First it was “travel for love” for visitors Down Under to visit their families and friends, said Tourism Australia’s Brent Anderson, then it was travellers looking for a different kind of love – that of immersive experiences, nature and wildlife.
That was how the South & Southeast Asia & Middle East regional general manager for Tourism Australia described the progress of inbound travel to the continent since its border reopened to vaccinated international tourists on 21 February.
Speaking at the “Asia Arising” event, organised by WiT and Travel Weekly Asia, Anderson said the opening of Singapore was critical to Australia, it being a key connecting hub – 13% of international visitors to Australia transited through Singapore in 2019.
Said Anderson, “More international visitors come through Changi Airport on their way to Australia than any other destination. So it’s critical for us to get those air links up and running and for when the northern hemisphere starts travelling as well – plus, we’re right next door so it’s given us a big advantage there.”
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Sharing data on forward bookings, he said, “We’ve hit over 200% of pre- Covid 2019 levels and the last two weeks have also been above 200%. So that pent-up demand that we’re all seeing is really starting to come but I think getting that confidence, simplifying procedures, having consumers sharing word of mouth has really helped drive that for us.
“In Indonesia, we’re looking at the figures for Jakarta because Bali is very much an outbound for Australia, it’s moving in the right direction. Malaysia is already above 70% of Covid levels for the same week.”
Singapore, meanwhile, is expecting a strong April following the more relaxed Vaccinated Travel Framework kicking in at the start of the month and, from 26 April, all testing requirements have been removed.
Juliana Kua, assistant chief executive, international group, for Singapore Tourism Board (STB), said that since Singapore’s reopening to short-term visitors from last September it has received over half a million visitors. “Of course, compared to pre-Covid it might not seem like large numbers, but compared to Covid numbers it was very, very encouraging.”
And she added, “We haven’t seen the full numbers yet for April, but we’re hearing good anecdotal feedback about growth. Visitors are coming back, so fingers crossed we will be seeing even better numbers in the near future.”
Singapore Tourism Board’s Juliana Kua (centre) and Tourism Australia’s Brent Anderson (right) in conversation with Eric Gnock Fah, Klook’s COO & co-founder.
Both executives noted changes in traveller trends and preferences. Anderson said, “Throughout the pandemic we saw a trend for really immersive experiences – just nature and wildlife, something we’ve always been very strong in.”
Travellers also want more diversity in multiple destinations, he said. “People want to go and pick up the signature things but add on a bit more.”
And they are staying longer. “Singaporeans used to average about eight days, but we’re seeing 10 to 14 as the average now because people have pent-up leave, pent-up savings. And it’s really about authenticity and there’s much bigger awareness of sustainability as well. Am I traveling for good? Whether or not it’s an actual motivator for destination choice… that’s what that future of demand research is telling us.”
Wellness is another trend the STB is betting on and in June, it will launch its first Wellness Festival. “The whole concept of physical and mental wellness is something that has come to the fore during Covid. In Singapore we are going all out on this trend,” said Kua.
Both destinations are also dialling up on their sustainability initiatives and offerings. Anderson said, “Our indigenous populations have started really marketing themselves and telling their story, and this is the longest surviving culture of about 60,000 years – our First Nations Australians (Indigenous Australians).”
Singapore, meanwhile, has developed the Singapore Green Plan 2030 – a nation-wide movement to advance the city’s agenda on sustainable development. There's also the Hotel Sustainability Roadmap, drawn up jointly by the STB and Singapore Hotel Association, with the aim for hotels in Singapore to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
Said Kua, “Several of our big tourism players have come on board and set very clear goals, one of which is Wildlife Reserves that wants to be carbon neutral in a few years’ time. Even our food sector and our other stakeholders are aiming to be sustainable. There’s a lot of discussion and commitment, to want to be more sustainable, which will be good for us as a destination and as a country.”