From cruises and conferences, to Tokyo Olympics and Expo2020 Dubai, slow and steady steps are being taken to revive economies.
I can’t believe I am saying this in 2020 but I had a Zoom meeting this week in which someone was calling in while she was on a cruise.
Okay, albeit that it was to nowhere but the fact that she needed a passport and that she was cruising on the open sea with about 1,000 others speaks volumes about the ability and determination of folks to get back on the road or, in this case, the sea again.
Indeed for Irene Chua, my colleague and publisher of Northstar Travel Group’s titles in Asia, Travel Weekly Asia and M&C Asia, it was her second cruise in a week. She was on the first sailing of World Dream on 6 November, operated by Genting Cruise Lines (GLC), with 1,400 other guests who booked the two-night cruise.
It was one of two ships given the green light to resume short sailings, as part of Singapore Tourism Board (STB)’s pilot scheme, some eight months since the government suspended calls from cruise ships.
According to GCL, when it launched the inaugural sailings, 6,000 people booked within the first five days, indicative of the pent-up demand in a country surrounded by the sea but with nowhere to go with borders still closed.
The way Irene told it, it was “super organised”, with cruisers doing Antigen Rapid Testing (ART) at check-in prior to embarkation. They are then sent their results via mobile and a negative test means they just show up in time to board the ship.
She was also “super impressed” by the medical facility onboard “with its own PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) lab to allow for instant Covid tests on board, and dedicated isolation wards completely isolated from the rest of ship”.
For this first cruise, everything was smooth sailing, she reported. Operating at half capacity, there was plenty of space on board and while there was no big scale entertainment, there were dancing classes as well as other activities on offer.
Antigen Rapid Testing (ART) is one way Singapore is taking to open up slowly. The first hybrid conference for 250 delegates, the Singapore International Energy Week held on 26 October, also did pre-event testing and no one tested positive.
On Tuesday, I spoke at the first hybrid conference organised by PCMA (Professional Convention Management Association), which was attended by physical delegates at the ICC in Sydney and a virtual audience. The ICC has also received clearance from the New South Wales Department of Health to host up to 2,400 people at its Aware Super Theatre.
This week alone, I have received a couple of invites to attend physical events in Singapore and been advised of the ART procedure.
At our WiT Japan & North Asia Virtual last week the Japanese speakers were all pretty confident the Olympics, postponed from 2020, would go ahead next summer. Last weekend, Tokyo held its first test event involving athletes from Japan, China, Russia and the United States and according to this report in M&C Asia, it went without a hitch. Athletes and staff took daily PCR tests during their time in Japan and their movements were heavily restricted.
Preparing for our WiT Middle East on 25 November, I also caught up with Sumathi Ramanathan, director of strategy & sales for Expo2020 Dubai, which was postponed from October 2020 to one year later.
I was heartened by the pace with which they continue to plan for the mega event despite the pandemic, and she told me the pandemic had given them time to rethink the design of the site and visitor experience – asking questions such as how to optimise use of public spaces, how to use technology to ensure a safe visitor experience on-site and how to have an even larger virtual outreach, given the familiarity we all now have with the virtual world.
Of course, the physical footfall will be equally important – it hasn’t revised its targets of 125,000 daily visitors – and who knows what the world will be like next October. (Sumathi Ramanathan will be speaking at WiT Middle East, get your free pass here).
Dubai is already holding physical events and is open to international visitors and on 6 December, HSMAI Middle East will hold its ROC2020 as a hybrid conference at the Intercontinental Dubai Festival City.
This week too, Singapore and Hong Kong announced that the world’s first “travel bubble” will start operating 22 November, with 200 seats each way per day. The requirements around PCR testing and pre-approval still sound a bit onerous for the average traveller, I suspect, but hey, it’s a start to get things moving between these two destinations that depend on inbound tourism for their economic fortunes.
Finally, we end with the best piece of news this week – Pfizer’s announcement of a 90% effective vaccine which sent travel stocks soaring on November 9. Here’s a snapshot of what happened to travel stocks for a moment in time that day – something to be recorded for posterity in a year when everything went downwards.
Carnival Cruises: +39%
Royal Caribbean: +29%
Wynn Resorts: +28%
Yes, there are still lots of questions about how it will be distributed but there’s no taking away from what is “the greatest medical advance” in the world’s last hundred years, as described by Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla on Monday morning. “90% is a game changer,” he said.
Of course, we shouldn’t be pinning our hopes for a vaccine to get us out from the abyss, and do nothing while waiting – which is why I am heartened by all the slow but steady steps being taken by countries like Singapore, Japan, Dubai, Hong Kong and Australia to get travel and events back again.
A good week indeed.