Tour OperatorsLike a polar bear awakening from deep sleep, I can’t wait to greet the outside world again

Fear and anticipation await the end of hibernation

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Like polar bears we are starting to come out of a very long winter.
Like polar bears we are starting to come out of a very long winter. Photo Credit: jkauffeld/iStock/GettyImagesPlus

SINGAPORE - I once had an opportunity to visit Churchill in Canada  to see the polar bears. I said no at the time. It’s a decision I now regret at this time.

Like the polar bears, we in Asia are starting to come out of our hibernation, after a very long winter. Some have emerged faster than others. And it’s wonderful to see life come back slowly but surely to the travel industry.

Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea have had “half a life” throughout. Hong Kong had its first exhibition – the 98th Hong Kong Wedding Fair, a three-day local consumer show, was held on May 22-24. It’s so good to know that love is still in the air at time of coronavirus. You can’t hold back a century of romance.

China went from “no life” to “three quarters life” pretty quickly – you can’t hold back one billion people forever. A Shenzen-based travel industry colleague told me she’s taken two holidays – to Chengdu and Hainan – because the deals were just so good. Luxury hotels going for sweetheart rates – you can’t hold back the bargain hunters forever.

“Our business is flat for now, so I might as well take my holidays while I can. Because when things really start, we will have no time,” she said. This is a nation of work-hard-play-hard consumers, this won’t change.

Vietnam, the under-the-radar star of the pandemic, is seeing domestic travel pick up. In India, domestic flights have started. Thailand’s allowing its residents to go out now but is still keeping its borders close to international travellers for now.

This morning, I spoke to Cameron Holland, CEO of Luxury Escapes, who reports that Australians are now going out of their homes and just waiting for the day when inter-state borders open so that they can travel across states. It will clearly be the year of domestic travel everywhere, but especially so in Australia which had its bush fires crisis right before Covid-19 struck.

Companies like Luxury Escapes are having to “pivot” to pick up the early shoots of recovery and looking at how they can put together the right kind of packages in line with customer preferences at this time. What is interesting is that Its “Pay Now, Book Later” feature, which was how the company originally started, has become the hero of the hour. Consumers clearly want full flexibility at this time and know they can get it.

It’s been interesting to see how creative companies are getting to survive this coma that travel has been put into. Klook has launched Klook Home to keep those of us still stuck at home entertained with DIY kits. For example, in Singapore, I can order a bubble tea making kit or have a Korean barbecue at home (they deliver the grill and everything). You can’t hold back Singaporeans from their bubble tea and Korean barbecues.

Klook’s COO and co-founder Eric Gnock Fah reckons that even if stay-home restrictions are lifted, some of us will still opt to stay home because we might feel safer in the short-term.

Indeed, my heart is palpitating with a blend of anticipation and fear as I await the easing of Circuit Breaker restrictions in Singapore from June 2 – while we still can’t go out to visit friends, and eat outside, we can visit family.

That’s Phase 2, the government says, and then if we behave, and cases in the community remain flat, then we can be allowed to gather in groups of five.

What will it be like to be with people again? To be outside in cafes and restaurants? I almost feel like I do when I am about to execute a tandem skydive or bungee jump – that mix of anticipation  and fear.

I wonder if that’s how polar bears feel when they are about to emerge from their hibernation.

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