MANILA — The tourism sector continues to adapt to changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic as it encourages people to travel while ensuring their health and safety.

During a panel discussion at the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) Global Summit in Manila on Thursday, experts shared their thoughts on how the global health crisis is shaping the future of travel around the world.

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said they are currently working to unify health protocols in the region to make the process more convenient for travellers.

“We are talking at least in ASEAN … to see how we can unify our health protocols,” she said. “[We want] to make it less tedious. You don’t have to answer so many things, and so the traveler doesn’t think it’s such a burden to travel.”

“We want to make it as transparent as possible. We hope we can do that first in ASEAN, and eventually globally,” she added.

Romulo-Puyat said this will not only encourage leisure travel but also “work”, noting that many have combined business trips with family vacations.

“People are traveling more, even for business, and now they’re bringing their family with them. They call it workation — they work through Zoom, have their family with them, and stay in one place longer,” she said. . “Sometimes their kids can go to school online and they don’t miss anything… We’re more efficient now because we can do so many meetings and enjoy tourist destinations at the same time.”

Other panelists – including Marriott Interrnational Group Chairman for International Craig Smith, Dubai Airports International CEO Paul Griffiths and Global Rescue Companies CEO Dan Richards – also spoke of an effort to unify protocols and even health referrals on one platform to boost tourism. .

“We have the technology and we can deploy it at scale. I think as an industry we need to focus on institutionalizing the technology. [with help from government]“, said Richards.

They also highlighted the need to reassess tourism products to meet the changing needs of travellers.

“Major statistics on the threat to human life have come down tremendously, and we need to start being more confident about travel. I think people will be more demanding about the quality of the experience they have, the safety of their experience of airlines, airports, [and] hotels,” Griffiths said.

“All components of travel and tours will need to have a real perspective on the quality of their products. And if we reassure people that they can be bold and touch every corner of the earth, then we will be in very good shape. as an industry.”

ECOLOGICAL ACCOMMODATIONS, LESS KNOWN SPOTS

Another roundtable at the WTTC Global Summit specifically looked at trends the tourism industry needs to prepare for, in particular the rise of eco-friendly accommodations and experiences.

Citing her own research, Eva Stewart, head of global travel and tourism at YouGov, said the pandemic has caused a shift in the way people think and feel when they step back and consider their impact on the environment.

“Some people have chosen to eat less meat, recycle more, and buy more locally. And those considerations then translate into travel, naturally,” she said.

“We’ve seen a big shift in age groups looking for eco-friendly accommodation…As an industry, if we help consumers find those options for less touristy places and environmentally friendly options, this will help to resonate. [with] responsible travelers who we estimate to be around 300 million worldwide right now,” she added.

Stewart said travelers are also starting to appreciate remote and less popular destinations, and are more concerned with buying locally produced goods while traveling.

“They wanted to contribute to the communities that have suffered tremendously from the loss of income because tourists were dissipating from their lives and they were very dependent on it… They wanted to disperse that economic benefit as much as they could,” he said. she declared.

Tomohiro Kaneko, deputy commissioner of the Japan Tourism Agency, Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, has seen a similar trend in his country and has focused his efforts on promoting other destinations as they are preparing to open up to foreign travellers.

He said that before the pandemic, 60% of foreign tourists only visited popular Japanese cities such as Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto.

“We would like to promote other regional areas like Hokkaido and the island of Kyushu to foreign tourists,” he said, though he admitted he still couldn’t say when Japan will finally start to travel. accommodate international travellers.

And as more people start to travel abroad, TBO Holidays Gaurav Bhatnagar believes the domestic tourism boom will continue even after the pandemic.

“The last two years have been about rediscovering our own countries…I think that will continue after the pandemic. It may not be at the same pace, but the residual effect will definitely happen there,” said he declared.

Meanwhile, HotelPlanner and Meetings.com CEO Tim Hentschel has noticed an increase in travel related to weddings and sporting events.

“Right now we’re seeing a huge rebound in weddings. Obviously there’s a lot of pent-up demand for the wedding market, and getting married virtually isn’t ideal,” he said. “Marriages are exploding right now.”

TRAVEL INSURANCE

The COVID-19 pandemic has also brought travel insurance to the fore as people have become more concerned about their health and safety in the “new normal”.

AIG Travel CEO Jeffrey Rutledge observed that consumer engagement with travel insurance is “at a level we’ve never seen before.”

“The biggest change from a consumer perspective is before the pandemic, the way people were driven by the product is very different,” he said.

“That changed after COVID because every consumer operates on the same level of concern they are supported in their journey,” he added.

Asked about the idea of ​​compulsory travel insurance being considered by governments, Rutledge said: “What is important is that some countries make a decision based on their tolerance of their health system, as to whether or not they want to accept that risk for individuals who come into their jurisdiction.”