SPECIAL REPORT

A Change of Plans

by Tallulah Lu
02 Sep 2020

Short-notice changes, additional flight delays, of plans and last-minute cancellations may hound luxury travelers soon, but safety, space, privacy, and flexibility might be the rewards awaiting them at their destinations.

If he can have his way, Benoit Badufle would travel immediately. “I’ve no problem whatsoever with flying. I believe that my set of precautions, added to those implemented by airlines and airports through which I would travel, is enough to keep my family and me safe,” the managing director of Horus Development & Consulting, a consultancy firm specializing in the promotion of luxury travel and luxury hospitality, says. “It is time we moved on.”

 

 

Badufle thinks he will be adequately prepared for cross-border travel. “I’ve been learning a lot about this virus, and I have been able to establish my judgment from the many diverging scientific statements. There is room for balanced behavior, which is no longer dictated by fear but is grounded in common sense and scientific information.” 

What concerns Badufle about travel after the pandemic is that there might be less for pleasure and more constraints to get to a destination. He expects COVID-19 to produce a new set of restrictions and rules, on top of those that were implemented in the wake of the so-called ‘War on Terror’ that became the norm worldwide.

  • DOMESTIC FOR NOW
  • PLANS ON HOLD
  • ON SHORT NOTICE
  • THE PRIMARY SHIFTS
  • THE SOUL OF TRAVEL
  • DYNAMIC TRAVEL ENVIRONMENT
  • BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY

Domestic for Now

Gerry Mangentang, co-founder and CEO, IZY.ai, is eager to travel for work and pleasure as soon as the ban is lifted. “As I’m based in Jakarta, my first trip will likely be within Indonesia. I plan to take a trip to Bali for work where we have several partner hotels, and also for leisure.” A hotel tech start-up, IZY.ai provides a mobile concierge platform for hotels allowing them to digitize their services. 

Although Mangentang admits he’s not up to speed with all international travel regulations, he is aware of all domestic restrictions. “I think I will be prepared to travel by the time the restrictions ease, but I’m not planning for international travel anytime soon.” What worries him about traveling after the pandemic are crowded public places, including airports, public beaches, and shopping centers. 

He foresees luxury travel changing after the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’re starting to see the change at IZY.ai. There will be stricter measures in regards to health and safety, for sure, and more hotels are likely to provide contactless service using technology; personal interactions will be limited.”

“The good thing is that luxury travel, which usually offers a higher level of privacy and services, might be the ‘safest’ option that will provide the required ease of mind for travellers in the near future.”

  • DOMESTIC FOR NOW
  • PLANS ON HOLD
  • ON SHORT NOTICE
  • THE PRIMARY SHIFTS
  • THE SOUL OF TRAVEL
  • DYNAMIC TRAVEL ENVIRONMENT
  • BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY

Plans On Hold

Early this year, Jonathan Schiff and his family were looking forward to visiting their aging parents in Macau, but with the way things are turning out, it is becoming more apparent that the trip will not happen. 

The founder of gnômadic, a developer and operator of luxury co-living spaces, has no plans for leisure travel at this point. Although he keeps track of the latest news on cross-border travel, he admits to having “no special insights”. He believes adequate preparedness for international travel will depend on the progression of the pandemic. “If we reach a point where a cure or a vaccine is verified and widely distributed, then there will be much less concern. At the moment, I find enclosed spaces with lots of people, especially airplanes, worrisome.” 

Luxury travel in the future will depend on the status of a cure or a vaccine, Schiff says. “If there isn’t a medical solution to the virus, then luxury travel may be limited to ultra-luxury, which affords limited contact with others outside of one’s immediate family and friends.”

  • DOMESTIC FOR NOW
  • PLANS ON HOLD
  • ON SHORT NOTICE
  • THE PRIMARY SHIFTS
  • THE SOUL OF TRAVEL
  • DYNAMIC TRAVEL ENVIRONMENT
  • BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY

On Short Notice

Before restrictions on global travel due to the pandemic, Mark Livings was on the road about 230 days a year. The co-founder and CEO of non-alcoholic spirits brand Lyre’s found ample opportunities to integrate leisure travel in and around business trips. “It would be safe to say that I’m now a travel addict, and I can’t wait to get back out into the world when it’s safe to do so.” 

Livings is presently in Australia, which prohibits its citizens from traveling overseas. “It’s hurting Australian exporters and business in general, but there are a lot of people (who are scared of COVID-19 infections) in Australia, so I don’t see this policy changing any time soon,” Livings says. “I can understand a ban on travel for leisure, but I’m very disappointed that we can’t work out how to allow our citizens to move safely – like some other countries have – so we can keep the wheels of our industries turning and help keep jobs and businesses intact.” 

Livings believes he will be prepared to travel when restrictions are eased. “It’s not difficult: You just need to respect the rules, be ready for changes with short notice, and ensure you’re adequately prepared for longer than normal stays if for some reason you need to stay in a country.” 

Despite this, Livings anticipates even well laid out plans to fall through. “It’s difficult to plan with changes to flights and hotels, public transport rules, and rules governing hospitality.” Travelers have to be patient, he says. “Airport and terminal controls will take longer, disruption to travel plans may occur more often, and rules may change with very little notice. “

Of course, social distancing will impact everything from lounges to whatever activities or attractions are available to a luxury traveler. The high standards of service and immediate attention previously afforded to them will need to change. Safety and humanity need to come first under all circumstances.”

  • DOMESTIC FOR NOW
  • PLANS ON HOLD
  • ON SHORT NOTICE
  • THE PRIMARY SHIFTS
  • THE SOUL OF TRAVEL
  • DYNAMIC TRAVEL ENVIRONMENT
  • BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY

The Primary Shifts

Nesh Sooriyan, Venture Partner & Entrepreneur in Residence at Accelerating Asia, a VC fund & start-up accelerator, is very clear about his need for travel. “I’d say travel is an essential feedback loop for being able to identify and find novel approaches. I find that in the cityscape, travel functions as a reset. Each year, I usually take time for one extended reset, with limited mobile coverage and no alarm clock or schedules.” 

At the moment, his thoughts about travel are focused on where to go next, more importantly, on “how to replicate the function of travel in the new normal temporarily”. Tiger’s Nest in Bhutan is definitely on the list, so is revisiting the chance to see the Southern Lights after a planned trip to New Zealand’s South Island with his partner fell through. 

“I’m aware of the first iterations of 14-day quarantines on arrival in many countries. Until we have sufficient screening to ‘short-cut’ the formation of scalable trust, it’s certainly going to be enough deterrent to most people.” Sooriyan is confident in seeing travel zones between nations with relatively robust screening and response infrastructure arise first. 

He foresees “the primary shifts” in post-pandemic travel to be around health screening and the additional measures in transit. “This is a two-part problem. Firstly, it’s about preparing yourself for some extra steps to the journey. Maybe waking up a little earlier to catch that plane, and having a doctor’s appointment before travelling. Secondly, it’s about how we can handle the system’s inefficiencies that we’ll see and experience in transit. As stakeholders signal greater levels of safety, much like the post-911 era, I’m sure we’re all going to take it in our stride with humor and a smile as humanity dances with a new variable.”

  • DOMESTIC FOR NOW
  • PLANS ON HOLD
  • ON SHORT NOTICE
  • THE PRIMARY SHIFTS
  • THE SOUL OF TRAVEL
  • DYNAMIC TRAVEL ENVIRONMENT
  • BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY

The Soul of Travel

Nicole Robinson fears that “we might sanitize the soul out of travel” after the pandemic. For her, the best part of travel is human connection, specifically cross-culturally. “I worry that our fears around health and safety might translate as fear of people or places unknown.” 

Robinson thinks of travel every day. Despite the benefits of working from home, the chief marketing officer of luxury safari tour operator, andBeyond, is looking forward to a break in the family routine. “I can’t wait to get back on safari, but I’m lucky that it is just a drive away.” When international borders open, she plans to visit East Africa, most specifically Mnemba Island off Zanzibar. 

While South Africans wait to hear about the regulations for entering and leaving the country, Robinson hopes that anti-body testing will become more accessible, and allow for ‘free-pass’ from the restrictions for those who test negative. 

“Most of the requirements for travel have become part of our daily lives – masks, sanitizers, social distancing, etc., but I would have to get my mind around my expectations of what travel will be like with these requirements,” she says. “We had to adapt to the protocols around security after 9/11, and now we will need to adapt again.” 

The definition of ‘luxury travel’ will change, Robinson reckons. “It will start to mean wide spaces and fewer people, outdoor and wilderness, and traveling slower and more purposefully. We’re excited about this potential change as it aligns with andBeyond’s definition of luxury travel – travel to connect with the world rather than to just see it.”

  • DOMESTIC FOR NOW
  • PLANS ON HOLD
  • ON SHORT NOTICE
  • THE PRIMARY SHIFTS
  • THE SOUL OF TRAVEL
  • DYNAMIC TRAVEL ENVIRONMENT
  • BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY

Dynamic Travel Environment

Like many of his peers, Mike Harlow, general manager of bespoke travel operator, Scott Dunn Singapore, thinks about travel all the time. “There is still a lot of talk about easing restrictions and opening borders here in Asia, but these conversations are yet to move into anything concrete. We will likely see more green lanes or travel bubbles forming in the coming months. At the moment, these green lanes are only for essential or official travel, but will likely indicate a future tourism route.” 

Harlow is concerned about the amount of mixed information on cross-border travel. “There is so much commentary and misinformation, mixed with a lack of a unified global approach to the pandemic. At Scott Dunn, we only follow Governmental and official advisories; we also have local partners and teams on the ground in each destination to provide helpful insights and confirm facts.

“We are confident that as and when the world re-opens for travel, we will have the most up to date and accurate information with our expert teams in our Singapore, UK, and USA offices who will be available to help guests 24/7.”

Harlow believes that in the short term, as travel resumes, the environment will be very dynamic. He also foresees more local lockdowns, changes in travel advice, flight cancellations, and re-routing etc. until the virus can be controlled.

“We’ll have to reflect this dynamic environment and ensure that traveling guests have the full support of our 24-hour team.” 

The fundamentals of luxury travel will stay largely unchanged, says Harlow, referring to providing ultimate access to people and places, and ensuring experiences are unique and truly personal to that guest. “However, I believe appetites for what guests are looking for will change. We’ve already seen a pickup for private residences and villas for longer periods in more remote parts of the world.” 

He also cites guests’ preference for experiences they can learn from, as well as interest in health and wellness. There has been lots of talk about safety and hygiene in the industry, with partners and airlines working hard to talk about additional measures they’re putting in place for when travel resumes, Harlow adds.

  • DOMESTIC FOR NOW
  • PLANS ON HOLD
  • ON SHORT NOTICE
  • THE PRIMARY SHIFTS
  • THE SOUL OF TRAVEL
  • DYNAMIC TRAVEL ENVIRONMENT
  • BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY

Better Safe Than Sorry

“With the world still facing the consequences of lockdown and movement restrictions, and the future of travel looking uncertain, the luxury travel industry will have to change to adapt to the new normal,” says Vijay Sharma, General Manager of Club Med Southeast Asia. “Unsurprisingly, there will be a continued and heightened focus on hygiene and cleanliness, as well as access to healthcare systems. Both hotels and airlines will have to increase sanitization measures and remain ultra-vigilant so as not to exacerbate the situation.” He anticipates these might mean reduced capacity in both airlines and hotels, as well as new protocols to abide by. “It means that hospitality operators are better placed to provide even greater service and attention to guests.”

To anticipate some of their properties’ reopening, Club Med has developed strict standards of procedures and measurements to keep all guests safe within the properties. “We have developed a ‘Safe Together’ policy that ensures travelers can change their travel dates and plans should they need to postpone their travels. Alongside that, the Club Med Cocoon also ensures that travelers can relax in a safe oasis in a clean and hygienic environment where they could enjoy activities within the safety of each Club Med compound.” 

Meanwhile, non-essential cross-border travels are still suspended as the government seeks to lower the number of Coronavirus cases further, Sharma says. She adds that restrictions are also slowly relaxing “in a bid to rejig and aid various countries” economies. For example, following the easing of Malaysia’s Movement Control Order, the Malaysian government has lifted their travel bans within the country, and this has seen a few resorts reopening their doors for local travels. 

“It is more important to be safe and take the necessary precautions than dive headfirst into a situation that may revert us. Ease of travel through airports with multiple checkpoints and strict hygiene protocols followed by fellow passengers on flights remain my main concerns for travelling after the pandemic. As much as the government implements various regulations to curb the spread of the virus, travelers should also do their part in combating transmission.”