IN the past 22 years operating China-Malaysia tours, businessman Datuk Keith Li had always looked forward to the Labour Day holiday for this was one of the “golden” times to bring in many Chinese travellers and big profits.
But for this year, there is no anticipation.
The raging coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic engulfing more than 200 countries globally is forcing life, business, as well as tourism to a standstill.
With country lockdowns seen almost everywhere, most people cannot move from one place to another. Without passengers, leading airlines, including AirAsia Bhd, have to halt operations and are screaming for government help.
Hotels, another function of the tourism industry, are bleeding. Many empty hotels have closed their operations temporarily or for good, and workers have been asked to leave or take no pay leave.
Local hotels are estimated to have incurred total revenue loss of more than RM1.5bil since Malaysia imposed the movement control order in March.
In the local travel and tours segment, 30% to 50% of cash-tight travel companies have closed down while the more established ones are struggling, according to Li.
“My business has fallen from near zero in January to zero now. May golden week this year is hopeless for tourism. I have asked all my staff to take no-pay leave until business returns. In-bound tourism might start to recover only in October, ” Li tells StarBizWeek.
“Why October? International tourism is about bilateralism or multi-lateralism. Even if Malaysia is able to lift control soon, other countries may not. This is a global pandemic, not regional, ” the Chinese national explains in a WhatsApp interview.
Due to lingering concerns over safety, most would-be tourists are likely to choose domestic travel and nearby destinations once the pandemic is over.
A recent survey in China, which has wiped out its Covid-19 epidemic in March, showed that more than 90% of respondents would choose domestic tours in their immediate travel plans.
The booking statistics for the May golden holiday provided supporting evidence for the trend, said the survey jointly organised by the China Tourism Academy and Trip.com Group.
The survey report, published in China Youth Daily, was conducted on 15,000 people mostly aged 18 to 45, in nearly 100 cities across mainland China.
Taking cognisance of local tourists’ preference after Covid-19 crisis, China’s travel agencies – in their attempt to stay afloat – have diversified into selling delicacies to live-streaming culture talks that feature history and well-known personalities.
Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB)’s chairman Y.K Pang sees a new tourism landscape after the pandemic, which has posed unprecedented challenges to industry players and put global tourism to a halt.
After a major HKTB-organised web seminar on April 24, Pang said in a statement: “The tourism landscape will be reshaped. In the post-pandemic world, we will see a shift in preference and behaviour among travellers – the public health conditions of destinations, and the hygiene standards of transportations, hotels and other tourism facilities will become a top priority.
“People will prefer short-haul breaks and shorter itineraries; wellness-themed trips will become a new trend. It is an ideal time for us to review and rethink Hong Kong’s position in the global tourism market.”
Last Friday’s tourism web conference was participated by 1,500 representatives from travel agencies, tourist sites, hotels, airlines, the retail and dining industries, as well as Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions and cruise sectors.
In discussing the future of short-haul tourism, speakers shared that domestic travel will be the major preference shortly after the pandemic. Outbound travel will resume soon after.Regional competition is seen to be fiercer than ever, as the tourism authorities and travel trade of various destinations and countries are now gearing up for intensive promotions.
Raymond Chan, HKTB’s regional director for South-East Asia, believes in the potential of the Muslim travel market.
He shared how HKTB has been stepping up its efforts to grow the Muslim travel segment as part of the recovery plan in South-East Asia.
It is learnt that mainland China is also attaching increasing importance to the Muslim segment to widen its reach.
The tourism seminar also heard that the young and middle-aged groups in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan would be the most eager to travel.
Green tourism and the outdoors will be favoured, while short-haul travel will be preferred due to financial constraints and lack of holiday leave days.
For the mainland Chinese market, which has gradually resumed economic activities, the seminar was informed that the Chinese will become more price-conscious and they will pursue value-for-money holidays.
“After prolonged confinement during the lockdown, most visitors will place greater emphasis on health and nature, ” said the HKTB statement.
When choosing destinations for future trips after the Covid-19 crisis, tourists will favour those that pose low risks to health.
The meeting and incentive market is expected to continue to slow down as many activities have been postponed or will be held online.
It may take a longer time for the long-haul markets to recover as governments are focusing on containing the outbreak within the region.
“A longer time is expected for these markets to recover and outbound travel may resume in the last quarter of this year at the earliest, ” said HKTB.
Within the region, HKTB expects Asian tourists to be the first to visit Hong Kong after the pandemic.
As consumer sentiment is more positive in Canada, France and Germany, outbound travel in these markets is expected to recover at a faster rate.
Vacations to be more expensive
Even though there is expectation that people may start travelling from the third quarter of this year, recovery may be slow.
A recent study by the University of South Florida revealed that 63.8% of travelers will reduce their travel plans in the next 12 months, according to an online report by Tourism Review News.
More than 50% of respondents surveyed by the US university had cancelled their business travel due to the coronavirus.
On the future of tourism, writer Kevin Eagan of Tourism Review News believes that “travelling will become a luxury again”.
“The coronavirus will probably make travelling more expensive and thus also more climate-friendly. Cheap flights at cut-rate prices will soon be the thing of the past. The future of tourism encompasses substantial changes, ” Eagan wrote.
He predicts the tourism industry will shrink by 50% in 2020, and this means a significant loss of jobs and revenue.
“As a result, it may be expected that the flight tickets will cost more, hotels will raise prices - travelling will probably become more expensive when the travel restrictions are lifted.
“The risk of infection with the coronavirus is reducing the available space: keeping a distance between people is expensive. Thus travelling becomes a luxury again, ” Eagan explained.
The immediate future will see empty rows of seats to prevent infection in airplanes and trains.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicts that passenger numbers could fall by a third, and ticket prices could rise by half, if a “decongestion” were to be implemented.
But ultimately this would be determined by supply and demand, IATA boss Alexandre de Juniac was quoted as telling Tourism Review News.
Hence, future vocations will be expensive as tourists will have to pay more money for the same services. People without money will be left behind in the world of tourism. Now not everyone can fly.
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