on VistaJet crew throughout the day have been put in place at VistaJet. “Unlike other chartered private jets that are mostly privately owned and up to owners to decide what kind of hygiene or safety measurement to be put in place, VistaJet has its own fleet and we have a set of guidelines on this,” Moore says. Regardless of market segment, companies that are vigilant and visible in applying extra pre-cautionary measures will benefit in the long-term, especially once leisurely travel returns to feasibility.

4. Change (in perspective) is coming.
While the industry has been largely limited to essential travel at this time, once the situation improves, experts predict a spike in demand – and an overwhelming array of options from businesses eager to pick up where they left off. Yet consumers will be in pursuit of, among other things, a sense of purpose – a deeper motive for selecting where to go, what to do and buy, where they will eat and stay. With an increasing awareness of climate change, travellers will continue to value sustainability. And coming from the impending trauma of the global coronavirus pandemic, wellness will influence travel decisions, now more than ever.

5. Travel can make a comeback at any time.
Even during these challenging times, there are positive signs that tourism will rebound, perhaps sooner rather than later. Our experts remain cautiously optimistic, citing China as the likely leader in recovery. Shares Jakobs, “China is a big country, so it’s reasonably relevant to look at it from a location point of view. So while you probably had less impact up in the north, we see the figures from the hotels there reaching beyond 25 percent occupancy. The opposite is true for cities that have a larger number of foreign travellers, such as Shenzhen and Guangzhou. Surprisingly, now that the government is announcing a slow clearing of restrictions of the Hubei province, we do see an uptick of business in hotels in close proximity, such as Niccolo Changsha and Niccolo Chongqing.” And on a global level, our experts are in agreement: Humans are resilient creatures with a desire to travel. With more than 2 billion currently in lockdown across the globe, looking forward to the future is top of mind for everyone.

Virginia Ngai

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