Many of us have resigned ourselves to not going away on vacation this summer. Concerns about not being allowed to return because of regulations changing suddenly are part of the reason, but there is also a fear that health precautions in other countries may not be as thorough as in the UAE.
The travel industry, meanwhile, is contemplating collapse unless people can be persuaded to travel again. But building up that confidence will take time, say travel experts.
One survey found that 72 percent of GCC residents want to travel for leisure and 80 percent are comfortable with the idea of spending more than a week away. Yet airlines are currently operating at around 55 to 60 percent capacity, which is well below the break-even point of 75 to 80 percent. Hotels might be full with “staycationers” but they are not generating as much revenue.
“Every pool is packed but those hotel rooms are generating significantly lower revenue than they should be in high season,” says Nazar Musa of Retreatmi, a travel company specializing in tailor-made holidays with an emphasis on adventure and wellness.
“Hotels have got to create value for their customers, which means understanding what customers want. They are looking for a new level of cleanliness and sanitization. They are looking for a welcome that you can’t really portray on your face any more because you’ve got a mask on and can’t smile, so you’ve got to find new ways of doing that.”
Previous slumps led to hotels focusing on stronger direct engagement with clients, says Musa, and that needs to happen again.
“They focused on getting their clients directly rather than through another party. They focused on improving their websites. Those that rely on the same old ways this time will fall by the wayside.”
Several Asian countries, such as Vietnam, Singapore and Taiwan, have led the way in combating the pandemic and containing the spread of Covid-19. And Asia should be leading the recovery of the travel industry, too, says Musa.
“Asia has had to cope with the Sars virus in the past and they should be leading the way now.”
Travel companies offering wellness or “immunity-boosting” packages are likely to prove especially attractive to tourists and boost travel.
“If you’re not making health and wellness a priority now, when are you going to do it?” says Mitch Hyde, co-founder of AdventureFaktory and currently based in Singapore. “This is a fast-growing niche.”
Musa agrees. “The first thing I want to do when it’s possible is relax and get some fresh air. People curating their experience around health and wellness will become the norm.”
Feeling confident about flying again will come step by step, he adds.
“The first flight people take will probably be to go and see mum and dad. After that it will be gradual – a short flight first, then a medium haul flight, then a longer one. By this time next year, people will be traveling again especially if a vaccine comes out in the first quarter of the year. The numbers won’t be the same as in 2019 but they will grow.
“People want to travel — that much is clear. After working in travel for 28 years, my advice to the industry is don’t panic. Take a breath and save your cash.” And for travelers? “The same. Don’t panic and be patient.”
Nazar Musa and Mitch Hyde were panelists on the Livehealthy.ae webinar on travel after Covid-19 on August 12.
Anna Pukas has reported from all over the world as a foreign correspondent for British media. She is now an editor based in Abu Dhabi.