For the past few years, HR Manager Amanda Loh has spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s island hopping with her girlfriends in Greece. This year, with strict border control measures and a 14-day self-paid mandatory quarantine, Amanda says her usual overseas getaway is off.
“With the uncertainty and restrictions surrounding COVID-19, an overseas trip doesn’t seem possible. We don’t want to give up our holiday, so we’re staying in China and doing a road trip near home.”
Amanda is not alone when it comes to those cherished vacations abroad during the festive season. Across Asia Pacific, travelers are increasingly embracing outbound travel to bring in the New Year. In Singapore, Expedia booking data between 15 December 2019 and 14 January 2020 reveals that flight demand for foreign cities London, Barcelona, Paris and Los Angeles has increased 60% year-on-year.
While Chinese New Year is the biggest holiday in China, with 6.31 million travelling abroad in 2019, the December-January festive period has also been growing in popularity with Chinese tourists. In 2019, ForwardKeys reported a 19.5% growth in flight bookings to Europe for the end-of-year period.
With countries across Asia Pacific in varying timelines of lockdowns and international travel restrictions, the festive period is set to look a little different this year. However, according to data from Amadeus, majority of APAC travelers remain steadfast in their commitment to resume leisure travel by the end of the year. The question that remains this holiday season is when, where and how they can best do so.
In the latest Destination X: Where to Next report of 1050 CheckMyTrip users across Asia Pacific, 27% of APAC travelers expressed a strong desire to travel immediately when travel restrictions lift, with 37% planning their next trip one to three months after they lift. While there is a strong preference to go farther from home, 70% of APAC travelers are ready to travel domestically. In fact, the average time spent on holidays will not change, with half of travelers seeking a trip duration of 14 days or more.
Reconnecting with family and friends is the predominant reason for 55% of APAC travelers planning their next leisure trip in the coming months. At the same time, travelers are also seeking a sense of adventure to satisfy their pent-up wanderlust, with 34% opting to explore unfamiliar destinations for ‘new travel experiences’ and 32% desiring to ‘reconnect with the outdoors’.
Ramona Bohwongprasert, Senior Vice President, Retail in Travel Channels, Asia Pacific, Amadeus said: “The data tells us that travel demand is there. Across Asia Pacific, travelers are energized and ready to holiday within their own shores this festive season, to reunite with family and friends or explore new destinations that offer outdoor getaway experiences. However, their behaviors have changed, with travelers not willing to commit to holiday plans too far in advance and COVID-19 factors such as onsite cleanliness and testing measures now weigh in when travelers evaluate accommodation and transit options. Travel sellers and operators will need to cover new ground to provide the experience that domestic tourists are seeking this coming holiday season.”
Customized travel experiences win out over pre-packaged leisure travel options, with 70% of APAC travelers preferring to curate their own holidays and/or with the help of a travel agent. Group and guided tour packages have dramatically declined in popularity, with only 8% of APAC travelers considering a holiday package cruise of more than 50 people.
Travel spontaneity is also a thing of the past, with travelers spending more time researching before booking their next getaway. ‘Price tailored to my needs’ and ‘severity of the COVID-19 health crisis at the destination’ are the most influential factors for purchasing decisions. More than two thirds of travelers believe that upfront knowledge of COVID-19 prevention measures is ‘very important’.
Gaurav Bhatnagar, Director at Travel Boutique Online said, “To help travelers rediscover their cities, and regions and support local tourism experiences, travel agents will need to get creative on ‘what to sell’. The domestic travel market will be highly competitive this holiday season, so offers must be eye catching and personalized. Travel agents will need to reimagine how they sell and package domestic travel experiences by adding flexibility and identifying new segments that are less explored.”
Convincing travelers that it is safe to travel via airlines will be a priority for travel sellers, with APAC travelers more likely to say they are ‘less than comfortable with flying but will continue to do so’. New features such as touchless kiosks that use QR codes and mobile boarding passes, combined with new policies such as mask compliance and removing middle seats, could help to boost confidence.
Rajeev Kumar, CEO & Managing Director, at Mystifly said, “This holiday season travelers will be wary of the risks and need to be fully convinced that it’s safe for themselves and their families to fly. Technology as an enabler will play an important role in driving demand – by rethinking their products and services to be seamless, efficient and touchless, airlines can create experiences that reinforce trust and value.”
Insurance is now an integral part of the travel purchase, with 47% of APAC travelers likely to purchase travel insurance for every trip, where once it was an afterthought. Another important factor to the traveler journey this holiday season is the travel agent. One fifth of APAC travelers expect to lean on travel agents for their next domestic trip, for recommendations, problem solving and support.
GMJ Thampy, Chairman and Managing Director, at Riya Travel & Tours, said: ““The easing of lockdown restrictions will lead to a gradual recovery in leisure travel across India. With India still closed to international tourism, travel during the December-January season will be driven by our strong domestic market. We expect to see a shift in traveler trends this year, with a preference for shorter trips to meet family members, travelling in their own vehicles and destinations with COVID-19 measures such as mandatory testing. Highlighting new hygiene and safety measures will help to ensure we can welcome back tourists with greater care and safety.”
In interviews conducted by Amadeus with travel agency executives across Asia Pacific including Australia, India and the Philippines, 38% believe the way they sell travel will change this year. Travel agents are looking to get ‘more creative’ in their selling strategy, to shape and tailor travel offers to specific traveler personas, as well as highlight added flexibility and insurance coverage.
Kit Sananwathananont, Managing Director of G.M. Tour & Travel said, “Travelers will demand a higher level of personalisation, reassurance and empathy this holiday season. Travel agents that combine technology with a ‘human touch’ can deliver excellent customer service that will have a positive impact on travelers’ trust and loyalty, and ultimately help jump-start the travel industry for 2021.”