- Amidst general pessimism towards international travel, people living in Asia have a more positive outlook when it comes to traveling in the “new normal”.
- A shift in travelers’ destination of choice: China, Italy, and the US have all taken a hit while Japan and Australia rank highest as destinations of choice.
- Safety first: Travellers are willing to pay a premium to be assured on safety, while contactless experiences will be a key influence when travelers determine their preferred destinations.
- Travel reimagined: e-boarding passes, touchless lavatories, contactless journeys from airports to hotels, no middle seats in transportation, and digital health passports are on travelers’ wishlist.
SINGAPORE – As economies around the world gradually reopen, people living in Asia are the most confident towards traveling in the “new normal” compared to their Western counterparts, according to a recent global study.
Jointly conducted by leading social research agency Blackbox Research, data provider Dynata, and language partner Language Connect, Unravel Travel: Fear & Possibilities in a Post Coronavirus (COVID-19) World examines the sentiments, preferences, and expectations of 10,195 people across 17 countries regarding travel in a post-COVID-19 world.
As part of the study, countries are measured on a Travel Confidence Score, by considering two indicators – how comfortable a person is to travel internationally in the next 12 months, and how well prepared they feel about their country re-opening its tourism and leisure activities.
Asian travelers more positive
With a score of 76, India and Thailand are tied for top place with the most citizens confident in traveling in the “new normal” (See Appendix, Chart 1). Asian countries dominated the list of countries that scored above the global average of 61, including China (69), Indonesia (65), and Singapore (64). France, Germany, and Denmark also rated above the global average.
At the other end of the spectrum, Japan rated the most cautious with a score of 40, followed by the Philippines (43) and Hong Kong (50). Other countries that scored below the global average included Sweden, New Zealand, UK, Canada, and the USA.
Saurabh Sardana, Chief Operating Officer of Blackbox Research, said that each country’s score reflects a balancing act between a number of different considerations – the perceived importance of tourism to a country’s economy, national management of COVID-19 cases, and even past experiences of similar epidemics. Notably, New Zealand’s low case achievement has led to the country’s more cautious attitude towards international travel.
He added, “The scores revealed that a number of countries have had their confidence towards traveling severely battered, which can be attributed to the negative reporting on COVID-19 cases. For them, sustained control in COVID-19 numbers domestically and globally is needed before they begin revisiting international travel as a lifestyle priority.
“Meanwhile, with a significant part of Asia having experienced similar epidemics, it is not surprising that Asian travelers would be more resilient and optimistic about seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Despite countries like India and Indonesia recently seeing a higher number of cases, their reputations as tourism powerhouses mean it will be hard for them to neglect the travel industry in the long term.
“When it comes to navigating travel in the new normal, we foresee people living in Asia will have the highest pent up demand for travel, but tourism boards and the travel sector need to re-evaluate and reimagine their whole approach towards future travel experiences in order to be sustainable in the future.”
Travel dreams dampened – for now
Overall, international leisure travel in the short term is off the schedule for most people, with 44% of respondents still keen to avoid international vacations. Notably, Japanese (32%), Filipinos (42%), and New Zealanders (43%) and Australians (52%) are least eager to take long-haul trips (See Appendix, Chart 2).
However, the study also revealed that aspirations for regional travel have led to emerging travel trends in destinations. Australia and Japan emerged as the two most popular destinations for Asian travelers (See Appendix, Chart 3), while Spain is on the top of the list of European travelers given their June COVID-19 cases saw a downward trend (See Appendix, Chart 4).
The countries whose tourism appeal took the biggest hit during the pandemic are China, Italy, and the US (See Appendix, Chart 5). Mr. Sardana attributed this phenomenon as a reflection of what has been reported in international and mainstream media on each country’s COVID-19 crisis management.
Mr. Sardana noted, “The travel sentiment to countries like the US and China also gets severely impacted by key events such as Black Lives Matter protests, foreign worker visa freeze, and Beijing’s second wave of infections. This has a compounding effect which inevitably has taken a toll on their international standing as a tourism destination. What this means is that they have their work cut out for them to reposition themselves to attract tourists post-COVID-19.”
Tourism to champion safety, contactless experience
In order to win over future travelers, tourism boards and travel operators need to keep the safety during travel at center stage, with travelers willing to pay a premium for such assurances. Globally, 80% are willing to pay more for safer accommodation, and 74% are open to paying a higher premium for travel insurance in exchange for protection against pandemics (See Appendix, Chart 6).
Meanwhile, contactless travel will be the new benchmark for travelers – 76% of respondents indicated that their preferred travel destinations will be countries that offer more reliable contactless experiences (See Appendix, Chart 7). Travelers are also looking to minimize contact during transfers as much as possible – an overwhelming 66% prefer to travel in their own vehicles for road trips between cities or countries, compared to traveling on a plane (18%), rented or private-hire car or taxi (9%), and buses and trains (7%) (See Appendix, Chart 8).
In response, Mr. Sardana said, “Governments will need to play a key role in messaging and ensuring travelers’ safety, as well as empowering the tourism industry through investment in new technology and innovation that would ensure a seamless, contactless travel experience that is sustainable. The first movers will cash in on the pent-up demand as borders open.”
Travel reimagined in the new normal
In terms of what the future of travel looks like, the study found that e-boarding passes (44%), touchless lavatories (43%), contactless journeys from airports to hotels (40%), no more middle seats in transportation (36%), and digital health passports (35%) are some of the new ideas which global travellers hope to see implemented in the near future (See Appendix, Chart 9).
Commenting on the significance of the study’s findings, Mr. Sardana said, “What the study has shown us is that the pandemic has unequivocally shifted how we see travel, and in order for travel industry players to stay relevant, they need to change the way they approach every aspect and touchpoint in the traveler experience, emphasizing safety and rebuilding trust.
“Halting travel has had devastating social and economic implications – a majority of our respondents recognize that the tourism industry plays an important role to their country’s economy. In order for the travel industry to emerge from this crisis stronger and more resilient, they need to also recognize that COVID-19 will not be the last global health crisis, and beyond rebuilding an industry that caters to new needs, preferences, and expectations, it needs to reconsider its fundamental approach towards travel experiences.”
Please refer to the Appendices section for more information and additional survey findings.