It’s been an incredibly tough year as the Covid-19 pandemic turned the global travel industry upside down.
But it's not all gloom and doom. Amid the uncertainty, there have been some bright spots, positive learnings and transformational challenges, which keep the travel business community bound together.
As 2020 draws to a close, we round up some of Travel Weekly Asia's best news stories that might have slipped your attention in the past 12 months.
1. Singapore's mighty efforts to reopen travel
TOP POST: Can tourism sail out of doldrums from Singapore reopening moves?
To date, the Singapore government has been among the most proactive in reopening borders to international trade and travel again. Besides pledging financial support to the beleaguered tourism and hospitality sectors, the authorities have also initiated many green lanes in the hope to kickstart travel again.
While the much-anticipated travel bubble between Singapore and Hong Kong has yet to take off, the protocols that both governments have put in place could pave the way for such bubbles as a viable option to restart international travel.
2. Testing waters, forging ahead with cruises
TOP POST: Travel agents urged to grab the opportunity of cruising's golden hour
The coronavirus outbreak on Princess Diamond in the early stage of the pandemic cast a dark shadow on the cruise industry, but the sector has also shown its determination to restart operations by implementing a wide range of health and safety protocols, including having Covid testings.
Cruising has resumed in parts of Europe, and in Asia Dream Cruises became the first cruise line to begin sailing when it resumed domestic operations in Taiwan, and more recently in Singapore.
Royal Caribbean has also restarted short sailings in Singapore under a pilot programme aimed to revitalise the cruise industry. Industry players also view the recent Covid-19 scare on board Quantum of the Seas as a reflection of the readiness of the cruise industry to cope and keep Covid risks to a minimum.
Furthermore, cruise packages are one of the few segments that travel agents can currently sell in a restricted travel climate, with travel agents at the recent CruiseWorld Asia Regional Conference sharing their sentiments that cruising will spearhead the recovery of the travel sector — at least for Singapore and probably the region.
3. Macau puts up a united front
TOP POST: Macau's next chapter: hotels and travel industry unite
The pandemic laid bare that the travel industry is a key economic generator for many countries, and any moves to soften the devastating impact of Covid-19 requires strong collaboration between the authorities, private sector players as well as the local communities.
The united front that the Macau travel trade put up is a clear illustration of how togetherness can bring the Covid outbreak under control. While the city has only reopened to mainland Chinese visitors, the Macao Government Tourism Office has constantly kept up its communications with the overseas travel agents and partners.
4. For some, a pandemic brings out the best business
TOP POST: Why business is booming for this tour operator exploring Singapore's dark side
It's not always a gloom and doom picture for the travel industry in this unusual year. The domestic pivot not only pushed many hotels to come up with creative offerings to attract staycationers (and even four-legged guests), they are also repurposing their under-utilised spaces into work suites, cloud kitchens and fitness studios.
Meanwhile, the domestic pivot has also given an opportunity for local attractions to shine while enabling fast-thinking tour operators to swiftly tap onto the surge in interest in local culture and unusual offerings.
5. Why work from home when you can work from anywhere
TOP POST: Can Bali find a tourism future in digital nomads?
The Covid-19 pandemic forces were a major driver of remote and hybrid working for many organisations, leading some destinations to see opportunities in attracting a new league of visitors in a disrupted world of working.
Several countries like Estonia, Georgia and Barbados have been quick to tweak their visa policies to embrace remote workers, while in Asia Bali has also expressed interest in courting digital nomads.
With placemaking becoming the new destination marketing strategy, tourism organisations are also urged to rethink and re-position their country or destination as attractive places to live and work in, not just as a fleeting stop for tourists.
6. Creativity loves a crisis
TOP POST: Make a fashion statement with these travel purveyors
Thailand's once-thriving tourism sector is still suffering from the massive fallouts of Covid border closures, but Thai industry players are responding to the unprecedented crisis with unmatched ingenuity. From Thai Airways comes such unusual initiatives of spiritual flights, upcycling life vests into tote bags and selling deep-fried dough sticks on Bangkok streets.
Not to be outdone, the Tourism Authority of Thailand recently got into the dating scene by hooking up with Tinder to encourage single travellers to join matchmaking trips that visit some of the country's top domestic attractions.
7. The secrets of self-promotion
TOP POST: Tourism Malaysia tells Singaporeans to holiday at home
Give it to Tourism Malaysia who gave a masterclass in promoting the country without actually promoting it.
In a viral social media post, Tourism Malaysia called on Singaporeans to explore their own country. "We would never have imagined encouraging you to spend your holidays in Singapore, but our friends in the tourism industry could use your support at the moment. While we dream of soaking under the sun in Pulau Redang, Sentosa is just as good for now," the post wrote.
"So, if you want to help, begin your #SingaporeRediscovers today. Take care and stay safe. #DreamNowTravelLater."
Singapore Tourism Board, through its Visit Singapore account on Facebook, responded in kind: "Thanks for the love, Tourism Malaysia ❤️ Thinking of you too—stay safe and keep well! (Written on the sandy shores of Sentosa while remembering the awesome times at Pulau Redang.)
True BFFs, Singapore and Malaysia.
8. Virtually yours
TOP POST: The good, the bad and the new reality
Virtual tours are booming in an age of the pandemic. Like how meetings were driven to be conducted virtually on Zoom and Teams, technology and immersive tours are helping some stuck-at-home travellers to get as close as they can to the real thing.
While most people will agree that virtual tours could never replace the actual in-person experience of visiting a destination, a growing crop of players are convinced that virtual travel is here to stay.
9. Have vaccine, will travel?
TOP POST: Infection protection: All for one, one for all
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.
While many in the travel industry believe that vaccines will be the ultimate game-changer, airlines caution that vaccination and testing will have to go hand-in-hand until global herd immunity is attained – which could be well into 2021 and beyond.
That hasn't stopped enterprising travel agents in India from designing vaccine vacations that combine a holiday trip abroad with an opportunity to get a Covid vaccine shot.
10. Please show me your vaccine passport
TOP POST: No jab, no fly, no way, says IATA
Covid passports are seen as key to resuming international travel, with Qantas already looking at the potential for passengers to have a vaccination passport before flying into and from Australia.
International bodies like WTTC and IATA have been pushing for a single digital identity for each traveller, which would contain their biographic data as well as any necessary additional information such as biometric data, loyalty information, credit card details, travel history, proof of immunity or vaccine, etc.
SITA predicts that within a few years the development of a digital identity will replace the traditional passport with a Digital Travel Credential currently being explored by industry bodies, including ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization).