Travel TrendsAsia's top hospitality leaders predict what's in store for travel in 2021.

2021: The year of cautious optimism

From left: Marriott International's Bart Buiring, Pan Pacific Hotel Group's Choe Peng Sum and BWH Hotel Group's Olivier Berrivin.
From left: Marriott International's Bart Buiring, Pan Pacific Hotel Group's Choe Peng Sum and BWH Hotel Group's Olivier Berrivin.

Cautious optimism appears to be running sentiment among Asia's top hotel executives, who shared their projections for 2021 during Travel Weekly Asia 2020 Readers' Choice Awards in mid-December.

While the past year had been a deeply challenging one for the hospitality sector, some bright spots, notably China, shone as 2020 came to a close.

"We've seen upward trends in our Asia Pacific market since April 2020 with China doing exceptionally well, but there're occasional setbacks," said Bart Buiring, chief sales and marketing officer of Asia Pacific, Marriott, referring to the latest wave of Covid cases in South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong.

For Pan Pacific Hotels Group, China is clearly leading in recovery “since they’re such a big domestic market — they don’t even need to open the international skies,” said Choe Peng Sum, CEO of Pan Pacific Hotels Group. "Most of our hotels there are doing 70-80% occupancy, it’s almost back to business as usual."

Australia, Choe noted, has started to "come up really well" when domestic doors reopened although the picture is less lustre for other parts of Asia.

As travel bubbles in the region have yet to take off, Choe believes the travel sector will enter 2021 heavily reliant on the domestic market in 1H. "My thoughts is that international travel will only open from Q3 or Q4.”

The outlook for travel business in Asia-Pacific remains mixed in 2021, as are sentiments on the impact of vaccinations which are starting to be rolled out across the region.

Marriott's Buiring expects travel and tourism to recover progressively as vaccines rollout gets underway in many parts of the world. “With the vaccine we see an enormous pent-up demand for travel, therefore we are optimistic that leisure travellers will come back first, and the larger international groups will return last. Overall, we're optimistic about 2021,” said Buiring.

BWH’s managing director of international operations for Asia, Olivier Berrivin, however, takes a more cautious stance. "There’s a lot of positive news about the vaccine but I don’t foresee any return to normal until Q3. Thailand is still struggling and no clear indication of when flights will resume.

"We are looking forward to 2021, but the next six months will still be challenging in some ways," he said. "As much as we want to be positive, it's important to see reality the way it is."

Marriott International, Pan Pacific Hotel Group and BWH Hotel Group were the respective winners of the Best International Hotel Chain, Best Regional Hotel Chain and Best Midscale Hotel Chain categories for Travel Weekly Asia 2020 Readers' Choice Awards.

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