Asia Travel Re:Set #16 – 15 Things the Singapore-Hong Kong Air Travel Bubble Tells Us About Pre-Vaccine Travel
"This is only possible because Singapore and Hong Kong have both successfully controlled the spread of COVID-19."
Hello. Welcome to Asia Travel Re:Set
This week ‘Lockdown’ was designated as Word of the Year by Collins Dictionary.
Several of the other shortlisted words shared a common root: the pandemic.
The explanation for choosing Lockdown over Coronavirus, Social Distancing or Self-Islolation, for example, is interesting.
“Something that changed everyone’s lives so profoundly – leaving no country or continent untouched – was bound to have a significant impact on our language.”
A contrary viewpoint is that the coronavirus catalysed all of these profound changes - not least lockdown.
The WHO, however, virtually removed it from daily use by renaming the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) as COVID-19 on 11 February.
Still, Collins strengthens its argument with this:
“Lockdown, with its heavy, clunking syllables and heavier associations, is the condition we’ve most dreaded in 2020 – a state of national stasis, where almost everything that constitutes normal public life is suspended.”
For the travel sector, the dismal stretch of time known as 2020 was sparked by the coronavirus and worsened by lockdowns. Add Border Closures, Travel Bans and Quarantines to the menu, and you have the recipe for a catastrophic year.
Amid the doom-laden vernacular, a two-word term has cultivated cautious optimism that Asia’s travel sector is dormant, rather than doomed.
Travel Bubble was floated in late April by the Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand.
This week, Singapore and Hong Kong set out the terms for a bilateral Air Travel Bubble that was received with virtual fireworks across the region.
This carefully scripted agreement won’t scratch the surface of the systemic drag-downs on both travel economies. But as we near the final month of 2020, it engenders hope. A subtle hint of renaissance before vaccine travel takes hold.
So, today’s Asia Travel Re:Set discusses the broader implications of the Air Travel Bubble concept as presented by Singapore and Hong Kong.
The official declaration sets out “a significant step forward in resuming cross-border air travel between the two places in an orderly manner.”
And that - given the inbuilt caveats, controlled quotas and, above all, raft of anti-epidemic protocols - illustrates just how much travel has changed in 2020.
Thanks for being onboard.
Each Sunday, Gary Bowerman charts the week’s key developments for travel economies across Asia Pacific. If you are enjoying this issue so far, please feel free to…
The Sunday Itinerary
Boeing’s 2039 China Air Market Forecasts
Thailand x 3
- 15 Things The Singapore-Hong Kong Air Travel Bubble Tells Us About Pre-Vaccine Travel
From ‘Testing Takes Centre Stage’ to ‘The Regionalisation of Travel’ to ‘The Coronavirus is Still in Control’
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Boeing’s 2039 China Air Market Forecasts
395,000: Total number of pilots, cabin crew and aircraft technicians needed to support “long-term aviation industry growth” in China.
8,600: The number of new aircraft Chinese airlines will need to add to their fleets by 2039.
25%: One-quarter of global aviation growth over the last decade was attributable to China.
13.5%: China’s projected flow share of global air traffic in 2039, up from 9.8% in 2019.
5.5%: Predicted annual air passenger traffic growth in China over the next 20 years.
Read the new Boeing report here: Commercial Market Outlook 2020-2039
You heard it here…
"We shouldn't expect big things from the Special Tourist Visa, but it can prepare local communities for a return of international arrivals and pave the way for further relaxation of restrictions in the the next phase."
Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, Tourism and Sports Minister of Thailand (Bangkok Post)
"The COVID-19 vaccine is likely to take until the middle of next year at the earliest to be successful. Thai tourism-related businesses cannot wait for too long as they are already reeling from financial pain.”
Vichit Prakobgosol, President, Association of Thai Travel Agents (Xinhua)
“This hotel or individuals associated with this hotel filed criminal charges against a Tripadvisor user in relation to the traveler writing and posting online reviews. The reviewer spent time in jail as a result.”
Tripadvisor issues a warning notice for Sea View Resort & Spa Koh Chang, Thailand
Found something above that someone else may value? Press this button to…
Singapore and Hong Kong are important Asian aviation hubs, commercial centres and travel destinations. But they aren’t - or weren’t - primary source markets for each other in terms of travel and tourism.
So what does the bilateral Air Travel Bubble - the details of which were set out this week, and is scheduled to commence on 22 November - tell us about how travel has changed over the past 10 months?
Will it create new patterns of travel demand between Singapore and Hong Kong? Will it help forge a travel industry recovery in each market ahead of approved vaccines becoming available?
Or is it simply a small stepping stone towards an uncharted and unpredictable era?
1) Testing Takes Centre Stage
The bilateral Air Travel Bubble between Singapore and Hong Kong places its trust in COVID-19 testing, tracking and tracing. Both countries recognised that to restart two-way travel - even on a limited and highly restrictive scale - the 14-day quarantine/Stay-Home notice components had to be removed.
Quarantine requirements create both a real and perceptive barrier to travel.
Few travellers have 14 days spare to wait out a quarantine period, either upon arrival at a destination and/or when returning to their nation of residence. A psychological barrier is also created because travellers may perceive that if a two-week isolation period is deemed necessary by governments, then travel is simply unsafe.
Taking COVID-19 tests incurs extra cost for travellers. Testing fees will be capped, but they are not cheap. Hong Kong media, for example, estimates that travellers should earmark HKD1,880 on COVID-19 test costs for each roundtrip.
Hitherto, a barrier to relying on testing has been that several PCR and antigen formats have been used by different countries. The results have been highly variable, and in some instances wholly unreliable.
In airports, in particular, travellers want fast, verifiable results to reduce the delay time. Singapore Changi, for example, aims to overcome this by building its own on-site COVID-19 test laboratory.
But without a standardised formula for COVID-19 testing, clear risks exist. Hence, we regularly see returnees, essential travellers - and even the Hungarian Foreign Minister - testing positive upon arrival at their Asian destination.
While Hong Kong and Singapore have scrupulously strategised this issue, both are aware that opening up future - or even concurrent - bubbles with other countries will mean confronting similar questions about testing accuracy and management.
2) Air Travel by Protocol
“There are stringent measures in place to safeguard public health under the arrangement, including mutually recognised COVID-19 tests, designated flights for Air Travel Bubble passengers as well as a scalable mechanism to adjust the arrangement having regard to the epidemic situation. All measures are meant to resume cross-border air travel in a safe and progressive manner.”
If you could craft a paragraph encapsulating how the pandemic will transform the immediate future of travel, that would be it.
The joint governmental statement by Hong Kong and Singapore is packed with terms - stringent measures, designated flights, scalable mechanism, epidemic situation - that would have been anachronistic during Asia’s carefree, book-as-late-as-you-want era of travel that unfolded across the 2010s.
While travellers will be exempt from a quarantine and Stay-Home notice, and there will be no restrictions on travel itineraries, Air Bubble travel is seamlessly controlled.
Potential travellers must meet ‘travel eligibility’ requirements, complete the necessary Air Travel Pass application procedures, fulfil a pre-trip COVID-19 PCR test (and an on-arrival test for travellers to Hong Kong) and download a health track-and-trace app.
En route, face masks are mandatory, traveller healthcare packs will be distributed and passengers must keep to restricted areas of the airport.
A key difference is the form of COVID-19 test. In recent weeks, new innovations have been trialled to make rapid testing faster, more accurate and more applicable to the needs of air travel. These include a paper test in India and a breath test in the UK and Singapore.
Before travel to Hong Kong, passengers must create an online account to register and pre-pay for a COVID-19 Gargle Test. This will be undertaken on arrival at Hong Kong International Airport. [A stool test is required for infant travellers.]
The self-administered ‘Swirl, Gargle, Spit’ test takes 20 seconds, and a full video tutorial is available (view it here).
However, upon submission of the specimen bag at a designated collection point, travellers must remain in a designated lounge for up to 4 hours to receive the result. Then the trip can actually commence.
If, however, the result is positive, a passenger would receive immediate medical attention, but must bear the full costs of all treatment administered in Hong Kong.
3) Not All Bubbles Are Equal
Despite the outward unity between the governments of Singapore and Hong Kong, the bilateral Air Travel Bubble was a tough negotiation.
As mentioned in #2 above, different procedures are in place for arrivals in Singapore and Hong Kong. Travellers from Hong Kong do not need to take a COVID-19 test upon arrival. However, Singaporeans visiting Hong Kong must take a Gargle Test and wait in the airport for the result.
The official explanation is that Travel Bubble agreements are “not designed to be totally symmetrical.”
Singapore’s Minister for Transport, Ong Ye Kung, said a pre-departure polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test was mutually agreed, but other conditions were negotiated.
“Beyond [the pre-departure test], we say that in each other's territories, I think we should have the flexibility to impose additional conditions should we want to, especially in the beginning.”
Such asymmetrical protocols will be important to watch out for in future Travel Bubble agreements, if and when they are announced.
Indeed, asymmetry has been a controversial element of the Australia-New Zealand Travel Bubble.
The balance is heavily tilted.
In fact, the Trans-Tasman Travel Bubble began as a One-Way Bubble. The agreement commenced on 16 October with New Zealand residents permitted to fly quarantine-free into New South Wales (Sydney) and Northern Territory (Darwin) only.
Australian travellers remain unable to visit New Zealand, although negotiations are underway. The equalising process to create a Two-Way Travel Bubble has been hampered by internal border issues in Australia caused by variable rates of COVID-19 infection and different state-to-state suppression strategies..
4) A ‘Low Incidence’ Travel Landscape
The scene-setting for the bilateral travel agreement was provided by Edward Yau, Hong Kong’s Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, in a jointly produced video:
“So, this is as close as it gets to cross-border travel pre-COVID-19, and it is only possible because Singapore and Hong Kong have both successfully controlled the spread of COVI1-19. This is not to be taken lightly.”
Both Singapore and Hong Kong agreed to open their borders to travellers from each market in “a controlled manner to maintain safety in our society.”
This suggests that Asia Pacific’s travel landscape for the near future will depend on countries (or regions of countries) driving down the incidence rate of daily infections to single digits - and keeping it there.
Travel Bubble agreements will rely not just on effective suppression of COVID-19, but on responsive track-and-trace systems that quickly identify cluster outbreaks and shut them down.
Countries unable to meet these criteria will not be considered for travel bubble status, at least in the pre-vaccine interim period.
5) Controlled & Scaleable Quotas
The initial quotas for travel between Singapore and Hong Kong mark this out as a cautious reopening strategy; one that can be incrementally scaled up in future.
The figures tell a very important story.
From 22 November, a single daily flight in each direction carrying a maximum of 200 passengers will be permitted.
Should the first two weeks progress smoothly, Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines would be able to operate two flights per day from 7 December onwards.
If you take Singapore as a benchmark, the maximum number of Air Travel Bubble arrivals from Hong Kong under this agreement in December 2020 would be 11,200.
In December 2019, Singapore welcomed 1.7 million visitors (1.3 million of which stayed overnight). This included 44,950 visitors from Hong Kong, which was the 11th largest inbound market during the month.
A different angle would be to compare the potential of 11,200 quarantine-free Air Travel Bubble Arrivals in Singapore with the 331 Special Tourist Visa arrivals and 501 long-stay retirement-age visa visitors to Thailand in October - who, of course, are required to undertake a 14-day quarantine.
Therefore, the Singapore-Hong Kong Air Travel Bubble has to be viewed as a starting point for a gradual and phased reopening of quarantine-free travel - provided that community and traveller infections are rigorously controlled.
6) 2 Destinations, 2 Airports & 2 Airlines
The basic elements of the Air Travel Bubble are clear. One airport in each destination, and direct point-to-point flights. Only two airlines - the flag carriers of each market, Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines - will operate Air Travel Bubble flights.
Daily flight and passenger quotas and the absence of competition on each route are perhaps inevitable first-phase outcomes for re-establishing general travel. Not least because both airlines have endured torrid years, have shed large numbers of staff, slashed costs and raised significant funds from major shareholders.
Both have embarked on restructuring strategies that will see them transform into very different airlines. Both will also become twin-brand groups comprising a main carrier and a low-cost entity. The closure of Cathay Dragon will pair Cathay Pacific with HK Express, while SilkAir will disappear pairing Singapore Airlines with Scoot.
In October, Cathay Pacific operated just 8.4% of its planned capacity, with an average of 1,243 passengers per day and a load factor of 18.2%, its lowest ever.
Singapore Airlines, which last week raised SGD850 million from a convertible bond issue, says 143 of its 222 aircraft are currently ‘parked’ in Singapore and Australia.
In addition, two vast, under-utilised airports will handle inbound and outbound Air Travel Bubble passengers.
Singapore Changi handled 11.4 million passengers from January to September 2020, compared to 50.51 million in the same 2019 period. Hong Kong International handled 8.6 million passengers in the same period, down 84.5% from 2019.
7) Air Bubble vs Non-Air Bubble Travel
This is an interesting conundrum, and the related complexities may move more visibly onto the radar in the coming weeks.
Singapore, for example, currently has different - albeit restricted - Air Travel Pass agreements with 10 countries: Australia, Brunei, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, China, Malaysia, New Zealand, South Korea and Vietnam.
Some of these are Reciprocal Green Lane agreements for essential business and official travel purposes.
However, citizens of Australia, Brunei, China, New Zealand and Vietnam can enter Singapore for general travel.
As from 22 November, Hong Kong will be the only territory whose residents are permitted to enter Singapore under the terms of an Air Travel Bubble agreement.
The difference, at present, is that non-Air Travel Bubble arrivals must self-isolate in a non-residential room (with an attached toilet) for 48 hours until they receive the result of their upon-arrival COVID19 test.
Air Travel Bubble visitors from Hong Kong do not need to take a test or self-isolate upon arrival in Singapore.
However, there are both Air Travel Bubble and non-Air Travel Bubble flights to Singapore from Hong Kong. The non-Air Travel Bubble passengers booked flights on Scoot (Singapore Airlines’ low-cost subsidiary) on or before 11 November. The period of these bookings spans 22 November to 31 January 2021.
As mentioned in #6 above, Air Travel Bubble flights will be operated by two carriers, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific.
Air Bubble and non-Air Bubble travellers will not be able to take the same flights.
However, passengers booked on Scoot flights will be able to transfer their booking to a Singapore Airlines’ Air Travel Bubble flight, subject to availability. They would need to complete the full range of protocols, accordingly.
Those ineligible to take a Singapore Airlines’ Air Travel Bubble flight from Hong Kong will be able to take a Scoot non-Air Travel Bubble flight, but must complete a 7-day Stay-Home notice on arrival in Singapore.
Strict controls will be in place at Singapore Changi to ensure that both sets of travellers are kept apart.
A red ink section on the official Air Travel Pass website, however, introduces a risk-based caveat for the entire Air Travel Pass programme:
“Given the evolving nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, the relevant authorities in Singapore may, at their own discretion, introduce new measures or requirements to safeguard public health. This may include changes to the conditions or cancellation of the Air Travel Pass at short notice.”
The evident overlap but official separation of Air Travel Bubble and non-Air Travel Bubble flights hints at how incredibly layered and confusing air travel may become if concurrent travel bubble agreements are entered into with other countries.
8) Managing the COVID-era Risks
Alert triggers and response mechanisms are built into Travel Bubble agreements. These enable flights to be suspended in the event of emergent COVID-19 outbreaks.
“If the 7-day moving average of the daily number of unlinked local COVID-19 cases is more than 5 for either Singapore or Hong Kong, the Air Travel Bubble arrangement will be suspended for 2 weeks. If the relevant figure reported on the last day of the suspension period does not exceed the specified threshold of 5, the arrangement can resume.”
In both destinations, city-wide hygiene and safety certification programmes are in place. Singapore’s SG Clean and Hong Kong’ Anti-Epidemic Hygiene Measures Certification Scheme aim to ensure that “every touch point of a visitor’s journey is covered with anti-epidemic measures.”
But COVID uncertainty continues to dominate, and unforeseen events may occur.
In the days since the Singapore-Hong Kong Air Travel Bubble was announced, Hong Kong reported its highest number of daily infections (23 cases) since 20 September. Several of these cases were either untraceable or linked to hotel staycations.
In response, Hong Kong has introduced mandatory testing for high-risk groups, tightened social distancing measures and imposed a midnight closing time for restaurants and bars.
The spectre of North East Asia’s winter flu season - a time when the fear of viral infection escalates and facemark wearing becomes commonplace - is nearing.
Elsewhere, COVID-era bubble alerts are also occurring.
This week, the authorities scrambled to contact travellers from New Zealand to Australia who may have come into contact with new COVID-19 infections before leaving their home country.
In addition, three passengers flying from New Zealand to the Cook Islands had to go into quarantine after one was discovered to have visited an Auckland shop where a new COVID-19 infection occurred.
This happened during a week in which New Zealand officials arrived in the Cook Islands to assess a potential bilateral Travel Bubble agreement. The Cook Islands has not reported a single case of COVID-19.
9) Real Destination Marketing Returns
“Bilateral, All-Purpose and Quarantine-Free Air Travel Bubble.”
This week, the Singapore and Hong Kong Tourism Boards partnered up to push the benefits of Air Bubble Travel. The joie de vivre messaging was revived. Copywriters explored all angles to make controlled travel seem joyous and free-spirited.
Finally, in mid-November of a tumultuous year, we welcomed a return of the tourism hyperbole to which we became accustomed - but which evaporated in 2020.
In some sense this was unsurprising - both tourism boards are enterprising, experienced and among the most forward-thinking in the region.
“It is a hugely important moment that shows the world that safe international travel is possible, and paves the way for us to bring tourist flights to and from other markets.”
Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines were both a little more circumspect, but enthusiastically promoted the travel opportunities to their loyalty club members.
“A milestone for the global tourism industry, and paves the way for a safe resumption of international travel.”
This has been a year of risk-averse, safe, secure and sanitised travel marketing. Holding pattern destination videos and virtual streams attempted to keep travellers stimulated during periods when they were unable to experience overseas travel.
However necessary, video promos featuring cabin crew, hotels staff and travellers wearing face masks eliminated the vital element of aspiration. Travel storytelling followed rather than formed the agenda.
As the four emboldened quotes in this segment show, this week’s injection of travel marketing adrenalin was much needed.
“Singapore’s tourism industry has reinvented our offerings, with new products and experiences that will surprise visitors even if they have been to Singapore before.”
10) Uncorking Bubble Conjecture
The Singapore-Hong Kong Air Travel Bubble details uncorked feverish speculation about which countries might launch new bilateral bubbles, and with whom.
Several low-COVID incidence countries are frequently mentioned, such as Singapore, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and selected Pacific Islands.
During this week’s ASEAN Leader’s Summit, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo even pushed the notion of a South East Asian Travel Corridor to open in early 2021.
The reality, though, is that ASEAN is operating at polarised speeds in controlling COVID-19. Four countries in particular - Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia and Myanmar - are being left behind in negotiations for bilateral or multilateral bubbles.
This week, Indonesia’s 7-day new case average was 4,023, the Philippines 1,483, Myanmar 1,094 and Malaysia’s 862. On Friday, Singapore reported 12 new cases, Thailand 9 and Vietnam 1. Cambodia, Brunei and Lao reported zero cases.
Moreover, active COVID-19 cases in those 4 countries on 13 November totalled 118,011. In the 6 other ASEAN nations combined, the active case total is 324.
Without a vaccine being widely available, potential demand for travel to those 4 countries is likely to be low even if they secure travel agreements with other countries.
11) The Regionalisation of Travel
As referenced in #10 above, the Travel Bubbles being discussed, written about in the media and - perhaps even - discussed by governments emphasise one thing. A further regionalisation of travel in Asia.
Given that much of Europe and the US face a winter of worsening pandemic conditions - and the restoration of demand on long-haul routes remains uncertain - COVID-safe Asia Pacific nations will focus on intra-regional Travel Bubbles.
The pandemic has accelerated a trend that was gaining momentum. Pre-COVID fundamentals for regional air growth were in place, and Asian governments, aviation regulators and airlines may look to Asia Pacific as the primary source of regrowth.
For example, intra-regional travel accounted for 76% of all outbound Asian travel in 2018, according to the UNWTO.
Yes, but that was then.
Well, last week, Boeing predicted that by 2039 China, South East Asia, South Asia and Oceania will together account for 20.6% of the global air passenger market. This compares to 13.5% in 2019.
“By 2039 China, South East Asia, South Asia and Oceania will together account for 20.6% of the global air passenger market.”
Also last week, 15 countries signed a pan-Asia Pacific free trade agreement. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) brings together the 10 ASEAN members - Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam - plus Australia, China, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
For now, India has declined to join, but it may reconsider before the deal is ratified by each country.
Nevertheless, after 8 years of negotiations, the RCEP sets Asia Pacific on course to become a more integrated and standardised economic trading bloc.
Travel patterns are likely to mirror this decisive geographical economic consolidation over the coming decades.
12) Singapore/Hong Kong vs Australia/New Zealand
Do Travel Bubble partners have to be complementary in terms of market supply and demand - or is COVID safety the pre-eminent factor for selecting a bubble partner?
Hong Kong and Singapore have openly stated that the latter is the primary criterion.
In 2019, neither Hong Kong nor Singapore was a top 10 travel source market for its bilateral bubble partner.
A total of 911,000 Singaporeans and Hong Kongers travelled to the other city last year - 489,000 Hong Kongers to Singapore, 422,000 Singaporeans to Hong Kong.
Contrast this with the Trans-Tasman Travel Bubble, where Australia is New Zealand’s number one visitor source market (ahead of China), and New Zealand ranks second (behind China) for Australia.
Some 1.4 million New Zealanders visited Australia in 2019, with 1.53 million Australians crossing “the ditch” in the opposite direction to New Zealand.
Two obvious differences stand out between these two Travel Bubbles.
1) Potential volumes and the ability of Travel Bubble traffic to deliver sufficient demand to resuscitate struggling tourism economies.
2) Singapore-Hong Kong will commence as a 2-way Air Travel Bubble. At present, due to differentiated COVID-19 scenarios, the Trans-Tasman Travel Bubble only permits New Zealanders to visit Australia. Although negotiations are ongoing, Australians are not yet able to enter New Zealand.
The comparisons are not that simple, however.
As mentioned in #6 above, Singapore-Hong Kong Air Travel Bubble traffic is point-to-point between one airport in each city. This was largely the case in 2019, although transit traffic accounted for some of the air flow between the two cities.
Australia is a continental sized nation, and New Zealand has international airports on both its North and South Islands. So air traffic between the two countries is more diversified in terms of city of departure and city of arrival.
Singapore and Hong Kong may not necessarily be natural travel partners, but their populations are relatively similar - and the single airport hub model is crucial to the way the aviation sectors have developed and grown.
If either government were to create an Air Travel Bubble with another country, the negotiations may be tougher.
Would, for example, Thailand accept inbound/outbound flights through only Bangkok Suvarnabhumi, China using Beijing Daxing or Japan with just Tokyo Narita. For Vietnam, would it choose between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, which are around 1,700km apart?
13) The Missing Component: China
Travel bubbles in Asia without Chinese participation can only achieve limited goals.
China knows this, so do the destinations involved.
Take Singapore and Hong Kong, for example. In 2019, Hong Kong welcomed 52.7 million visitors, and Singapore 19.1 million. Subtract Chinese visitors from the equation, and Hong Kong welcomed 11.34 million visitors, and Singapore 15.5 million.
Given its vital importance to inbound arrivals in Asia, it’s no surprise that Thailand (10.99 million Chinese visitors in 2019) is desperately briefing its media about a potential Travel Bubble with China by year end.
Meanwhile, Japan welcomed 9.6 million Chinese visitors in 2019 and Vietnam 5.8 million. Lower down the scale, Laos achieved 1 million Chinese arrivals for the first time, and although only 750,000 Chinese visited last year, Myanmar saw a 152% uplift from 2018.
On China’s part, it has prohibited travel agencies from selling outbound packages during the winter. Independent travellers can travel overseas but are subject to a 14-day quarantine upon returning to China.
This week, Chinese media reported comments by Luo Zhaohui, vice-foreign minister, who told a State Council Information Office briefing:
"We do not recommend people touring abroad.”
Meanwhile, Li Bin, Deputy Head of the National Health Commission, warned:
"China faces increasing risks of domestically transmitted outbreaks caused by COVID-19 cases from overseas, considering the accelerating spread of the pandemic globally. Scattered outbreaks will occur in the winter, and cluster infections may occur in certain areas."
Meanwhile, a sweep of the China Daily travel section reveals that virtually all its current content is focused on domestic travel.
14) What Does This Mean For Chinese New Year?
The Lunar New Year Holiday, which in 2021 falls on 12 February, has become a crucial travel period for destinations across Asia Pacific. Celebrated in China as Spring Festival and Vietnam as Tet, the start of the new lunar New year is a public holiday in much of the region. In China, it forms one of the two annual Golden Weeks.
In 2019, around 6.3 million Chinese travellers headed overseas during Chinese New Year. In 2020, the Spring Festival coincided with the emerging outbreak of COVID-19, and resulted in mass cancellations of outbound bookings.
This particularly hurt Japan, South Korea and countries across South East Asia. The other Golden Week in 2020, China National Day holiday in October, was restricted to domestic travel.
China recorded 637 million domestic trips during that 8-day public holiday.
This raised expectations that pent-up demand for ‘revenge travel’ and ‘revenge consumption’ simply awaits a Green Light from the Chinese government.
However, as mentioned above in #13, the media signals from China caution against outbound travel this winter.
The caveat, of course, is the potential rollout of Chinese vaccine(s). Reportedly, a vaccine has already been administered to frontline workers and other customer-facing professions.
In economic terms, another Golden Week without Chinese traveller spending power would be disastrous for South East Asian destinations.
Time is, however, running out to find a workable solution.
15) The Coronavirus is Still in Control
The pernicious nature of COVID-19 means it retains control over travel. This is unlikely to change any time soon. Even successful vaccines, when they become available, will present complex logistical challenges to achieve mass roll-outs.
With vaccines will come new challenges - some of which are likely to be political, financial and geo-strategic.
The concepts of ‘vaccine tourism,’ whereby travellers fly to countries where they will be prioritised for vaccine administration, and ‘vaccine travel bubbles,’ whereby vaccinated only travellers will be accepted to certain destinations, are emerging.
Moreover, COVID-19 vaccines will require more than a single dose. Or, at least, most of them.
“COVID-19 vaccines will require more than a single dose. Or, at least, most of them.”
Some 48 candidate vaccines are currently undergoing clinical trials according to the WHO.
Of these 10 are single dose, 35 are double dose, and 3 are triple dose.
The timing of the second shot of a double-dose vaccine ranges from 14 to 56 days following the first dose.
The University of Oxford/Astra Zeneca, BioNTech/Foscu Pharma/Pfizer and Moderna NIAID vaccines each require a double dose - with the second shot to be administered 28 days after the initial dose.
On The South East Asia Travel Show this week, we discussed - well, what else…?
The economies of Singapore and Hong Kong rely heavily on their airports, airlines and aviation sectors. How might the Air Travel Bubble benefit the broader economies of both cities. Might it catalyse more regional bubbles in Asia Pacific - and, perhaps, kickstart concurrent bubbles for both Singapore and Hong Kong?
Listen to this week’s podcast HERE
And, that’s a wrap for Issue 16.
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