Travel after the coronavirus pandemic: Chinese tourists will initially stay in Asia-Pacific, experts say, and head outdoors for custom experiences
- Destinations closer to home, exclusive experiences and an increased use of technology could be on the cards for Chinese and East Asian tourists
- Central-Eastern and Southern Europe could gain appeal from the traditionally popular countries in the west of the continent
The coronavirus pandemic is likely to create a “new normal” when it comes to travel and tourism. But when the borders have all reopened, what might that look like? We asked experts to share their views on what Chinese and East Asian travellers will be looking for in a post-Covid-19 world, and how the West could again woo such visitors.
Assuming ongoing uncertainty, tour operators will have to be flexible and resilient, and provide more experiences that are tailored and exclusive, Ap says.
“What sort of experience do we want to provide – that’s the key. ‘More’ is not necessarily better; travel will not be about numbers but quality,” says Ap. “Chinese tourists will look at the ‘caring capacity’ of destinations and businesses to safely accommodate and be able to offer a good experience, not a crowded one.”
Rebuilding “destination confidence” will be tricky for some places, according to Eliver Lin Cheuk-ki, associate professor at Singapore’s Institute of Technology.
With hygiene and health topping the concerns of Asian travellers mindful of Covid-19 flare-ups and the emergence of new health threats, Western destinations will have to show that safety measures have been put in place, says Lin. This “could include the hygiene conditions of public touch points, how often they are sanitised; whether crowd control and safe distancing measures are strictly implemented; whether wearing a mask at all times is mandatory”.
Professor Cathy Hsu, of the School of Hotel and Tourism Management at PolyU, also believes Asian travellers will prefer to travel in smaller groups, and will search for outdoor, natural activities while welcoming customised itineraries. She also thinks they’ll want to take things at a leisurely pace.
“Living in the moment, travellers would be more willing to pay for desired services,” she adds.
As well as rebuilding trust in hygiene protocols, the West will have to overcome the cultural clashes triggered by the virus and counter stereotypes if it wants to appeal again to Asian tourists.
“Western service providers have tried their best to modify their operations due to the pandemic. However, local residents may get back to their past ways of life – not wearing masks, feeling comfortable with casual behaviour,” says Hsu. “Tourists from Asia who are more conscious of their surroundings and continue to wear masks on some occasions may further stand out from the crowd and attract [sometimes uncomfortable] attention.”
“There has been a surge of Asian hate in the West, and this will affect Asian tourists’ choice of destinations. Western countries, especially Western politicians, really need to understand and appreciate Asian countries’ culture, values and norms,” says Song, who is also a fellow of the International Academy for the Study of Tourism and of the International Association for China Tourism Studies.
Tech-savvy travel businesses are more likely to survive – and thrive – in a post-Covid-19 world. According to Ap, the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital technology by tourism service providers seeking to minimise physical contact.
Song predicts a fall in business travel compared with pre-pandemic levels, with virtual Mice (meetings, incentives, conference and exhibitions) activity on the rise. The development of touchless systems such as biometric airline boarding and online hotel check-in should help redress the balance a little, though, he says.
Europe is prepared to woo back Asian globe-trotters, says Zuzanna Gutkowska, chairwoman for China at the European Travel Commission, and flexibility will be key.
“Tourists do not want to worry about what happens if the pandemic situation worsens and they wish to cancel a … booking. Recent reports show a considerable drop in booking time in China.
“In 2020, more than 88 per cent of online hotel bookings on the Tongcheng[-Elong] platform were made for arrival on the same day, and 61.5 per cent of flight bookings were made three days or less in advance,” says Gutkowska. Just as Chinese travel agencies have had to adjust their booking policies to offer domestic travellers’ a greater sense of security, so European travel companies will need to be more adaptable.
But for Gutkowska, “big crises also come with great opportunities”. Central-Eastern and Southern European destinations could gain appeal from the traditionally more popular countries of western Europe, she says.
“[European] travel companies have to come up with itineraries that combine the city tourism traditionally preferred by the Chinese with experiences in nature, allowing for slowing down and taking care of one’s health,” she says, adding that those providers will probably need to cater more to smaller groups travelling in vans or cars accompanied by a local guide.
Inevitably, as vaccination drives work their magic and people begin to explore the world in safety again, those innovations that prove not to be cost-effective will be quietly dropped. It seems inevitable, however, that we’ll all soon have to get used to at least some new ways of travelling.