Trade Shows and EventsTravel is getting back on track, but the confusion over pandemic rules are increasingly replaced by issues of staff shortage for airlines and airports.

Learning how to travel again, with or without face masks

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Airlines and airports are struggling with travel recovery. Queues at Suvarnabhumi International Airport.
Airlines and airports are struggling with travel recovery. Queues at Suvarnabhumi International Airport. Photo Credit: Xinyi Liang-Pholsena

Travel has become a lot easier and less stressful in the six weeks since I last took an international flight between Bangkok and Singapore in April.

Not only has the paperwork for cross-border travel been significantly reduced, many countries in Asia Pacific have also do away with cumbersome pandemic travel rules such as departure and arrival Covid tests. In just a mere couple of weeks, air traffic in several regional airports is fast picking up and returning quicker than anticipated.

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Travel, however, is still in a transition stage though. And one clear area where the constantly changing rules still confuse travellers is the wearing of face masks.

For many travellers who hail from or reside in Asia during the pandemic, wearing a mask, especially in an indoor environment, has become second nature.

But this 'second nature' was challenged when I joined many business events professionals to attend IMEX in Frankfurt last week. Not only was IMEX the largest event industry trade show to take place since the start of the Covid pandemic, it also marked the first major trade show for many Asia-based exhibitors and delegates.

Hence it was a surreal experience to see that many delegates at IMEX going around without a face mask. After all, Germany has already ended the requirement to wear masks in indoor settings since April and EU has removed the mask mandate for air travel since 16 May. So when in Europe, simply do as the Europeans do.

The bustling show floor experience itself was not unlike what it was in 2019. But what was visibly different was the heightened sense of euphoria and connectedness among industry members. After more than two years of not meeting in person, everyone was more than excited to catch up and talk business again.

Like many vaccinated and boosted travellers, myself included, going maskless was not a major concern during my time in Frankfurt as Covid testing is not required for our eventual return home.

What worried attendees more was more mundane issues relating to travel, such as getting visas in time prior to their departure or getting to the airport and boarding their flights on time.

Many airports in Europe are severely short-staffed now as travel demand surges, yet this problem is not unique to the continent or the aviation sector only. Throughout the three-day show, the most oft-heard challenge that many in the travel, hospitality and MICE industries are now facing is the shortage of manpower.

It does look like the airport queues won't be getting shorter anytime soon. But I'm glad it's getting a bit easier to breathe while travelling.

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