Asia’s vibrant hospitality industry has welcomed millions of international tourists over the last decade leading to substantial economic growth for countries including the Philippines and Indonesia. However, following the impact of the global pandemic, there have been major disruptions in the tourism sector which has been dealing with the consequential emotional distress and economic fallout ever since.
Discover an in-depth insight into the Asian hospitality industry from hotel group General Manager & renowned business expert Saman Sarathchandra, along with his perspective on current market forces, and how countries dependent on foreign tourists are coping post-pandemic.
In discussion with Saman Sarathchandra
Nobody thought that this could spiral into a fatal pandemic and that we’d still be talking about it 15 months in. The V-Shape recovery that we had hoped for has now transformed into infinity-dips. But the efficacy of vaccinations seems to give some hope even though new variants are emerging.
How soon do you think businesses will improve?
It doesn’t seem easy for any business to return to a financially sustainable point so soon, but no one hopes to walk back the 2020 journey again. In many European and Asian countries, restrictions are now being eased; governments are still weighing up how to strike a balance between the transmission rate and the opening of economies. Economic growth, job growth, and wage growth might take some time to bounce back, but there are promising signs already.
How are Western and Asian economies coping with the crisis? Is tourism decoupled from the social and emotional distress of Covid?
Western economies are going back and forth with Covid protocols while not shutting down day-to-day life and business processes for long periods of time. If the economy is shut, most governments will have to compensate each citizen by providing at least 60-80% of their monthly wage; still, no government can afford to carry its entire economy for too long. Therefore, they keep the economy open as much as possible, ask people to take precautionary measures, and let them travel across borders. We have continued learning on this subject, and the success of these actions seems promising, which is feasibly happening.
In Asia, not only have most tourist hotspots been under pressure from the impact of Covid-19 but there isn’t much help devoted to helping businesses and communities offset their lost livelihoods. The lack of a social safety net in many parts of Asia has wreaked havoc on the hospitality & tourism sector. The economic hardship is felt everywhere, and everyone is in eye-watering pain and increasing social and emotional distress. But again, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to tackling this pandemic, nor have the authorities any silver bullets at their disposal. Part of the problem is also, there are too many informal workers in the hospitality industry in Asian countries.
What are your thoughts about the recovery and growth aspects in the coming months?
It will take a few more months for businesses to expand and get rid of empty rooms and office spaces. Many countries try to build on past achievements while others strive for new concepts and develop different ecosystems, but there have to be bigger forces in the market to see rising revenues and expanding bottom lines. Undoubtedly, this is an uphill battle to revive the tourism industry in tourism-starved countries with expected arrivals in 2021 set to be 90% below that of 2019. Nevertheless, it is a good start after lockdowns and a safety-first approach!
In 2021, Asia looks much different from its robust stand in 2020, and the recovery could be behind Europe and the USA, but it will likely reach the herd immunity at some point in 2021, if not perhaps in 2022. At least in Asia, there is no vaccine hesitancy but a lack of opportunity for many who want it. Hopefully, Asia’s recovery will not be hampered by the lack of vaccines and the threat of new strains.
How will hospitality & tourism regain its position as the fastest growing industry?
The question is, when will the Chinese be traveling again to fill the vacuum of the 32 million Chinese tourists that traveled to SEA in 2019? Will Chinese travellers increase travelling within regions instead of continents due to various geopolitical factors? Could these trends fuel the next wave of Chinese tourists to dominate Asian hospitality/tourism?
Despite the uncertainty, we need to be relevant and be prepared for all opportunities and vulnerabilities ahead.
Interview and analysis by Dr M. Caudle