With a fresh 120-day deadline in place to fully reopen Thailand, and the ‘Phuket Sandbox’ initiative pushing ahead at the beginning of July, a brighter future is coming into focus after a difficult 18 months for our hotels.
And this hope is only strengthened by taking a step back to observe the situation with a global lens. SiteMinder’s World Hotel Index provides a daily overview of hotel booking activity not just locally, but in some 40 markets around the world, and the story the current data is telling should provide Thai hoteliers a level of reassurance that normality may resume sooner than they expect.
Booking activity globally is strengthening
Off the back of lowering case numbers, the vaccine rollout and loosening restrictions, hotel booking volumes globally are currently the highest they’ve been since the pandemic began. In recent days, reservation numbers have increased to over 65% of their 2019 levels, marking a 465-day high.
There are four countries (The Cook Islands, Iceland, the Maldives and Mexico) that are exceeding their 2019 reservation volumes, and seven (Australia, Estonia, Ireland, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain, and the US) that are now above 80%.
A particularly interesting case study for Thailand, however, is the recovery of some European markets. The speed at which booking momentum has been able to evolve in certain countries has been fascinating to watch, and Spain comes to mind as a prime example.
At the beginning of April, Spanish booking momentum was at only around 38% of 2019 levels, just 13% above where Thailand is today. However, a wave of both domestic and now international bookings (Spain opened its borders to fully vaccinated travellers on June 7 without the need to quarantine), has ensured that in just a matter of weeks, booking volumes to Spanish hotels are currently at 97% of 2019 levels, a significant shift.
Another international example is the Cook Islands, which relies almost solely on foreign guests. There we recently saw booking momentum jump from 17% (6% below Thailand’s current volume) to 345% of 2019 levels in a matter of days, after a quarantine-free travel bubble opened with New Zealand.
Of course, Thailand and other parts of Asia experience their own unique challenges. Firstly, the road trips that many are able to take through Europe simply aren’t as possible in our region, and the role that domestic travel has played here has also been much less. The Cook Islands is a small island, so with limited supply it’s easier for things to quickly book out.
However, what these examples do display is just how much pent up demand there currently is, and how quickly things can change if the destination market provides consumers with not just the inspiration to travel, but the opportunity to feel safe as they do.
Thailand’s brand remains extremely strong
Importantly, around the world, Thailand’s national tourism brand has managed to remain strong throughout the pandemic.
Data released by Skyscanner displays that Bangkok has been the 11th most searched location in the world on their platform for the first four months of 2021. Similarly, figures from Agoda display that Thailand is still on the radar of Chinese, Singaporian, Taiwanese, Australian, South Korean and Japanese tourists.
The way that Thailand approached and controlled the initial outbreak garnered international praise in 2020, and the country has been widely touted as a success story. For this reason, international travellers remain eager to return, despite the current situation locally.
It’s important that hotels are ready to respond
In recent days, there has been renewed urgency within the Thai government to reopen international travel when it’s possible to do so, meaning that once the future is more clearly defined, and the vaccine drive ramps further, we can expect changes to take place very quickly.
For this reason, it’s important for Thai hoteliers to be as ready as possible, and in tune with the current trends that have emerged throughout the pandemic, despite not currently being able to accept guests. What’s clear is that the traveller who walks through the door this year, or in 2022, will be very different to the traveller that last visited in 2019, or early 2020.
They will likely be more mobile-savvy, and will want to use their phone not just to book their trip, but for check-in, all communication and room controls too. Their relationship to business travel may have also changed, and they may be adding a small amount of business to their leisure trip, rather than the other way around. And, they will likely have higher expectations across the board, for not only a cleaner space, but an experience that’s memorable and special too.
Today, I would encourage all Thai hoteliers to step back, take in a wider perspective by looking at global data flows, and stay in tune with what’s happening in the broader hotel industry, as international guests may be returning to this much-loved country before we know it.