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Asia prepares for recovery

BANGKOK: How do we sensibly and effectively restart travel and tourism, the industry that employs one in 10 workers globally? A workforce decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Andrew J Wood

Thursday 7 May 2020, 09:11AM

Image: TAT

Image: TAT

According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTCC) travel and tourism’s direct, indirect and induced impact last year in 2019 accounted for:

  • US$8.9 trillion contribution to the world’s GDP
  • 10.3% of global GDP
  • 330 million jobs, 1 in 10 jobs around the world
  • US$1.7 trillion visitor exports (6.8% of total exports, 28.3% of global services exports)
  • US$948 billion capital investment (4.3% of total investment)
  • Tourism recovery is the No.1 topic and all sections of our industry are looking and learning.

The plethora of webinars popping up with recovery and ‘next step’ discussions is testament to the energy and interest in getting back to work.

But are webinars useful? Earlier this week respected publisher Don Ross (TTR Weekly) suggests that webinars often fall short in good common sense.

“Since the COVID-19 pandemic banished us all to our homes to live under lockdown, we are inundated with promotions for webinars that promise to navigate the travel industry back from the brink to a new norm. The deluge of webinars promises to show us the way forward, but so often when we tune in to the talkfests, they fluff on the details. They avoid the obvious and concentrate on the obscure, I suspect we attend webinars hoping the experts can offer some old fashioned common sense to help us survive the financial storm,” he wrote.

The tourism industry has taken a huge hit from the coronavirus, the UNWTO puts the loss at US$450 billion. The virus has infected at least 3.48mn people worldwide and killed more than 244,000. Top tourist destinations such as the United States, Spain, Italy and France are among countries with the highest number of infections.

People will only travel again if they feel it is safe to do so – this was best expressed by Don Ross again when he wrote, “In the COVID-19 world, common sense dictates we will travel when it is safe and when we have the spare cash. That’s what we are not addressing in webinars. The pandemic is breaking the bank for everyone, but how will we ensure health safety in order to reboot travel?”

Recovery is upper most in the minds of Skål International and the UNWTO. The Board of Affiliate Members, which CEO of Skål International, Daniela Otero, is a member, has been discussing how to structure a response for the tourism sector, especially in the recovery phase and what should be the priorities to be taken into consideration by governments.

Work is already underway at the UNWTO on the first drafts of possible reopening protocols applicable to all the sectors of the industry, noting that once governments allow, it will be necessary to move quickly with action as tourism is among the hardest hit industries due to COVID-19 and its consequences.

The UNWTO estimates the losses to international tourist arrivals worldwide this year could fall by as much as 30%.

The UNWTO recalls that tourism has been a reliable driver of recovery in the wake of past crises, generating employment and revenue. Tourism, the UNWTO states, “Has wide-ranging benefits that have transcended the sector, reflecting its broad-based economic value chain and deep social footprint.”

Around 80% of all tourism businesses are small-and-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and the sector has been leading the way in providing employment and other opportunities for women, youth and rural communities and tourism has a great capacity to create jobs after crisis situations.

Since the start of the current crisis, UNWTO has been working closely alongside the World Health Organization (WHO) to guide the sector, issuing key recommendations for both high-level leaders and individual tourists.

To rebuild and restart travel we are so dependant on air uplift. Once airlines start flying again the industry can recover. How long that will take is widely discussed.

PATA CEO Dr Mario Hardy said, “The number one question on everyone’s minds is, how long before we recover? This isn’t a simple question to answer.”

Asia he believes, will deliver the largest rebound in travel to the Asia Pacific region in 2021, according to the updated forecast released by PATA. Their research claims visitors should deliver 610mn visitor arrivals in 2021 (of which 338mn are inter-regional). A growth in total visitor arrivals of 4.3% compared to 2019 (585mn).

The growth in international visitor arrivals (IVAs) is likely to vary by source regions, with Asia expected to rebound with the fastest growth rates relative to 2019.


During the expected recovery phase in 2021, Asia should generate significantly improved arrival numbers, rebounding from a loss of 104mn visitors between 2019 and 2020 to grow 5.6% to 338m in 2021 relative to 2019.

It will not be all plain sailing. We will face competition from around the globe for tourists, and our regular visitors - including those from mainland China.

Hong Kong Tourism Board chairman Pang Yiu-kai noted that while it was difficult to predict when the industry would recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, a V-shaped rebound was impossible in the face of restrictions overseas and flight suspensions.

What was certain he said was that every market would spend hundreds of millions of dollars, or even billions, to chase after tourists as the pandemic had paralysed global travel and battered the industry since February, he said.

"The tourism landscape will be reshaped, there will be a new normal," the HK tourism chief said during its annual conference to 1,500 industry stakeholders.

Pang also said that based on market analysis, mainland tourists and those from short-haul markets would travel domestically soon after the pandemic died down. The tide will turn.

“The post-pandemic recovery would contrast with that after the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003,” he said.

"In 2003, the SARS outbreak was mainly in Hong Kong. For COVID-19, the whole world is affected," Pang said.

Although economic activities had gradually resumed across the border and people were returning to work, mainland travellers would place greater emphasis on health and nature after months of confinement, Pang said agreeing with our earlier comments from Don Ross.

"When choosing destinations for future trips, they will be more price conscious and will favour those that pose low risks to health," he said. "The MICE market on the mainland has slowed down and activities have been held online or postponed."

“Regionally, young and middle-aged Japanese, Koreans and Taiwanese would be the most eager to travel, but would favour short-haul trips because of financial and holiday leave constraints,” he said.

Long-haul travel would take longer to recover and Hong Kong’s outbound sector might not resume until the last quarter of this year, he added.

Executive director Dane Cheng Ting-yat said the HK board had earmarked HK$400mn (B1.66bn) to support the industry through a three-stage approach.

It was currently carving out a recovery plan as the first stage.

Tourism is one of Hong Kong’s four pillar industries, contributing 4.5% to gross domestic product in 2018.

About the author: Andrew J Wood was born in Yorkshire England, he is a professional hotelier, Skalleague and travel writer. Andrew has over 40 years of hospitality and travel experience. He is a hotel graduate of Napier University, Edinburgh. Andrew is a past Director of Skal International (SI), National President SI Thailand and is currently President of SI Bangkok and a VP of both SI Thailand and SI Asia. He is a regular guest lecturer at various Universities in Thailand including Assumption University’s Hospitality School and the Japan Hotel School in Tokyo.

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Jor12 | 12 May 2020 - 03:59:11

Try and get facts rights. For starters  Thailand has not restricted Chinese tourists from entering the kingdom, or dropped its visa-on-arrival fee waiver implemented to mainly attract Chinese. "We are 100% in control of the situation," says the PM. Some 10.99 million Chinese tourists visited Thailand in 2019. From Jan. 24-31,  143,000 Chinese tourists visited Thailand. 

DeKaaskopp | 11 May 2020 - 19:33:50

@Sam  You must be the only person here who didn't see any Chinese visitor on Phuket in 2019/2020.(completely disappeared as you said). But maybe you are right and all those Chinese look alike's were in reality "North Koreans" who miraculously sneaked in to infiltrate Thailand.And you were the only person to find out their little secret.Well done Sam !

Sam85 | 11 May 2020 - 15:12:56

DeKaasKopp and Jor12 you two are weird !!  Why don't you say what you think first?  what world do you live in?  Did you forget the tragedy of Chinese tourists in Phuket in 2018?  The statements were made by the minister on social media last month, inquire first guys ...

DeKaaskopp | 10 May 2020 - 13:39:30

@Sam85   I'm deeply sorry for not commenting on the article but replying on your comment. Anyway you must be either blind or you haven't been here for the last two years. Your statement that Chinese tourists have completely disappeared since 2018 is utter nonsense.It doesn't need someone to work here to see them everywhere over the last couple of years,except for now of course.

Jor12 | 10 May 2020 - 12:23:03

sam...if you make false statements and circulate it as fact, that is an offence under Thai law. So what makes you so special that others are not permitted to correct you?  Your claim that "Inappropriate claims from health minister" cannot be correct. They are certifiably correct. Where do you think then that virus originated?

Sam85 | 09 May 2020 - 22:18:46

DeKaasKopp you are a superficial and banal person, surely you are a maintained person and you don't work in Phuket
Also you have to comment on the article, do not comment on my comment 

DeKaaskopp | 09 May 2020 - 10:01:19

"since 2018 Chinese tourists have completely disappeared"   Oh dear,what a nonsense !

Sam85 | 09 May 2020 - 02:55:33

Inappropriate claims from health minister insulting and blaming tourists for passing on the virus to thailand, this claim went around the world in minute.. since 2018 Chinese tourists have completely disappeared..

Sam85 | 09 May 2020 - 02:53:59

Tourism must be maintained, cultivated because it is the only source of income. 

maverick | 07 May 2020 - 15:41:18

To keep them free of dog s**t and cigarette butts - a re-education session is planned for all smokers and dog owners before beaches are re-opened this is the cleanest they have been in 40 years

Kurt | 07 May 2020 - 13:23:19

Beaches should be already half days open. Sitting in the blue lorrie busses, minivans, airceafts give more chance on infection than open beach. Hope they continued to pay the beach guards from the available budget, not sacked them. Than great chance many left Phuket, and no beach guards when beaches get unlocked.

Sam85 | 07 May 2020 - 09:40:31

Hey guys does anyone know why the beaches are still closed?


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