In this article, I will try to analyze the answer I gave, which is not easy.
This pandemic has taken the world by surprise, crippling all industries and lives of people, health-wise, emotionally, and economically. Tourism is one of the hardest hit, where all service providers are suffering.
When will things return to normal? No one knows for sure, but not before having a vaccine that people can take safely. Markets will open up gradually, but to return to the demand we witnessed in 2019, it will not be before spring, summer, fall 2021, or even after.
Yes, people will travel again. They will tend to prefer traveling within their countries or to nearby destinations. Yet, that depends on the decisions of Governments to ease restrictions so that people can move. Today, some Governments are in bilateral talks discussing ways of creating “Safe Corridors “or “travel Bubbles” to facilitate the flow of travelers between countries.
As per the UNWTO, COVID-19 has placed the whole world on lockdown. One hundred percent of global destinations continue to have restrictions on travel in place, and 72 percent have completely closed their borders to international tourism. This means that not even domestic tourism will be possible without lifting at least the lockdowns, which is easing as we speak.
The Middle East has been affected severely by this pandemic. Countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, Jordan, Lebanon, and Morocco have lost nearly 100 percent of their tourism and travel business in a period of high demand. This comes after years of suffering from political instability in the region due to the Arab Spring. All types of tourism have been affected. If we take Saudi Arabia, religious tourism is an essential product that was utterly lost at the cancelation of Umra before, during, and after the Holy Month of Ramadan.
So once restrictions are lifted, people will choose to travel domestically, an important market that can be built upon for the future. Let’s take Jordan as an example; more than 400 thousand Jordanians went to Turkey in 2019, a similar number to Egypt, and more than 120 thousand to Dubai. Most of those travelers were traveling for leisure.
At the same time, there are still some concerns about domestic tourism; the operational costs for suppliers are high and will be reflected in the price. Governments should support suppliers, mainly hotels, to make prices affordable for locals, especially that the economic impact of this pandemic might make people reconsider their priorities. So tourism might not be on top of the list.
Domestic Travelers Characteristics and Needs:
- Small numbers, FITs, families, and friends
- They tend to be more relaxed in open areas and open spaces, avoiding crowded cities.
- This matches some products like adventure
- Crowded sites will be avoided
- A family would prefer a Minivan over a regular car to ensure physical distancing.
- In addition to honeymooners
Things to be considered?
- Where will they stay, what will be their meal plans? Buffets? Are they safe?
- What should be included as a safety measure in the vehicle? Flight?
As countries start to come out of lockdown and slowly lift their restrictions, people are planning future trips and gearing up for travel. In a survey conducted by Wego, around 60 percent of people in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region plan to travel once domestic and international flights resume. Forty percent are eager to book a relaxing getaway as soon as the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, while most respondents are planning to travel within the next three months.
I believe that business travel internationally will be among the first to return, followed by an urgent need to travel, visiting families back home, and health treatments. I think leisure travel will be delayed and will not be seen in the short term.
I have been monitoring the situation worldwide since Dec 19. DMOs and Tourism Boards have been showcasing their destinations, promoting their sites, and showing solidarity with each other which is highly recognized, yet, I have always said, it’s time to build up confidence between your destination and the traveler. Besides showing your beautiful sites and attractions and adding the #Stay_Safe slogan, it’s equally important, if not more, to highlight what you have been doing to ensure that your destination is ready, clean, and safe to receive travelers? What are your policies?
Having said that, and once we are ready to attract travelers to our destination, we have the following challenges we need to address:
- Target market policies, when will they open up? and to where do they allow their travelers to travel
- What about our policies; will there be rapid COVID 19 tests on boarders and airports? Are there any needed documentation required from travelers showing that they are COVID 19 free? Is this needed?
- Will travelers be quarantined after traveling or returning?
- Which airlines will fly to us? What will happen to LCC? Charters?
- Where will our airlines fly to?
- Which TOs will feature us, and will they see that our destination has the appropriate return on investment over other destinations?
TOs abroad are like all others, suffering and will only look at hot selling destinations that witness a demand to sustain their businesses. If you are not visible to those, we will be out of their plans.
Marketing destinations will change. Targeting the right traveler versus significant advertising and marketing worldwide is required. Define your target audience and focus. The type of traveler might not be the same; the elderly, which some countries have as a significant percentage of, may not travel fearing the pandemic, so the strategy should change to attract younger travelers. While other countries may depend on youngsters who are more adventurous and are willing to travel, yet, they use charter and LCCs, which I don’t see that one will be affordable as before, and two; mass tourism will not return soon.
Luxury Travel will be on the rise, visiting friends and relatives (VFR) as well. At a later stage, which again will take time, group and mass tourism may return.
Yet, the taken measures and the hit on economic growth in the US, the EU, and China will also lead to fewer tourist arrivals to the Middle East. Such a drop in tourism activity will have a significant impact in many countries, especially those depending on tourism as a source of income.
Any destination without flights will not succeed. Air travel remains to be a challenge, yet people will always travel. There will be an end for quick turnaround flights: Ryanair, Easyjet, LCC in general since there will be a need for enhanced cleaning between trips. This will be reflected in prices and rotations. Demand should be created so that airlines can fly again to your destination. Still, because airlines will operate flights with probably 50 percent of their capacities, it will inevitably affect the prices. The same will happen to hotels.
The coming period holds many challenges for our industry. Each organization should be ready with more than one strategy or scenario so that the “What if?” happens if you have a road map to assist you in your decisions.
”Adel M. AminTravel & Tourism Expert // Former Deputy Managing Director - Jordan Tourism Board