Tourists take a tour of Ancient Commercial Street in Beijing, China.
Costfoto | Barcroft Media | Getty Images
SINGAPORE – There is pent-up demand for travel, but the tourism industry can take two steps forward and one step back on its path to recovery, hotel company founder CNBC said this week.
Ho Kwon Ping, CEO of Banyan Tree Holdings, said while there is no real way to measure the appetite for international travel in Asia, domestic travel has seen strong demand.
“You can extrapolate from this and conclude that if it is safe to travel internationally, the same pent-up demand that drives domestic tourism today is affecting international travel,” he told CNBC “Squawk Box Asia” as part of the Milken Institute Asia Summit.
Airlines and tourism have been hard hit when the Covid-19 outbreak forced the borders to close.
“I think the worst in terms of the travel industry is definitely over,” he said. “The only thing that is really unclear right now is how long it will take to recover.”
Ho said the recovery was likely “very spotty”. While he sees more countries trying bilateral quarantine-free “travel bubbles”, they will have to close when the local ones Coronavirus Situation worsens.
That’s what happened to that Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble that has been postponed before it could start because of a surge in the number of cases in Hong Kong.
“We have to expect that there will be two steps forward and one step back,” he said.
Mike Milken, chairman of the Milken Institute, said the coronavirus crisis needs to be resolved on the world stage.
“The message of this pandemic is that none of us are safe unless we are all safe. Whether you are in Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, Brazil, France, France, Singapore or Korea, people are moving” he said said.
Even so, through vaccinations and trial and error, Banyan Tree’s Ho said there would be a return to “normalcy.”
“We see the light at the end of the tunnel, we see the shape of what happens beyond the tunnel,” he said.
Regardless, Ho predicted that the way people travel will change. “We will return to targeted travel,” he said.
This means that tourists don’t get on a plane for the weekend “without thinking about why we wanted to,” and business people use video conferencing instead of traveling to a meeting and flying back immediately.
“What is going to happen now is that people think more before they travel,” he said. Leisure and business travel continues, but not on a whim. “Everyone has to adjust to it – less senseless travel and much more mindful travel.”
Ho also said that “democratic tourism” or mass tourism needs to be “rethought” for the huge middle class in Southeast Asia to be more thoughtful.
“I think democratic tourism is something that needs to be promoted. It is people’s right and desire to see the world around them, but it has to be more thoughtful,” he said. “It can’t just be the same scenario … packing people on buses, taking them to a construction site, taking a picture.”