The vaccinated travel lanes (VTL) have started to emerge allowing for more travel across Southeast Asia. The lanes opened up between Malaysia and Indonesia on 10 November 2021, and between Singapore and Indonesia on 15 November 2021. Meanwhile, the VTL lanes between Singapore and Malaysia opened up on 8 November 2021. Since then, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) said six airlines have been designated to provide VTL flights between Singapore and Malaysia. These flights are from AirAsia, Jetstar Asia, Malaysia Airlines, Malindo Air, Scoot and Singapore Airlines (SIA).
While the situation is still evolving, platforms such as Booking.com have seen an overall increase in searches - and this isn’t isolated for the new Southeast Asia markets opening up.
"Given the current VTL arrangement with Indonesia is unilateral, we have yet to see any large increase in bookings to the country. However, we expect that this will change as Singapore and Indonesia continue discussions around a bilateral VTL scheme," Booking.com’s regional director for Southeast Asia, Nuno Guerreiro, said the platform has said. Along with the announcement of the establishment of VTL with Indonesia, India was another country Singapore inked the deal with which saw traffic search on Chennai, New Delhi and Mumbai spike on the Booking.com platform.
According to Booking.com’s latest travel predictions research, almost 64% of the travellers are flexible as to where they are vacationing, as long as it is the type of trip they want and away from home.
Meanwhile, Melaka has since been climbing to the top eight trending destinations for global travellers to explore in 2022.
Explaining the results further, Guerreiro said that since the establishment of the first VTL with Germany, travellers have been eager for the announcement of more VTLs with other countries. This indicates a clear sign of the continued desire for travel after nearly two years of border closures. In fact, 81% of respondents from Booking.com's recent travel predictions agree that they will say “yes” to any vacation opportunity if their budget allows for it. “The travel intent is high and that is a welcome sign while the industry finds a balance between building travellers confidence and catering to their health and safety needs. After so long of being told no, our research revealed that travellers are reclaiming a more positive way of thinking for 2022,” he said.
Trends seen by hospitality players
Meanwhile, Rachael Harding, Club Med’s CEO of East and South Asia and Pacific, added that from the two weeks post-VTL announcement in Singapore, Club Med, saw an immediate spike in web traffic towards its resorts in the European Alps, with an increase of six times in web traffic compared to the same period in 2019. Bookings for holidays to these resorts have also tripled in the two weeks since the announcement, generating 3.4 times more revenue.
The highest spikes in web traffic were attributed to Club Med’s snow resorts in the European Alps, reflecting that interest from travellers in Singapore for snow holidays is at an all-time high. In the one week post-VTL announcement in Singapore, web traffic also doubled that of the entire month in October 2019 pre-COVID.
Closer to home, Club Med also saw an increase in almost double (92%) in research on prices on its platform to Club Med Bali from 10 to 17 November when talks around Indonesia-Singapore VTL lane was announced. It also saw an increase by 32% in research on prices on their platform to Club Med Bintan Island from 10 to 17 Nov when talks about an Indonesia-Singapore VTL lane was announced.
Interestingly however, in Malaysia, the brand didn’t notice any increase in search volumes after the announcement of the VTL between Malaysia and Indonesia.
Speaking more on the trend, Harding said this might be because Malaysians were more interested in domestic travel at this point in time. Demand from Malaysians for its domestic resort - Club Med Cherating has, however, seen a drastic increase, even outperforming the same period in 2019 since it reopened last month.
“We attribute this to the fact that Inter-state travel in Malaysia only recently opened up and many people have a strong desire to visit their relatives within Malaysia after being in lockdown for so long. Returning to Malaysia from most overseas destinations also require a quarantine period which many consumers might not be keen to have to go through due to work and other commitments,” Harding added.
Survival of the fittest
Speaking to MARKETING-INTERACTIVE on the recovery of the industry, Harding said the pandemic was a disrupter that decided which brands could survive – and now it's now a competition amongst the “survivors”. As such, brands must become more creative in their engagement and marketing towards customers.
“Businesses need to look into creating a niche for themselves as well as highlighting their unique propositions as travel starts back up,” she said. For the Club Med brand, Harding added that it is important to create specialised offerings that cater to a wide demographic so that the brand remains all-inclusive.
“Club Med is known for our all-inclusive offerings which include activities such as trapeze, skiing, yoga, archery and also family programs in the resorts. A marketing focus, and creating a narrative that you own, is also key for businesses to pivot in time for the travel influx. At Club Med, we focus on the destination, the experiences that you enjoy and bring home,” she said.
William Lau, general manager, Overseas Operations Centre, Greenland Hotel and Tourism Group added that with VTL lanes opening rapidly and regional governments continuing to deploy programs to actively support the industry, we are likely not only to see an accelerated recovery, “but also a highly competitive market emerge in the post-pandemic new normal”.
He added that to cater to evolving consumer demands, especially as domestic and international travel increases, hospitality and tourism businesses must stay ahead of the trends and be able to rethink their marketing and offerings. These can include staycation or daycation ideas or organising hybrid conferences and meetings. To ensure success, these offerings should be executed in a timely manner and strategically targeted at the right customer segments.
“Hotel management companies that are able to help business and hospitality owners deliver value-added services as well as create experiences that appeal to both international and domestic travellers will be highly sought after,” he said.
Meanwhile, understanding the traveller’s psyche post-COVID will be critical to the industry’s recovery. Booking.com’s travel prediction study also indicated that sustainability will play a big part in travel recovery and the desire to connect authentically with the local community will continue as travellers seek to be more mindful about every trip they take.
It is also important for brands to continue prioritising flexibility, as travelers rank their top three priorities as reassurance that they won’t lose money (42%), having the ability to cancel (33%), and reschedule free of charge (32%).
“The value of flexibility will continue to be on the rise as today’s travellers learn to embrace the unpredictability,” said Guerreiro
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