Scratching the travel itch

As more countries float the idea of regional travel bubbles, hyper-localised and short-haul travel look set to pave the way for tourism recovery, with businesses adapting their strategies to create more intimate and secure experiences. Pamela Chow finds out more.

As cities and countries in Asia start easing their quarantine orders, the strong itch to travel has begun bubbling forth. Mirroring the successes of China’s domestic travel trends, other Asian countries with accessible state borders are seeing activity peak in the period leading up to public holidays.

Data from Adara showed a spike in hotel searches towards the end of August across Taiwan, Japan and South Korea, in the lead-up to the Mid-Autumn Festival and its accompanying public holidays. Owing to the resumption of domestic flights, larger countries like China and India have demonstrated positive growth in travel figures across August and September.

Domestic crowds throng the area around Tokyo’s Sensoji Temple this October amid Japan’s Go To Travel campaign to revive its ailing tourism industry

Even in smaller markets such as Singapore and Malaysia, where travel restrictions persist, residents are satisfying their wanderlust with increased demand for staycations.

Luxury group Belmond reported “a steady run of bookings” since the reopening of its Asia properties from July 1, “albeit off very low base”, shared Iain Langridge, its divisional managing director Asia Pacific.

Carolyn Corda, Adara CMO, said: “Even as success in containing the pandemic plays out differently across the region, insights from the Adara Traveler Trends Tracker reveal a gradual increase in travel intent from Asia-Pacific travellers over the third quarter of 2020.”

Recognising that the domestic trend is here to stay, governments and businesses in Asia-Pacific have pivoted their strategy inwards. The Taiwanese government is providing individual travellers a one-time subsidy for hotel stays of up to NT$2,000 (US$70).

Following the success of its island-hopping itineraries, Dream Cruises has debuted Discover Taiwan sailings onboard Explorer Dream.

Similarly, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) is giving all adult Singaporeans S$100 (US$74) in digital vouchers this December to spend on staycations, local tours and attractions.

Over in Hong Kong, residents are eligible to join a free local tour by spending at least HK$800 (US$103) at brick-and-mortar retail and dining outlets in the city, under a new initiative by the Hong Kong Tourism Board to spur domestic consumption.

Facilitating recovery
With the restoration of international travel as the ultimate goal, countries are training their eyes on potential travel bubbles and corridors.

Such bilateral arrangements “appear to have greater feasibility in the region, and are swiftly being established”, noted Corda.

For instance, green lanes have been established for essential and official travel between Singapore and Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, South Korea, India and selected regions in China.

Singapore and Hong Kong have also established the world’s first air travel bubble, allowing for leisure travel on dedicated flights without the need for quarantine or a controlled itinerary. Unfortunately, due to a spike in Covid-19 cases in Hong Kong, the travel bubble which was originally scheduled to start on November 22, has been delayed till next year.

Elsewhere, the UK has expanded its travel corridor to include several Asian countries, such as Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand. On October 28, Germany joined in with a reciprocal green lane for essential travel with Singapore.

Belmond’s Langridge shared that the company is “maintaining a keen eye on longhaul inbound markets”, in hopes that “more countries in Europe will follow suit for the 2021 season”.

Luxury leads the way
Conversation about international travel bubbles has sparked interest in the luxury market, which some experts speculate will be the first segment to recover, with private travel emerging as a “more popular travel option”, said Nicole Robinson, CMO, andBeyond.

This trend has been observed in China where some hotels in the luxury segment have seen occupancy rates shoot past 2019’s figures since reopening in March, with the inflection point being the Labour Day week in May.

Noting this pattern, Singapore has jumped at the chance to develop experiences targeting the rich.

STB CEO Keith Tan explained: “With fewer flights and more requirements for testing and certification, any travel that resumes in the coming months will likely be more expensive than before. Hence, international travel is likely to be limited to more affluent travellers, at least in the short- to medium-term.”

Tan speculated that when borders reopen, Singapore is “likely to see travellers arrive in smaller groups, with a desire for more exclusive, personalised experiences”. In anticipation of this demand, STB is collaborating with Adobe to develop the One Singapore Experience, a programme assisting businesses and attractions with using data analytics to create bespoke and engaging products.

Other concerns from visitors of the future include a heightened desire for physical and mental wellness, predicted Tan, alongside more eco-friendly business practices and sustainable surroundings.

Leaning into this trend, Belmond will continue to pursue a hyper-localisation strategy, “focusing on markets where it will be easier to travel to from Singapore – for instance, Thailand, and other parts of Asia”.

He added: “Coming from an island nation, Singaporeans are accustomed to getting on a plane for a short getaway. We expect short weekend trips among this demographic to continue to be popular. We are anticipating more travel within Asia as Singaporeans and Singapore residents explore more of their own backyard and seek extended, private and inherently safe escapes.”

And as regional tourism opens up, andBeyond’s Robinson opined that consumers may prefer to travel within a single country, noting a rise in demand for “simpler itineraries without having to cross too many borders”.

Still, a fragmented consumer demographic is to be expected, said Corda, as the recovery pace will vary across geographical markets. With the term “revenge travel” being coined to describe the pent-up travel demand, this behaviour will play out differently across different segments and markets.

Corda advised: “Even though Asia-Pacific may be poised for a gradual resumption of regional travel in the coming months, there are challenges in predicting traveller behaviour with absolute accuracy.

“Rather than attempting to forecast sweeping trends across the region, travel marketers would benefit from tracking a wide range of consumer data from an array of data streams, and using extracted insights to ensure individual campaigns are tailored and relevant to audiences.”

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