Poised for recovery in 2021

While the pandemic has been a major disruptor, the travel industry is resilient and going all out to overcome challenges. Industry leaders have a very positive outlook for the upcoming year and share with TRAVTALK their views, expectations and insights for a more fruitful 2021.

HE Khalid Jasim Al Midfa, Chairman, SCTDA
The Sharjah Government, represented by the SCTDA and its partners, have carried on making tremendous efforts to develop the tourism sector in the emirate – even in these challenging times. The success of initiatives such as the Sharjah ‘Safety Assured’ stamp and the commitment of our hotels and tourism sites to precautionary measures, in addition to the opening of new, highly regarded attractions such as the House of Wisdom means that we can look forward to a positive outlook for the industry in 2021. As we roll out digital innovations and campaigns geared towards the domestic market while anticipating the opening of neighbouring markets, the emirate is sure of seeing increased visitor numbers and a bright recovery.

Raki Phillips, CEO, Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority
Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority has made remarkable strides towards the destination’s recovery in 2020, which resulted in the emirate becoming the first city in the world to receive both the Bureau Veritas Safeguard Assurance Label and the WTTC Safe Travels Stamp. We are very optimistic about 2021, and since the emirate was named the Gulf Tourism Capital for 2021, the GCC region will be a key focus for us next year.

Nasir Jamal Khan, CEO, Al Naboodah Travel
The UAE economy is expected to begin recovery to pre-COVID levels in 2021, steady growth will continue and for the travel industry business recovery will be the top priority in the short-term, but long-term plans will be to make it more stable and diversified with Expo 2021 happening in Dubai we are all set to welcome tourists. While the pandemic may have put immediate ambitions on hold, it poses an opportunity for innovation and transformation.

Beverly Au Yong , Area Director – Middle East, Singapore Tourism Board
We remain confident in the long-term prospects of Singapore’s tourism sectors – both for leisure and M!CE & business travel – as the fundamentals that make Singapore an attractive place for unique, high quality travel and M!CE experiences, and a key business hub remains unchanged. Travel will never be the same again. But you can expect Singapore to lead the way in defining the ‘new normal’ for tourism industry.

Yamina Sofo, Director – Sales & Marketing, German National Tourist Office Gulf Countries
There are signs of positive booking trends already emerging for 2021, and as the roll out of a vaccine continues globally, this will only stimulate further travel intentions, especially for GCC residents who are already benefitting. The German travel industry has continued to work to ensure Germany is as safe as possible, adapting to various travel demands to reassure travellers choosing to visit us. This has been a concerted effort from all stakeholders and supported the launch of our German Summer Cities 2021 campaign. Through the promotion of areas surrounding our popular cities, we are providing travellers with a variety of choices.

Kathryn Wallington, Head, Travelport Middle East and Africa
At Travelport, we’re optimistic that 2021 will see continued recovery. We’ve consistently seen that there is a clear desire to travel as soon as people feel it is safe and in line with government regulations – in the Middle East and globally. Vaccines beginning to roll out and continued progress of travel bubbles are certainly encouraging signs. As the industry recovers, we’re continuing to build our vision of the future. We see three foundational priorities – multi-source content, retailing excellence and maximising the value of every trip. We have an exciting next-generation platform on the way to enable all this, and we’re looking forward to launching it soon.

Siobhán Naughton, Marketing & Trade Executive – Middle East & Asia, Tourism Ireland
Recent news about vaccines are really positive and has given us hope that international travel will resume in a meaningful way in 2021. Tourism Ireland has a three-phase plan to restart, rebuild and ultimately redesign demand in 2021. We are planning a significant kick-start campaign, which will be launched, possibly around St Patrick’s Day in 2021, to drive bookings and revenue for tourism businesses. It will deliver a very clear ‘book now’ message to create demand for summer holidays in Ireland. In our research, Northern Ireland and Ireland have consistently been among the destinations that holidaymakers say they would be most comfortable visiting.

Ernesto Sanchez Beaumont, Managing Director, Amadeus Gulf
For 2021, healthy traveller appetites will lead to a strong demand ahead. The Amadeus Destination X study revealed that nearly 82% of respondents in MEA would consider international trips once restrictions are lifted. Additionally, travellers are now more mindful of the little details with nearly 84% of travellers in the MEA region saying information on COVID-19 precautions is ‘very important’ to know before booking a hotel, and 75% saying the same for air travel. It is imperative that we enable people to start travelling again.

Laxman Gautam, Officiating Director – Tourism Marketing and Promotion Department, Nepal Tourism Board
Nepal is geared up with all necessary preparations and precautions to welcome international travellers to experience its rich treasury of nature, culture, adventure, festivals and cuisines in the new normal post-COVID scenario. For this, Government of Nepal, Nepal Tourism Board and the private sector are reaching out to international markets through digital marketing and promotion strategies. New competitive packages are being offered by the private sector keeping in view the growing interests of potential tourists to Nepal.

Ravi Santiago, Cluster General Manager, Wyndham hotels Ajman
We are very optimistic about the revival of the tourism industry in 2021. Gradual increase in the first quarter, good performance during the summer period, and most likely a full recovery in the last quarter are on the horizon, given the developments of the COVID-19 vaccines in many places. This would boost the confidence of the travellers, and we expect a significant increase in inbound tourism, especially from our key markets. We are also on the lookout for new markets, including the entrant Israel. We hope 2021 is going to be an exciting year.

Jamal Abdulnazar, CEO, Cozmo Travel
We have achieved 47 per cent of 2019 business if you take the last three months and it is increasing day by day. 2021 will see 60 per cent recovery in the first half and towards the second half we will achieve 90-95 per cent of 2019 business. I’m forecasting this as you have seen how not one, but several vaccines have been tested and are working very well. Also, vaccine manufacturers are stating that the new variant has already been handled. So it is something we need to push back and move on to business, not only in travel but also other industries. I’m very optimistic that tourism will pick up and business travel will pick up, more and more countries will open, it will be a very positive year. We started hiring the employees we had let go, during the last one and half months the first priority was to hire them back, if they were unavailable, we are seeking new staff from outside. We are looking at new investments in the travel business within the current spectrum which will complement the main business. Lets’ be cheerful and look at 2021 in a very positive and optimistic manner.

Sanjiv Malhotra, Vice President, Shaza Hotels
The need to meet and collaborate for a purpose is predominant in the human race. The manner in which we do it has evolved over time. The need to collaborate will remain. The need to explore will remain. The need to challenge oneself will remain. This is the time to dwell on the opportunities within that space and develop design and experiences intelligently, meaningfully and in a well-thought through manner.

Sumit Acharya, Vice President, DTTAG and Managing Director, BCD Travel LLC, Dubai
Under the direction of a newly appointed Executive Committee and leadership, DTTAG has seen renewed interest and commitment amongst its members to work towards common goals for the travel agency community. Our members supported the community during repatriation flights home, played a key role in helping workers returning to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia via UAE, and ensured smooth handling of a huge number of Israeli tourists that flocked to Dubai during Q4. Following some amount of ‘right sizing’ in 2020 by most of our members, the industry is now looking forward to a return towards normalcy in outbound travel during the first half of 2021. BCD Travel’s priority has been to control costs in the face of plummeting travel demand amid the pandemic. We’ve taken steps to ensure our long-term sustainability which has required restructuring decisions as part of our drive to become a leaner organisation. Although demand for travel is far below pre-COVID levels for now, we remain optimistic about a quick rebound in 2021.

Omar Hamour, Head of Marketing and Exhibitions Department – Fujairah Tourism and Antiquities Authority
We have been promoting the emirate of Fujairah with all its offerings for the locals and expats, promoting domestic tourism. We will focus on other markets later on depending how the situation will be. Our aim is to create more awareness of the many activities in the destination which includes adventure tourism. We will be promoting this over the first quarter of 2021.

Gary Chapman, President of Emirates Group Services and dnata
In 2021, there is reason for optimism with the roll out of vaccines. Remember that travel and tourism are an essential part of not only the global economy but also society, and both aren’t going to go away. When we are in the eye of the storm it is easy to forget that things will get better, but I’m a firm believer that they will. We do however have to be cautious that this won’t happen overnight, and it will be a slow, stuttered and patchy recovery with lots of uncertainty, like how we are currently seeing another wave of shutdowns and travel restrictions in light of new developments around the virus. But the trajectory is upwards and will continue to improve over time.

Shahrin Mokhtar, Director, Tourism Malaysia-Dubai
With the vaccines available in the market we are hoping that the borders will open faster. The recovery will be gradual until 2024, however currently we can see some changes in the market segments and we have taken advantage by focusing more on OTAs. We see that there will be a slowdown in the business segment because now people are doing their deals through online channels and MICE will be on a more hybrid level so leisure market will have its growth. There will an emergence or an increase of solo travellers as they want to have their “me time” without their partners and we are also looking at promoting eco –tourism to ensure customers spend more time with nature away from the crowded cities.

Arijit Munshi, General Manager, Tune Protect
In 2020 we were in constant change and it will continue well into 2021; the reason I say this is there is no historical data or background, so the way to move forward in 2021 is we have to be prepared, no one can be absolutely prepared for every single eventuality but I think the most important thing is each one has to be mentally prepared that the world is changing and it is a dynamic environment. Going forward to 2021 and beyond, information is going to be key and educating the traveller, service provider, logistic provider is going to become a very important aspect.

Ramsumesh Menon, CEO, Go Gosaibi Travel Bahrain
2021 is a year of expectation with all this 2020 wash out but then there is still a lot of uncertainty and ambiguity in how the business is going to be. When you look forward with IATA and other international organisations the travel segment or the tourism segment is expected to bounce back around 2023 or 2024 to pre-COVID time. Now with the roll out of the vaccines there has been a phenomenal voluntary uptake of people taking up the vaccine. So the general market itself is quite upbeat and the economy also is looking a little positive especially where Bahrain market is concerned.

Deepak Rawat, Senior Vice President – International Markets, MakeMyTrip.com
While COVID-19 had a crippling impact on the entire travel & tourism industry – the promise of effective vaccine roll out is good news as the year comes to a close. Revenge travel is going to gain further momentum as we enter 2021. The massive pent-up demand is going to fuel that need to travel further with a lot of people yet to take their first flight or first real holiday. With international travel remaining largely inaccessible to leisure travellers, domestic travel will continue to grow strong as more and more people will look inwards to explore their own homeland.

Tim Cordon, Area Senior Vice President, Middle East and Africa
As we all look ahead to 2021, Radisson Hotel Group remains prudently optimistic and determined to continue implementing the five-year development and growth plan in the coming three years. We are confident that travel will continue to rebound, and more capital will be invested in the industry from both the private and public sectors. The region remains one of the key focus markets for Radisson Hotel Group’s global development strategy and we aim to continue expanding our brand architecture and strengthening our presence.

Stewart Smith, Managing Director – Middle East and Africa, Sojern
Over the last month we have seen many changes made across the Middle East and Africa market which have impacted regional and international travel. Borders opened, restrictions were lifted, and plans were put in place to drive economic recovery through the region’s peak season. November and early December brought with it a lot of optimism across the entire region, with travel intent and confidence increasing substantially. In light of the recent announcements of the new variant of the virus, some borders across our region have since closed and it will be vital to keep an eye on travel trends, government regulations and ongoing preventive measures.

Sapna Aidasani, Marketing Manager, Pluto Travels
Travel is a lifestyle , people want to travel around the world to discover , enjoy the scenery, explore culture and history. At present in Dubai more than 25% of people have already started travelling across the globe wherever the borders are open. Travellers will be interested in short haul leisure travel and we are now receiving travel budgets from corporates to organise their travel for 2021. Since November the Israel market has already increased and now the outflow to Israel will also begin soon. Dubai is a place that will never stop travelling we think 2021 will be great for Dubai.

Inputs by Shehara Rizly

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