March 2, 2021

Dumbflashgames

The travel folks

Here’s looking at you, 2021, Part 3: Better prepared and investing to build back stronger

11 min read

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 third collection.

Rakesh Narayanan, VP airline sales, Sabre Corp

Michael Hobson, CEO, Lanson Place, Hong Kong

Q: How would you describe the start of 2021? 
As expected. Little change in the first Q from Q4 2020

Q: What is
your data telling you about the first quarter? 
That the recovery
is not until later in Q2 or Q3, pending government travel restrictions in most
place.

Q: What is
your gut, data and guesswork telling you about how 2021 will pan out?
 
To put more faith in the second half of the year. For Hong Kong, the industry
is largely relying on China travelling to Hong Kong again

Q: What are you telling your teams/partners?  
We communicate as a team frequently by Zoom, and I always emphasise the need for us to pay attention to our colleagues’ mental well being during these times. To keep a positive spirit and share ways, on the personal front, as to how to use this time during lockdown. That things WILL get better, that it just takes time, and that sometimes we have to accept that it’s two steps forward and one step back as we fall back into yet another wave. Company wise, we’re using this time to really prepare ourselves for better times ahead. Reviewing and making improvements to our systems and processes throughout, which not only keeps us busy and helps us to stay positive but should see us emerge stronger as a management company when we exit the tunnel.

Q: Who do you fear for the most in our industry?
The smaller, innovative, family owned companies and newcomer startups/ consultancies that have great ideas, as well as our casual, flexible labour that we have all been forced to reduce. Also the independent restaurants and bars that have been forced to close. The resulting impact on their own families is devastating.

Q: What’s
the one key thing you’re doing to prepare your business for whatever lies
ahead? 
Investing behind
systems and processes that will make us stronger, more efficient and more
attractive as a Management Company.

Q: What is
the biggest opportunity for your business? 
To further develop
the hybrid model of the short and longer term stay market

Q: On a scale of 1-10 (10 being highest), how much are you pinning your hopes on the vaccine saving travel? 
8 or 9 in the long run, but it will take time and proof before travellers will return in abundance … it won’t all happen overnight in my view.

Q: Finally, on a scale of 1-10, rate how optimistic (10 being most) how you feel about 2021?
First half – 3, second half – 6, 2022- 8

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

Takano Yoshiyuki, executive officer, head of travel business, Rakuten

Q: How would you describe the start of 2021? 
The start of 2021 is still severe because of the second state of emergency. However, we have learned a lot last year and are able to be much better this time.

Q: What is your data telling you about the first quarter
The first quarter is affected by the second state of emergency. However, we are able to handle it better than the first one. 

Q: What is your gut, data and guesswork telling you about how 2021 will pan out?
The government’s travel promotion campaign GoTo Travel boosted our recovery last year. We expect the restart of the campaign and utilize the opportunity as much as possible.

Q: What are you telling your teams/partners?
I keep telling our partners and colleagues our company slogan, “Walk Together”. This means we are growing together with all the stakeholders including partners and customers since we are not able to run our business by ourselves. This is still very important under this situation. 

Q: Who do you fear for the most in our industry?
I’m strongly concerned about the hotels and airlines that are significantly impacted by the pandemic.

Q: What’s the one key thing you’re doing to prepare your business for whatever lies ahead?
Enhance relationship with hotels and other partners to respond to any situations together.

Q: What is the biggest opportunity for your business?
More and more users tend to use online hotel booking services under the situation. 

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

Q: Finally, on a scale of 1-10, rate how optimistic (10 being most) how you feel about 2021?
7

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

Marcus Yong, vice president marketing, APAC, Klook

Q: How would you describe the start of 2021?
Cautiously optimistic. The year has started off pretty well for some markets, but others have also seen a resurgence in Covid-19 cases and restrictions. It is important to remain agile and positive, but also alert to quick changes around us.

Q: What is your data telling you about the first quarter?
People are looking for things to do in their own backyard. For markets that have managed Covid-19 well domestic experiences and staycations have picked up strongly. In Singapore for example, we have seen an immense show of support from Singaporeans for the SingapoRediscovers Vouchers, and it has been quite evenly spread across hotels, attractions and local tours.

Q: What is your gut, data and guesswork telling you about how 2021 will pan out?
Cross-border travel will take a while to recover as countries accelerate their vaccine rollout. Travel bubbles, enhanced testing regimes and new health measures will set the tone for travel recovery. In this current climate, things change quickly and businesses must always think one step ahead of the game but using real-time data to inform decisions and back their hypothesis.

Q: What are you telling your teams/partners?
Don’t waste a good crisis. Use the time to rebuild fundamentals and optimise efficiencies. Partner up, be bold and continue to innovate.

Q: Who do you fear for the most in our industry?
Those who believe that things will return to where they were before, and all they need is to patiently wait out the pandemic. Be proactive, spot trends and “hedge bets” in an experimental fashion while staying true to your cause. Change is the only constant and whoever dares, wins.

Q: What’s the one key thing you’re doing to prepare your business for whatever lies ahead?
Empowering our domestic teams more so that they can make more timely and localised decisions at the frontline. Focus on domestic expansion as our second engine of growth, alongside the return of cross-border travel.

Q: What is the biggest opportunity for your business?
We will continue to strengthen our domestic experiences and leisure services. With cross-border travel momentarily on pause, it’s clear that people are turning inwards to satisfy their pent up-desire to explore and continue creating joyful memories from the experiences they consume.

Q: On a scale of 1-10 (10 being highest), how much are you pinning your hopes on the vaccine saving travel?
10 – It’s not an if, but when. However, the vaccine is not going to be a single silver bullet that ends the pandemic; we will need to combine innovation, discipline and rigour in order to start turning defence into offence.

Q: Finally, on a scale of 1-10, rate how optimistic (10 being most) how you feel about 2021?
10. We are in the experiences business, and domestic leisure is an important second engine for us to double down on. It will take a while for cross-border travel to fully resume, but we are definitely not resting on our laurels to wait for that to happen.

Q: What’s the one word you’d like to embrace for 2021?
Beginning. We are at the start of a new era that would disrupt traditional legacy models and behaviours.

Baidi Li, head of growth initiatives, Magpie Travel

Q: How would you describe the start of 2021? 
Reserved optimism.

Q: What is your data telling you about the first quarter? 
There will be renewed interests in local/domestic travels. Virtual, wellness, outdoor private/small-group tours will continue to strive. There’s still great uncertainty and obscurity on what lies ahead in the next three to six months.

Q: What is your gut, data and guesswork telling you about how 2021 will pan out?’
The global bushfire of Covid will be knocked down, but there are glowing embers everywhere. If you are not too careful they will reignite and blow up again. As much as I wanted to have a more positive outlook I am guessing majority of the boarders will remain closed, and international/inter-region leisure travels will not be resumed in 2021 unfortunately. 

Q: What are you telling your teams/partners?
Don’t be overly positive. Definitely do not be negative – be realistic and continue look for silver lining in things. 

Q: Who do you fear for the most in our industry?
We are category of one and work with everyone in the eco-system. If anything, we need to watch the tech giants outside travel to come and disrupt our industry. 

Q: What’s the one key thing you’re doing to prepare your business for whatever lies ahead?
Be on top of market pulse and data at both macro and micro levels – be agile and nimble. 

Q: What is the biggest opportunity for your business?
Covid is forcing tour businesses big or small to take a critical look at their business practices and automate work that can be done by machines. Both sides of the marketplace are craving a solution for multi-channel content distribution. Magpie was born right before this crisis to address the challenge. It’s Magpie’s opportunity and frankly our mission to make our cost-effective tech solutions a necessity for tours & activities operators to transform their business in this digital era. This pandemic is an accelerant to our user adoption.

Q: On a scale of 1-10 (10 being highest), how much are you pinning your hopes on the vaccine saving travel
6

Q: Finally, on a scale of 1-10, rate how optimistic (10 being most) how you feel about 2021?
4

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

Rakesh Narayanan, VP Airline Sales, Sabre Corp

Q: What is your data telling you about the first quarter?
Sabre sits at the very heart of the travel industry, so we gain a broad overview of trends across the whole ecosystem. Our shopping data has been showing a measurable spike in desire to travel anytime any travel restriction is relaxed or an announcement is made that it is about to be relaxed. We’re currently seeing that leisure and essential travel are continuing to lead recovery, with domestic and short-haul trips leading the way. However, as vaccines roll out and borders re-open we fully expect recovery across all sectors and markets to follow. 

Q: What is your gut, data and guesswork telling you about how 2021 will pan out?
While 2021 will continue to see uneven recovery because of varying Covid-19 case loads, differing restrictions and paces of vaccine rollout we anticipate industry recovery will gain momentum as we move further into the year. Sabre continues to gain business, renew agreements and sign new logos, so we know that our new and long-standing travel partners are utilising our innovative distribution, retailing and merchandising solutions to ensure they are in a position of strength as recovery gains pace. 

Q: What are you telling your teams/partners?
Sabre, along with our valued existing, new and potential travel partners, have entered the year with confidence and determination. 2021 is already shaping up to be a year of collaboration. We are sharing advice, knowledge and expertise so we can navigate our way to recovery and growth, together as an industry. 

Q: Who do you fear the most in our industry?
The travel industry has proved time and time again how resilient it is, so I certainly don’t fear for the industry as a whole. But, there will no doubt be consolidation, and those who aren’t forward looking could be the ones in difficulty. It’s not enough to simply sit back and wait for recovery to happen. Everyone within the industry needs to plan, strategise, innovate and invest for the future. 

Q: What’s the one key thing you’re doing to prepare your business for whatever lies ahead?
We’re continuing to invest in our own technological innovation so we can give our partners the right tools to succeed amid the pandemic and beyond. We’ll be pressing ahead in 2021 with our partnership with Google, having recently announced that, together, we are developing an Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven technology platform that is an industry first in travel. Smart Retail Engine, the first product powered by our proprietary third-generation Sabre Travel AI technology, will be officially launched this year to enable our customers to deliver truly personalized offers and experiences to their customers. 

Q: What is the biggest opportunity for your business?
The pandemic has brought the biggest challenges in history for entire travel ecosystem. But it has also brought opportunities to adapt and innovate faster than ever before. We’re seizing those opportunities to develop the most advanced technology available in the market so we can better serve our partners across all sectors of the industry. 

Q: On a scale of 1-10 (10 being highest), how much are you pinning your hopes on the vaccine saving travel?
It’s hard to give a figure for this one but I’m going to say 5. And, that’s not because I’m not optimistic. The various vaccines being rolled out across the world are definitely a cause for huge optimism. However, we know that a vaccine alone will not “save travel”. Borders need to open with relaxed restrictions and it’s also up to every player in the travel industry to play a significant part in “saving” travel, and that’s exactly what Sabre and our travel partners are focused on.  

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.
I’m feeling hugely optimistic about the first half of 2021, and beyond, so, 10. That’s not to say that Sabre is not realistic about the challenges that 2021 will hold for the industry. We know that recovery will continue to be uneven depending on virus containment in different markets, vaccine rollouts and border restrictions. 

But we also know that there continues to be pent-up demand for travel, that borders will re-open when it is safe to do so, and that the right travel technology solutions can help to create safer, more seamless, personalised experiences for the traveller while enabling our partners across all sectors of the industry to plan, strategize, recover and grow. 

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

Featured image credit: marchmeena29/Getty Images

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