Angel Llull Mancas, Booking.com's vice president and managing director Asia-Pacific, discusses why stakeholders need to have a unified approach to help support Asia-Pacific travel sector's walk towards recovery
It goes without saying that all of us in travel share one common interest: for the industry to survive this crisis, in the midst of one of the largest economic fallouts we have ever experienced due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the WTTC, a best-case scenario for the region’s industry looks at a projected travel & tourism GDP loss of US$980 billion and almost 60 million job losses across Asia-Pacific.
Prior to the outbreak, Asia-Pacific was the fastest growing region and a world leader in job creation with one in three jobs created by the travel industry with a total contribution of US$3 trillion to GDP – making it a crucial sector in driving economic impact across the region.
The new reality is that it will likely be years, not quarters, before we witness the full recovery of global travel demand.
However, domestic and more localised regional travel will recover before longhaul international travel, as it remains easier and safer to travel locally; and we are certainly seeing an appetite for domestic travel in markets where restrictions are easing. In Asia-Pacific, a region that has been historically more reliant on inbound travellers and intra-region travel compared to Europe or the US, the need to revitalise and drive domestic tourism will be even more crucial in ensuring the industry’s recovery.
As travel restrictions and lockdowns have been lifted in some destinations, flare-ups and second waves continue to be disconcerting for many even if the desire to travel has been stoked, with restrictions even reinstated in some destinations. I believe that a vaccine or an effective, proven treatment is critical for absolutely everyone to feel safe and confident about travel once again.
With that lens, the travel industry will also most likely be one of the last segments to recover fully from the pandemic, as no one can say with certainty when travel consumer-appetite will bounce back to pre-COVID levels, and along with that, the millions of livelihoods at risk. This labour-intensive sector has often been an entry point for many, including women, youth, migrant workers and the rural population, providing a high volume of jobs across various skill-levels for seasonal and full-time workers.
There is no better time than the present for even greater collaboration between governments and across the travel ecosystem to pool global learnings and insights to create effective programmes and long-term support in order to stimulate local travel to support economies, safeguard jobs in the industry and drive technological innovation to respond to our new reality.
It’s been gratifying to see local governments across Asia-Pacific taking proactive action to revitalise the tourism industry. As early as February 2020, the Singapore Tourism Board formed the Tourism Recovery Action Task Force (TRAC), comprising tourism leaders involved in a traveller’s journey from both the public and private sector, to work as partners – not competitors – to develop and implement strategies to aid in future recovery.
In addition to greater collaboration and coordination, governments should consider subsidising consumers’ holidays to aid in further stimulating recovery. These stimulus programmes should also be accessible to as many industry players as possible to reach an optimal outcome to serve the long-term interests of the industry, the economy and consumers.
Galvanising travel once it is safe to do so is imperative to keeping the pulse of travel alive, alongside comprehensive measures and protocols to instil safety, confidence and assurance.
Unified health and safety guidelines
Since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, we’ve seen a dramatic uptick in the use of specific words used by guests when they ask questions about a property.
For example, the use of the words “clean” and “hygiene” have both increased by over 60 per cent. With health and safety identified as top priorities for travellers, there have been several efforts to develop a global set of health and safety protocols for the travel industry but there is still a lack of clarity and coherency over what is required – regulations governing quarantines, testing and costs vary greatly between nations in Asia that dampen enthusiasm for travel especially with travel bubbles or corridors being formed on the horizon.
The Asia Travel Technology Industry Association – made up of Booking.com, Agoda, Airbnb and Expedia Group – believes that governments should work multilaterally and in close collaboration with each other along with leveraging travel stakeholders to further unlock international tourism and revenue in a safe and secure manner.
With Asia leading recovery, there is an opportunity for a consolidated framework for health protocols and measures to be provided by governments, with insights from travel stakeholders, that are transparent and consistent to mitigate uncertainty and complexity across borders. This close collaboration along with greater transparency and clarity on measures as the pandemic evolves, will aid in the formation of intra-region travel bubbles by providing clear testing and contact tracing expectations so future travellers can have a smooth travel experience.
Before COVID-19, there was a noticeable shift in travellers becoming more conscious about the environmental impact they can have on destinations.
From research that Booking.com commissioned earlier this year, over 82 per cent of global travellers identified sustainable travel as important to them, while nearly 58 per cent of global travellers said they are more determined to make sustainable choices when looking to travel again in the future. We also found that 68 per cent of travellers would like the money they spend on travel to go back into the local community.
As climate change outpaces us, sustainability and social responsibility are essential elements in this conversation to ensure that communities and the environment do not bear the brunt of this pandemic but are instead integrated within our plans to redefine the sector and ensure its resilience. Continuous innovation is integral for the development of sustainable solutions and products for both the industry and consumers.
Travalyst, a first-of-its-kind industry-wide collective formed in 2019 by the Duke of Sussex – which includes Booking.com, as well as Skyscanner, Trip.com Group, Tripadvisor and Visa – continues to be committed to transforming the future of travel into a more sustainable one. The coalition recently announced the development of new frameworks that will ultimately help surface more sustainable accommodation, aviation and experiences options across the industry.
As we continue to understand and adapt to a new Covid-19 reality across a highly-fragmented and multilevel travel ecosystem, this is the moment that we need to ensure a closer and stronger partnership across all players and align our priorities to support both an inclusive and sustainable recovery of the industry sector.
When we emerge from this global pandemic, one thing is for certain, our world and industry will undoubtedly be different, but travel will remain fundamental and perhaps even more meaningful to people’s lives.