Sylviana Hamdani (The Jakarta Post)
Tue, September 20, 2022
The travel industry and high-end travelers are ready to fly high and live big again.
As the pandemic slowly subsides, the tourism industry is slowly coming back to life.
This growing optimism was definitely felt at the Asia-Pacific International Luxury Travel Market (ILTM) trade show. After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the show returned to Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands from September 5th to 8th.
Over 800 attendees, consisting of travel designers, travel agents, concierge companies and tour operators, crowded the booths of local airlines, cruise lines, hotels, resorts and tourism boards eager to learn about the new offerings and trends in the luxury travel industry.
On the opening day of the exhibition on September 5th, ILTM also published a report entitled APAC: Unraveling the Mindset of Luxury Travel Consumers. Compiled by research specialist Altiant, the report surveyed nearly 500 affluent travelers from six Asia-Pacific countries and revealed new behaviors and preferences in the luxury travel industry.
“This study shows us that APAC travelers are highly motivated to restart their travel lives,” said Alison Gilmore, ILTM Portfolio Director, at the opening of the show at the Ritz-Carlton Millenia in Singapore. “They want to make up for lost time and see the world.”
According to the report, almost 50 percent of those surveyed now place more value on travel experiences than on material goods. As for travel destinations, beach vacations remain the most popular with 48 percent of respondents, while 43 percent of them prefer city breaks, showing their willingness to meet again.
Travel Enthusiasts: Customers visit the booths at the Asia-Pacific International Luxury Travel Market (ILTM) trade show, held September 5-8 at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. (JP/Sylviana Hamdani) (JP/Sylviana Hamdani)
Revenge travel and bucket list destinations
After more than two years of being cooped up at home, luxury travelers apparently want to let go of their pent-up wanderlust and explore the world again.
“What we’re seeing now, two years later, is now a window of opportunity for revenge travel, where people have saved money for two years and are rewarding themselves with travel,” said Batiste Pilet, Switzerland Tourism’s director in Southeast Asia, during his presentation at April 6. Sept
“This would explain why the huge rise in airfares isn’t really throwing off the recovery as people are really keen to travel.”
Switzerland has seen an increase in tourists from Southeast Asia since the beginning of the pandemic. In the first half of 2022, the number of Southeast Asian tourists in the country reached nearly 200,000, down 36 percent from 2019. And it was a steady increase of 97 percent in 2020 and 76 percent in 2021 from the 2019 baseline.
“We have really high hopes that by the end of next year we should really be able to return to pre-COVID 2019. levels,” said Pilet.
Currently, their national airline, Swiss International Air Lines, has resumed five flights a week from Singapore and also Bangkok to Zurich.
“Flights are pretty full,” Pilet said. “There will be room for more operations soon.”
Simon Yip, Silversea’s vice president of sales in Asia, has also noted the emerging trend for revenge travel among luxury travelers.
“I can see people doing their revenge journey now,” Yip said. “They take longer trips, more frequently and also go to new destinations.”
According to the vice president, Silversea is seeing “a good 30 percent increase from 2019” in cruise bookings for 2023. Preferred cruise lengths have also increased from 7-10 days to around two weeks.
“Another observation is that now people would like to travel to those destinations like the Arctic, Antarctica or anywhere in Africa,” Yip continued. “So now they want to go beyond the classic programs.”
As the pandemic subsides, there is also a trend among luxury travelers to travel together as a family.
“We are seeing a clear trend towards multi-generational travel, where families travel together,” said Raul Guerra, APAC regional director of the Catalan Tourism Board. “We believe this is because people feel they don’t know when another COVID could happen. So now they want to take the opportunity to do these trips together.”
Almost 20 million international visitors were visiting Catalonia annually before the pandemic, according to Guerra. Also included in that number are around 20,000 Indonesian tourists who love the region’s natural landscapes and historical sites like the Sagrada Familia.
The same cross-generational travel trend is also being noticed in Rwanda.
“We see grandparents, parents and children traveling together in Rwanda,” said Ornella Kayitesi, first secretary for economic and political affairs at the High Commissioner of the Republic of Rwanda in Singapore. “And they also want to interact with local communities a lot more than just see an attraction and then just go.”
Approximately 1.6 million international business and leisure visitors came to Rwanda each year prior to the pandemic. According to Kayitesi, around 70 to 80 percent of them are now returning to the country.
Rwanda’s top attractions include Akagera, Nyungwe and Volcanoes National Parks, where visitors can see the world-famous mountain gorillas and golden monkeys.
Tourism is back: Batiste Pilet, Director of Switzerland Tourism in Southeast Asia, shows the number of tourists from Southeast Asia to Switzerland during his presentation on September 6th. (JP/Sylviana Hamdani) (JP/Sylviana Hamdani)
Due to COVID-19 concerns, many luxury travelers are now preferring to spend their time at outdoor attractions.
“More and more travelers want to experience outdoor activities due to COVID-19 concerns,” said Keiko Matsuda, deputy manager of the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) Global Projects Department.
Hence, Japan is now promoting its 34 national parks and a wide range of activities that visitors can enjoy in the parks, such as trekking, canoeing and skiing in winter.
From September 7, visitors coming to Japan are no longer required to take PCR tests as long as they have received three doses of coronavirus vaccine. However, all tourists are still required to join a package tour provided by local tour operators.
The number of international tourists who came to Japan in 2019 was 31.88 million. The number fell to 4.12 million in 2020 due to the pandemic and further to 250,000 in 2021 due to travel restrictions.
Approximately 650,000 international visitors came to Japan from January to July this year.
“We are not sure when tourism will be restored in Japan,” Matsuda said. “But we hope that restrictions will be eased in the near future, hopefully later this year.”
A change in behavior due to COVID-19 has not only occurred among visitors. In Kyoto, it also happened among the locals.
“Before COVID-19 [Kyoto] was too crowded and we had some problems between tourists and locals,” said Takashi Nishimura, project manager of Kyoto City Tourism Association, during an interview with The Jakarta Post on September 7th. “But after the coronavirus, tourists were wiped out. So initially locals enjoyed the quiet, non-touristy Kyoto.”
Before the pandemic, about 8.86 million international tourists came to Kyoto each year. The figure also includes about 38,000 Indonesian tourists who come to the city annually.
“But after a while [the locals] realized how important tourism is to the lives of Kyoto citizens,” continued Nishimura. “So now the attitude of local people towards tourists is changing. [They have become] friendlier, more understanding and more accepting. I think the atmosphere is better than before.”
Many luxury hotels are currently being built in Kyoto. These include Shangri-La, Six Senses, Banyan Tree and Hilton, all of which are expected to be fully operational by 2024 and 2025.
“So there will be new luxury hotels as you come to town,” Nishimura said. “And you can enjoy New Kyoto.”