Tourism Talanoa: Confusing the New Reality

Tourism Talanoa: Confusing the New Reality

FHTA, 4 February 2021 – Is 2021 the year that travel rebounds?

Travel experts say there is increasing confidence for international travel in the second half of the year, but that “COVID continues to confuse the reality”.

The 2021 observations about travellers and their appetite for travel by experts are of significant interest from our perspective.
Leading world travel website TripAdvisor recently released a survey report that reveals the increased intent in international travel and dining behaviours in 2021 and identified five travel trends that they believe will be key.

These include: Travellers are planning to travel abroad in the second half of the year, but won’t actually wait to make plans; Vaccinations will be a game-changer for traveller confidence; Domestic travel remains high on the wish list for 2021; The joy of travel planning will be stronger than ever as consumers spend more time researching trips; and that consumers can’t wait to dine out again, but their taste for takeout will still endure.

On the first point, it is no surprise that nearly two thirds (65%) of leisure travellers surveyed say they did not travel internationally at all in 2020. It is anticipated that there will be a reversal of this behaviour in 2021. Nearly half (47%) of all respondents globally say they are planning to travel internationally in 2021, with less than a third (30%) of travellers saying they do not expect to travel internationally at all this year.

Other travel reports based on feedback and recent surveys add to the research information that is being intently studied by industry stakeholders worldwide.

A recent webinar by hotel management analytics firm Smith Travel Research (STR) revealed that in the Asia Pacific region, our neighbours and key markets Australia and New Zealand, have reported increases in their overall hotel room occupancy. Australia is holding steady at just under 60% and New Zealand is hovering around the 50% mark and this is mainly due to their domestic tourism market with a smaller impact from repatriated travellers in quarantine.

So, based on their successful domestic marketing strategies, there should be some understanding of why they do not have to rush to open their borders just yet. Travel safe bubble requirements aside.

While Europeans and Americans may still be grounded due to the recent lockdowns in those regions, it is anticipated that there will be significant recovery for tourism around the Northern Hemisphere summer months from June to September.

Several of Fiji’s open resorts have confirmed holding bookings or receiving booking enquiries for the second half of the year, which is also an early indicator that travellers are feeling confident that they will be able to travel in 2021, albeit later in the year.

Secondly, it is generally expected that the quicker governments administer COVID-19 vaccinations as part of safer travel requirements, the faster leisure travel rebounds in 2021. Globally, more than 77% of travellers surveyed say they will be more likely to travel internationally if they receive the vaccine. These vaccination programs are expected to not only impact traveller confidence but also where these travellers will be prepared to go to.

More than 26% of respondents from the TripAdvisor survey indicate their preference for safer travel and would only travel to destinations that require visitors to be vaccinated before travel, so Fiji is in good stead to be one of those destinations based on expectations for the vaccine to be rolled out in the next few months.

Thirdly, one could assume that a boost in international tourism might come at the expense of domestic tourism. Given that most potential international travellers have had to divert their overseas vacations to domestic locations, many markets have carried out intensive marketing campaigns to ensure that their citizens spend their disposable income in-country. Fiji is not the only country looking to its local population to support its travel challenged industry.

There is still a strong desire to travel domestically among those surveyed and this could prove to be difficult for the international tourism industry to compete with. The survey revealed that 74% of travellers surveyed plan to take at least one overnight domestic leisure trip in 2021.

When the time is right for Fiji, will we be able to compete with these domestic campaigns and entice visitors to our shores and will reducing our pricing be all that it takes?

Considering that many travellers have been stuck at home for a large part of 2020, the first big leisure trip of 2021 will be of great significance. Many want to travel to somewhere special and this is evident in how much time potential travellers are spending online researching travel destinations, safety requirements and general ease of travel.

Most evident is the fact that travellers do not want to quarantine in a hotel room for any length of time, opting for domestic travel in their own country as the preferred alternative.

Around 74% of travellers surveyed say they will spend more time choosing a destination this year so there’s definitely room for Destination Fiji to increase their online marketing presence to ensure that Fiji is front and centre in travellers’ minds when they eventually make their bookings.

As we break down the traveller booking window, which is the length of time between when a trip is booked and the trip actually taking place, more than 22% of all accommodation “clicks” on TripAdvisor in the first week of January were for trips taking place after April.

Will Fiji be ready by then? That seems highly unlikely given the current circumstances even though we understand the reasoning behind ensuring we keep our communities, our population and our country safe from COVID-19.

Lastly, due to the sudden uptake overseas in takeaway and delivery services in 2020 because restaurants had to quickly adapt to government mandates restricting in-person dining in most countries, dining at home appears to be a trend likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future.

Surveys like these, while not faultless, offer encouragement to the ailing travel and tourism sectors and provide some understanding of potential customer expectations and changing demands. Businesses might be dormant, in hibernation or only have a fraction of its full potential open, but savvy ones stay alert to ever-changing market demands, shifting expectations and new trends.

As has been commented on often enough before, not since 9/11 has travel had such a forceful impact on travel requirements, safety concerns and the way we travel generally.

It is now accepted that the technological revolution that made travel and tourism easy and affordable, resulting in one billion trips a year, is now quite helpless in halting a virus that has forced us to stay home to remain safe.
COVID has literally flipped all our expectations.

While travel industries around the world remain positive, government-imposed travel restrictions and quarantine requirements remain a major barrier until vaccination programmes become more widespread and we learn how to live with the virus safely.

The Fijian tourism industry and all the businesses, industries, supply chains and employees that are closely related to it, eagerly await news that we are progressing in this direction.

And we sincerely hope that that is soon.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 4 February 2021)