AssociationIndustry leaders at Hong Kong Tourism Board’s online global forum stresses the urgent necessity for public and private sectors to coordinate a global travel recovery

Online global forum calls for end to quarantines, seeks coordinated restart to travel

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Moderated by Brian King, associate dean and professor at the School of Hotel and Tourism Management at the Hong Kong Polytechnic, the HKTB Global Online Forum discussed the new norm in travel with speakers including Steve Saxon of McKinsey & Company, Hermione Joye of Google and Jane Sun of Trip.com

Travel industry leaders speaking at Hong Kong Tourism Board’s (HKTB) global online forum, Beyond COVID-19: Global Tourism’s New Normal, earlier this week have made a collective plea for governments to end quarantine measures and adopt a more collaborative approach to reopen borders and manage the risks of Covid-19.

World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) President and CEO Gloria Guevara, stressed the urgency of prioritising coordinated approach to opening borders and removing travel quarantines, while establishing protocols that are consistent worldwide.

An integrated approach to recovery is key to mitigate the devastating impacts the Covid-19 crisis have had on the global tourism industry, urged Ms Guevara. “Our recent research shows that more than 197 million jobs are at risk, which would cause a loss of more than US$5.5 trillion to travel and tourism GDP worldwide,” she stated.

Quarantine measures currently present an "enormous issue" to the global travel sector, said Alexandre de Juniac, director general and CEO, International Air Transport Association (IATA).

“When governments decide to implement them, they stop travel," he said. "There is no recovery for tourism and business travel if there are quarantines. We advocate in favour of serious and strong procedures to avoid quarantines and restart the industry."

Peter Borer, COO at the Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels, echoed industry sentiments for governments to open borders and lift restrictions. "We agree with IATA and WTTC that quarantines are detrimental to our industry and if they continue millions of jobs will be lost. We urge the government to establish global testing and contact tracing.”

Steve Saxon, partner at McKinsey & Company, pointed out that it is a combination of healthcare systems, government policies, wide-scale testing and stimulation packages that will get people travelling again.

Following the revival of domestic travel in many countries, Mr De Juniac expects the continental market to start reopening in Q3, while Q4 could possibly see the reopening of the intercontinental market. “The slow opening of borders means recovery will also be slow and financially painful” he cautioned.

Collaboration is key

Against a background of myriad responses among governments in tackling the global health crisis, HKTB chairman Dr YK Pang called for travel stakeholders to share their intelligence and resources together and work towards a seamless future experience for travellers and visitors.

“Our cooperation must cross geographical and business boundaries, we must pool our knowledge and our expertise, and to draw on our collective ingenuity to navigate these uncertain months that lie ahead of us," he said during the forum's opening speech.

During the Wednesday event, he also announced the collaboration between the Hong Kong government and trade partners to create Open House Hong Kong, a platform of travel offers and experiences.

Speaking from mainland China, Trip.com Group CEO Jane Sun said the company is keen to assist the revival of the tourism industry, and has rolled out a RMB 2 billion (US$141 million) disaster relief fund for customers and a RMB 1 billion partnership fund for industry partners.

Ms Sun revealed that Trip.com's recent International Recovery Plan sold over 5,000 high-end products worth RMB7 million in one hour, while its Classy Travel Live Presale, offering deep discounts and free cancellations, was met with overwhelmingly positive response.

The surge in interest for risk-free travel bookings, pre-sale offers with flexible timings and deep discounts, and travel insurance coverage, is an indication of high pent-up demand from the mainland Chinese market, she remarked.

Preparing for the new norm

Dr Pang emphasised that safety will naturally be at the heart of travellers’ demands post Covid. “In this new normal travellers must be sure destinations care for their concerns and that every touch point of their journey is clean and safe,” he said, adding that travellers will initially target closer destinations and wellness itineraries, and will be willing to pay more for more space on planes and better quality, trustworthy hotels.

Such trends have already surfaced among search data in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, according to Hermione Joye, sector lead, travel & vertical search APAC for Google. She added that top concerns among consumers in Asia Pacific and around the globe are exposure to Covid while travelling, financing their trips, travel logistics, and the fear of restrictions, quarantines and consequences.

Asia Pacific travellers are generally more optimistic about international travel than those from the rest of the world, added Ms Joye, with India and Indonesia markets keen to travel internationally, and Japan and Australia leaning towards domestic trips.

Family getaways and couples trips are top priorities, with beach and nature destinations to higher star, hygiene minded hotels with flexible booking policies and competitive offers, she said.

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