Government AffairsFirst comes an injection of hope, next comes the dose of reality. Will the Covid vaccine be effective in reviving travel?

Have vaccine, will travel?

Vaccine efficacy news gave a much-needed injection of hope to travel, but industry experts fear vaccines will not solve travel restrictions in 2021.
Vaccine efficacy news gave a much-needed injection of hope to travel, but industry experts fear vaccines will not solve travel restrictions in 2021. Photo Credit: Gettyimages/JPLDesigns

The recent string of positive news concerning Covid-19 vaccine efficiency has sent travel stocks soaring and newfound optimism for an industry that has taken a heavy beating from the pandemic.

Heads of Asia-based DMCs are finding relief in the good news, as the arrival of vaccines could potentially prove transformative for the recovery of tourism business.

"For me, a Covid-19 vaccine would be a turning point for global travel because once people travelling with Covid-free certificates, borders could be opened for them and that makes the travel industry alive, as well as the airlines, cruises and hospitality. Importantly, people feel safe enough to be ready for travelling," said Pham Ha, CEO of Vietnam-based Lux Group.

Hamish Keith, CEO of Exo Travel Group, speaking during a recent webinar, is also hopeful the vaccine news might ultimately boost business. He said: "Currently we’re in the survival mode and priority remains on cost control and cash management, but with news on vaccine on horizon we’re now planning and hoping for 2021 to be a recovery year. We see confidence coming back and hope bookings will come in H1 and arrivals in H2."

Discova has even seen an improvement in consumer confidence. "There has been a recent uptick in enquiries for travel in the later part of 2021 following the vaccine news, which is very encouraging," said Suyin Lee, managing director, Discova.

"There is clearly some pent-up demand, people are looking forward to being able to travel again. As cross-border travel is likely to remain complicated for some time, travellers tend to focus on single-country itineraries and more immersive experiences," she added.

Dose of reality: no vaccine, no entry

Many governments around the world are now working to secure the vaccines for the most vulnerable of their populations like healthcare workers and the elderly first.

Good news as the coronavirus vaccines may be, the next critical and difficult question is now sinking in among travel industry members: travellers are unlikely to be at top of the pecking order for Covid vaccination, at least not in the initial phases.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has announced that the Australian carrier will require future international travellers to prove they have been vaccinated against Covid-19 before flying.

Thai Prime Minster Prayut Chan-o-cha, for instance, has affirmed that the country would not open to substantial tourism spoke until a vaccine is approved, produced, and implemented.

Vaccines are unlikely to be the silver bullet for the heavily battered travel industry needs, and expectations are that Covid-induced travel restrictions will likely remain in place for 2021.

"For tourism and hotel stakeholders, the writing is on the wall that 2021 for the most part will see a continued reliance on domestic travellers, and only in 2022 will there be a large-scale return in numbers of overseas visitors," said Bill Barnett, founder and managing director of Phuket-based C9 Hotelworks.

"The business reality for Phuket and across Thailand is to plan for the worst in the coming six months and only expect 2022 to see a notable uptick," he added.

Shashank Nigam, CEO of SimpliFlying, an aviation marketing strategy firm, recently wrote on his LinkedIn post: "2021 will see a part vaccinated world. We will also see a situation where vaccines are like visas. Different vaccines will give you entry to different countries, have different levels of effectiveness and may even be valid for different periods of time."

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