“Not much space for the unvaccinated,” says Dr Walter Lim
IN Booking.com’s Travel Predictions 2022, which surveyed 24,000 travellers across 31 countries, one finding stands out – that “Vitamin Vacay” is the best thing for mental well-being.
Sharing the highlights at its media briefing this week, Laura Houldsworth, managing director Asia Pacific, said, “85% said that having a vacation planned has a positive impact on their emotional wellbeing and 82% said travel helps their mental and emotional wellbeing more than anything else.”
Tie that to Fullerton Health’s Dr Walter Lim’s observation at the event that the one blessing in disguise in this pandemic is increased awareness of “preventative health”, and you can see plenty of opportunities for travel and medicine to come together in this new age of travel.
Given how well organisations like Fullerton Health have done out of this pandemic – it is one of the leading providers of vaccinations and testing in Singapore and South-east Asia – it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to imagine Fullerton Health getting into wellness retreats or a hospitality brand focused on wellness.
To which the group managing director, clinical services and Singapore deputy managing director, said, “It’s important to know who you are in life. Our focus is on preventative health. We won’t be a hotel operator but we are open to collaborate. The resilience of flexibility of the travel industry has been incredible and now, Vitamin Vacay – there is more scope for us to work together post-pandemic.
“Consumer knowledge of vaccinations, travel vaccines, testing and screening has improved during this period and that’s healthy for everyone.”
Vaccinations a fact of life if you love to travel
First though, to travel, you need to be vaccinated – if you can medically and have access to it. Said Dr Lim, “If you do love travel and want to move around, vaccinations are going to be a fact of life. There’s not much space for this segment of unvaccinated.
“In the early stage of the pandemic, there was belief that there may be pre-existing conditions that preclude some people from being vaccjnated but given the excellent safety record for mRNA vaccines, it is going to be a fact of life if you like to travel.”
The deportation of tennis player Novak Djokovic from Australia and the Australian Open tournament and his unvaccinated status has raised the question of the unvaccinated’s place in travel, and sports, among other things.
Kerry Healy, chief commercial officer, South-east Asia, Japan and South Korea at Accor, speaking on the same panel as Dr Lim, said that “you follow regulations as a hotel operator but honestly, it’s not that bright for unvaccinated travellers”.
Campbell Wilson, CEO of Scoot, said, “We follow government regulations. Our staff are 100% vaccinated. If you’re not vaccinated, you can’t fly, you can’t come to the office.”
Dr Lim said, “There will be a post-pandemic, an endemic phase, but it will be a brave soul to declare the end of it. When that day comes, there will be a lot more freedoms but we need an official declaration. Many of the pharma and tech companies are looking to combine Covid mRNA vaccines with flu vaccines, that’s a good phase.”
Infection point in sight? If so, future of travel is bright
For now, he noted, “Omicron will not be the first and last variant, it is the nature of viruses. What has changed is the risk to individuals. Globally, we have hit 60% first dose and in regional markets, 70%. The risk to individuals and travellers has changed. The severity of illness with Omicron is less, and there is less impact on healthcare systems. There is domestic spread now and we are now focused on domestic spread.”
In Singapore, “we see signs of life coming back, events coming back. There are some signs for cautious optimism and we could be pushing to inflection point.”
In which case, the future of travel is bright. The Booking.com study shows that 78% will say yes to any opportunity to travel and 67% don’t mind where they go, with two thirds more open to different types of vacation compared to pre-pandemic days.
Houldsworth, herself a cruise convert, said that technology will play a role in recovery. The study found that 72% agreed that tech helps alleviate the anxiety around travelling and 73% appreciate tech that automatically suggests destinations based on current Covid-19 requirements.
Sustainability and community will also play a part in decision-making. Up to 65% said that it’s important that their trip is beneficial to the local community at their destination. “This will become a crucial part of travelling,” said Houldsworth, pointing out Booking.com’s Sustainable Travel Badge, which makes it possible for hoteliers to indicate the actions they are taking.
Wilson cautioned though that “what people say they want is different from what they actually buy. At the first, there was focus on health and safety but now it’s part of expectation. At the start, NPS scores were through the roof, people were grateful to travel at all. Now we have gone back to what things were like before the pandemic.
“Yes, there is a rebound in travel – mainly VFR – people are burning down the miles they have accrued on credit cards. But now we have reverted to pre-Covid. Sometimes we overthink what people want – we say, people want the same experience delivered in one app, and we put everything in one app, but people don’t care. They have sheafs of paper they carry with them.”
A clear shift is people booking four weeks or less before date of travel, said Wilson. “There is reassuring underlying demand,” he said, pointing out that VTL flights to Kuala Lumpur have been full from the first flight and when Scoot pivoted to longhaul markets, connecting Singapore-Bangkok-London, it was filled within a couple of weeks.”
Meanwhile, Booking.com is bringing its connected trip to life – launching flights in 25 global markets, five of which are in APAC – Thailand, Philippines, Australia, Hong Kong and India. Its mobile app now has 100m mobile active users as of Q32021 and two thirds of room nights booked are on mobile devices. One thid of bookings are done through its proprietary payments platform as of Q32021.
Featured image credit: Getty Images