Losing the Freedom of Travel Runs Deep

The Future of Travel

The Future of Travel podcast series from Bangkok-based hospitality-branding agency, QUO Global is attracting global tourism and hospitality thought leaders as they consider the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on our industry.

The loss of our freedom to travel has been a devasting blow for the industry, but for many consumers the psychological and social impact runs much deeper.

This was the key takeaway from Thomas Willms, CEO of Deutsche Hospitality – Germany’s largest hotel group with brands including Steigenberger Hotels & Resorts and Jaz in the City – in the latest episode of QUO’s new podcast series The Future of Travel.

Willms said that for those nations where outbound travel is a relatively new phenomena, today’s sudden and abrupt restrictions are a painful rewinding of the clocks.

He explained that this is equally true of markets like China, a nation that has only in recent years started travelling internationally in larger numbers. Willms is one of a number of industry leaders who’ve been speaking to QUO CEO David Keen and Chief Branding Officer Catherine Monthienvichienchai.

“We’ve been talking to thought leaders from across the industry and everyone is talking about the need to embrace change as we shift from a pre to a post-Coronavirus world. But also about the insatiable curiosity of the global consumer. The overwhelming sentiment is that people will start travelling again as soon as it’s safe to do so,” said QUO’s CEO David Keen.

Willms is one of a number of industry leaders who’ve been speaker to QUO CEO David Keen and Chief Branding Officer Catherine Monthienvichienchai.

CitizenM COO Michael Levie agreed: “I predict that there will be a time that everything is close to being back to normal. Because we have an eagerness to travel around the world….and conquer, so that will come back, I believe.”

But he said we have to understand that this will take time, because no one has ever experienced or witnessed anything quite like this before.

“It’s going to take a window of a year, 18 months, two years for us to see what normality looks like again. I think that time for recovery is going to be longer because the structural impact economically is so deep… it will cripple many, and unfortunately will force them to close.”

Nicolas Mayer, Managing Partner of PwC’s Global Centre of Excellence for Tourism, argued that we need to use the time we have to plan, undertake scenario analysis, reflect, innovate and convert our service offerings to shape the new normal to our advantage.

“It is not a fatality for which we can wait until the governments tell us you may travel again and then it kicks-off on auto pilot and you go back to travelling again,” said Mayer.

He believes that, for the foreseeable future, those in the mass market segment will struggle the most.

Bill Barnett and Anthony Lark of the Phuket Hotels Association agreed. “No one’s going to want to spend a lot of time in places where there’s thousands of people. The smaller and more intimate the destination, the more attractive it will be,” said Lark.

Safety, hygiene and space will be key priorities in the short-to-medium term, while travellers will also gravitate towards brands where there is a sense of trust and an emotional connection.

“Short term, I think, over a two-year period, people will be very selective in where they go …and who they choose to stay with. People will be very selective in terms of having an emotional connect or familiarity with a brand,” said Puneet Chhatwal, MD and CEO of IHCL, parent company of brands including Taj, Vivanta and Ginger.

Whatever the timescale on recovery is, however, it is clear domestic – and then regional – travel will be the first to come back.

“The first test will be Mainland China towards Hong Kong… I think that would be a very good sign…. And then from there, a gradual increase with individual countries and routes opening up,” said Langham Hospitality Group CEO Stefan Leser, who takes great hope from the green shots of recovery taking place in China.

PwC’s Mayer agrees: “Domestic tourism is our lifeline to start ramping up the engine again… or regional proximity tourism. That is going to be what will save us in the short-term and provide us with the cash infusions we need.”

The latest episodes in QUO’s podcast series The Future of Travel can be found at https://www.quo-global.com/podcasts/

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