Here’s looking at you, 2021, Part 2: Forwards, backwards; hang on in there for the “gigantic travel boom”

WE kick off the year with a gathering of views and opinions from our community

WE kick off the year with a gathering of views and opinions from our community of industry leaders on their outlook for 2021, from their level of optimism and their plans to get through the year.  Here’s the second collection.

John Brown, CEO, Agoda

Q: How would you describe the start of 2021?    
From the US perspective, it looks like the world has gone insane, and unfortunately there’s no vaccine for that. In Asia, it’s still two steps forward, one step back with regards to Covid, but that’s still progress. By year end by the latest, it’s going to be five steps forward and, hopefully, zero steps back. 

Q: What is your data telling you about the first quarter?   
Still a mixed bag; some markets are looking much better but we are seeing second waves in many markets in Asia – look at Thailand, Japan, and Malaysia. We’re going to keep seeing this, I think, through until the summer. 

Q: What is your gut, data and guesswork telling you about how 2021 will pan out?  
Once people get vaccinated and we have a digital way to communicate that as we pass through borders, we were going to have a gigantic travel boom. 

Q: What are you telling your teams/partners?  
Thank you, thank you, thank you. I know it’s been crazy, it hasn’t been the best of times, but we’ve gotten through the worst of it together. 

Q: Who do you fear for the most in our industry?  
What I fear most, is that we don’t learn from our past mistakes, that we very quickly go from Covid era back to a time of overtravel, and towards environmental destruction. 

Q: What’s the one key thing you are doing to prepare your business for whatever lies ahead?  
We’ve done it already, we’ve become very lean, even more efficient, we’ve developed many new muscles and have no fat. We can survive many bad quarters if we need to, but at the same time, we are running very fast. 

Q: What is the biggest opportunity for your business?  
A travel boom is heading our way soon. Over the past year, we have worked extremely hard, retooled, become stronger. The biggest opportunity for us is to work with our partners and customers, to be there for them with an array of choices and great value deals, when they’re checking into hotels and boarding airplanes. We’re ready to go. 

Q: On a scale of 1-10 (10 being highest), how much are you pinning your hopes on the vaccine saving travel? 
10. It looks like the world doesn’t want to travel, and in general governments don’t want us to travel either, until the vaccine is widely distributed. 

Q: Finally, on a scale of 1-10, rate how optimistic (10 being most) how you feel about 2021?
8 because not everywhere is moving at the same speed. Things will definitely continue to move in the right direction though. It will likely take at least until the end of the year, likely longer, but we will start seeing international travel come back strong. We see such a huge amount of pent up travel demand in all of the surveys we do. This, combined with the fact that the vaccine, multiple vaccines I should say, are here and ready to go, that’s a better situation than I thought we would be in, had you asked me this same question, let’s say in June 2020.

Q: What’s the one word you’d like to embrace for 2021?   
I love words, but I don’t embrace words, I like to embrace family and friends. I’m really tired of the elbow bump. Here’s to that being a thing of the past by December.  

Christian Suwarna, CMO Traveloka & CEO Traveloka Xperience

Q: How would you describe the start of 2021?
Optimistic. With a significant breakthrough of vaccine development, we hope this year will be a recovery year not only for Traveloka but the tourism industry, not just nationally, but regionally and globally, and more importantly for all of us who have experienced a tough year in 2020.

Q: What is your data telling you about the first quarter?
Actually, the two weeks data is not conclusive yet to predict the whole quarter. Based on the latest consumer research we conducted by the end of last year, we identified the optimism from our users to travel again along with an increased desire for recreational activities. Other than that, we saw a consistent increment of the staycation trend up to more than 13% every month in the last quarter of 2020. However, we are also determined to always put users’ safety as the first priority.

Q: What is your gut, data, and guesswork telling you about how 2021 will pan out?
2021 will be a better year than 2020. With vaccine development and joint effort from various stakeholders, we should be more prepared to face any challenges that 2021 may bring. Additionally, we will still focus on safe travelling. With the cross-nation movement still limited, hence, intra-country or domestic travel will still be the backbone. 2021 will be an encouraging year for us to further provide the best consumer technology experiences through our comprehensive portfolio, ranging from travel, lifestyle, to financial services.

Q: What are you telling your teams/partners?
Traveloka will continue to introduce consumer technology innovations, just like what we have done in 2020, and remain putting our best effort in serving our users and supporting our partners.

Q: Who do you fear for the most in our industry?
Uncertainty is the only thing that is certain in any industry. For us, we are in an industry that has been directly impacted because we rely on mobility and now movement is being limited. As the experts and healthcare professionals are trying to solve this pandemic riddle, unfortunately no one knows the timeline for when we can start moving again. But, we believe that we can overcome challenges by focusing ourselves on bringing the best consumer technology services and solutions to ultimately be able to better empower our users in discovering the world around them smartly.

Q: What’s the one key thing you’re doing to prepare your business for whatever lies ahead?
Continuous improvement and innovation. We need to always find better ways to understand our users and our markets and continue to perfect our consumer technology solutions.

Q: What is the biggest opportunity for your business?
Based on our internal research and external reports, we notice that people are longing for travel and leisure after staying at home for almost a year. We believe that our travel and lifestyle products can serve these internal desires when the situation is conducive enough to allow for such activities to operate. 

Q: On a scale of 1-10 (10 being highest), how much are you pinning your hopes on the vaccine saving travel?
7. We are optimistic that the vaccine will bring a significant impact to address the virus outbreak, however, until then, we will do our best to leverage the opportunity to serve our users.

Q: Finally, on a scale of 1-10, rate how optimistic (10 being most) how you feel about 2021?
7. Considering the distribution of vaccines has started worldwide, we hope it could help to improve the level of security and confidence of the public to reach the pre-Covid state and eventually accelerate the recovery of the industry.

Q: What’s the one word you’d like to embrace for 2021?
Resilience, because it implies hope, faith, and possibilities. What we observed throughout 2020 is that situations escalated beyond our control and expectation, personally affecting people’s confidence level and adversely impacted most businesses’ conditions. With resilience, we are hopeful and optimistic that business conditions will progress toward a better direction. 

Jennifer Cronin, president, Wharf Hotels Group

Q: How would
you describe the start of 2021? 
Muted, but cautiously
optimistic for 2021 – although China has slowed with increasing restrictions
leading up to Chinese New Year, while Hong Kong restrictions and case numbers
hamper recovery.

Q: What is
your data telling you about the first quarter? 
Our 2021 budgets had
forecast a slow and even flat Q1, unfortunately it’s already below
expectations.

Q: What is
your gut, data and guesswork telling you about how 2021 will pan out? 
We will have a mixed
first half, and expect improvements in second half 2021, which was always
our expectation in budget planning at end of 2020.

Q: What are
you telling your teams/partners?
 
Prepare for the rebound, collaboration is essential, internally and externally.
Stay close to all stakeholders and communicate with transparency on a regular
basis.

Q: Who/what
do you fear the most in our industry? 
Lack of global plan
for vaccination certification, as well as government inaction and protectionism.
This is a global pandemic and needs a unified global voice.

Q: What’s the one key thing you’re doing to prepare your business for whatever lies ahead? 
Investing in digital resources and biosecurity protocols. 2020 has provided for a better understanding of technological efficiencies, while highlighting the expectations of health and hygiene programmes,  which will change the way we travel and do business forever. 

Q: What is
the biggest opportunity for your business? 
Mobile-first
capabilities with personalisation as a primary focus.

Q: On a scale of 1-10 (10 being highest), how much are you pinning your hopes on the vaccine saving travel? 
8

Q: On a scale of 1-10, rate how optimistic (10 being most) how you feel about 2021?
H1 – 5,  H2 – 8

Q: What’s the one word you’d like to embrace for 2021? 
Recalibration

Stewart Jones, Interim Managing Director, Asia Pacific, Booking.com

Q: How would you describe the start of 2021?
Definitely a mix of emotions – disappointment and sadness as COVID-19 continues to take hold in so many countries, but also positivity and pride in the way I see how my colleagues and teams are squaring up to the situation and adapting to confront the challenge head-on.

Q: What is your data telling you about the first quarter?
It’s still too soon to be able to say what the first quarter will look like, but based on the situation at hand, we will still most likely see nuances and fluctuations across markets in the region. Where restrictions are easing and countries are able to contain the virus, domestic travel will continue to dominate and will play a significant role in travel recovery in the region.

Q: What is your gut, data and guesswork telling you about how 2021 will pan out?
We know there is plenty of pent up demand and people are eager to travel again. As the vaccine roll-out progresses, I expect travel to open up cautiously, with safety being a top priority and domestic travel taking precedence as air travel corridors slowly open across nations where recovery is well underway and the virus is contained.

Q: What are you telling your teams/partners?
Whilst it will take years before travel truly returns to pre-pandemic levels, the Covid-19 vaccines are extremely encouraging. As the vaccines become more broadly available, not only will they provide people with greater peace of mind, they will facilitate the possibility of travelling more freely in 2021. In the meantime, Booking.com is doing everything we can to support our property partners by working to secure and deliver demand to them, as it becomes possible for travellers to experience the world again. We’re doing this by innovating our tools and providing tailored insights alongside leveraging our expertise in digital demand generation. As travel begins to emerge from this difficult period, we will continue to evolve our support as a part of our commitment to rebuilding together. So let’s continue to focus on what is within our control and the market will ultimately come back to us.

Q: Who do you fear for the most in our industry?
Every sector of the travel industry is impacted, however, I fear for the countries who are more reliant on tourism and may not necessarily be near the top of the list when it comes to vaccine accessibility.

Q: What’s the one key thing you are doing to prepare your business for whatever lies ahead?
Strengthening our foundation, by which I mean continuing to invest in our people and our core products, whilst remaining nimble and agile in our approach to satisfying traveller demands so that we are in the best position possible as travel recovers.

Q: What is the biggest opportunity for your business?
Besides investing in our people and products, it is to stay connected and deepen engagement with our partners and customers, further building trust and confidence that places us top of mind once people are ready to experience the world again. 

Q: On a scale of 1-10 (10 being highest), how much are you pinning your hopes on the vaccine saving travel?
7. Whilst the vaccine will be an initial catalyst toward recovery, as in pre-COVID-19 days, travel will remain heavily dependent on the overall economy, consumers’ financial health and confidence in their own economic futures. As such, it is important that governments help support the health and safety of their people, and also focus on rebuilding industries that have been decimated, ensuring a sensible and pragmatic approach as the world opens up slowly but surely again. At the same time, how consumers collectively respond over the next few months as vaccines get rolled out across the region will also be critical in progressing towards a full recovery.

Q: Finally, on a scale of 1-10, rate how optimistic (10 being most) how you feel about 2021?
Whilst I always try to be “glass half full” I can only manage a 5 for the first half of 2021 rising to a 7 by the end of the year!

Q: What’s the one word you’d like to embrace for 2021?
Togetherness – as an industry, as a business, as teams and as families.

Kei Shibata, co-founder & CEO, Venture Republic – LINE TRAVEL jp & Trip101

Q: How would you describe the start of 2021?
Still dark, but starting to see a tiny bit of light at the end of the tunnel. 

Q: What is your data telling you about the first quarter?
The market is still hibernating.

Q: What is your gut, data and guesswork telling you about how 2021 will pan out?
It will be the another big roller coaster year with lots of ups and downs. 

Q: What are you telling your teams/partners?
We are in something like an Ironman triathron in extreme weather conditions. We have to survive this and reach the goal by pacing ourselves, taking up the right strategy, and using the different muscles.

Q: Who do you fear the most in our industry?
Capitalists who refuse to aid businesses in this time of need.

Q: What’s the one key thing you’re doing to prepare your business for whatever lies ahead?
Investing in new services and products.

Q: What is the biggest opportunity for your business?
Using this “down time” to focus on and innovate new ideas.  

Q: On a scale of 1-10 (10 being highest), how much are you pinning your hopes on the vaccine saving travel?
10

Q: On a scale of 1-10, rate how optimistic (10 being most) how you feel about 2021?
3

Q: What’s the one word you’d like to embrace for 2021?
Patience. 

Muzzammil Ahussain, EVP Consumer Travel, Seera Group, KSA

Q: How would you describe the start of 2021?
Positive signs of rebounds. The recent announcement of international travel reopening for KSA on March 31 is a great sign. The strong distribution of vaccines in the region is also comforting. We are also seeing continuous growth in domestic tourism, with our activities’ marketplace gaining traction.

Q: What is your data telling you about the first quarter?
Initial interest in international outbound from KSA. Destinations of interest revolve around GCC – Dubai as a key one, Bahrain, as well as the Maldives and Egypt. Domestic tourism is still high on the agenda. As for international inbound, our DMC is already getting busy with leads from groups and individuals from around the globe.

Q: What is your gut, data and guesswork telling you about how 2021 will pan out?
We will see regional tourism recover to a large extent, especially towards the second half of the year – we as an organisation will emerge stronger, as we have used the downtime to set the foundations in place to cater to domestic tourism, international visitors, Hajj & Umrah travellers and those venturing abroad. 

Q: What are you telling your teams/partners?
We are cautiously optimistic but we need to be agile and flexible in case things turn south again and our partners need to be on board with that. In order for us as an ecosystem to emerge stronger, we need to work hand in hand.

Q: Who do you fear for the most in our industry?
Uncoordinated policies across borders will be a big challenge for the industry. With regulations and restrictions differing from one country to the next, it will not only be hard to keep customers informed, but also to market destinations, airlines and hotels. 

Q: What’s the one key thing you’re doing to prepare your business for whatever lies ahead?
Investing in the digitization of products and services, as well as the training of our teams. The automation of processes, and the evolution of customer service channels also played a big role. Basically, we have done nothing but get ready for what is to come.

Q: What is the biggest opportunity for your business?
Be first mover in key areas. Go to market early to capture demand and supply, whether it is on inbound, domestic or outbound. We are also heavily investing into new areas of revenue generation, such as a C2C marketplace, a digital car rental platform (Lumi) or on the ground DMC operations catering to both domestic, and international.

Q: On a scale of 1-10 (10 being highest), how much are you pinning your hopes on the vaccine saving travel?
9

Q: On a scale of 1-10, rate how optimistic (10 being most) how you feel about 2021? Or at least the first half since no one can look very far these days.

Q: What’s the one word you’d like to embrace for 2021?
Emerging-Stronger 

Featured image credit: z_wei/Getty Images