WTM Virtual wraps up successful opening day

 Wednesday, November 11, 2020 


The opening day of WTM Virtual on November 9, 2020 brought together ministers, travel leaders, entrepreneurs, experts and researchers to discuss the future of the travel industry. The importantUNWTO, WTTC and WTM Ministers’ Summit saw the panel focused on the recovery of the present COVID-19 crisis. According to industry leaders, greater international coordination and a widespread antigen testing regime are the most important factors for restarting tourism.

Gloria Guevara, CEO, the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) shared “Antigen is the solution, in our mind,” during a panel discussion entitled ‘Leading the Way to Recovery Rebuilding Confidence’, on the first day of WTM Virtual. Ministers present on the session also agreed that the focus needed to shift from PCR tests to Antigen tests, which give rapid results and are cheaper to produce. Meanwhile, the ‘ITIC Tourism Investment Ministerial Panel’ highlighted the importance of innovation during crisis.

In a session entitled ‘Rethinking the Global Travel & Tourism Industry with a Comprehensive Recovery Plan’ITIC chairman and former UNWTO Secretary-General Dr Taleb Rifai, argued that the travel sector needed urgent local investment, followed by a focus on domestic tourism and finally on international tourism. He stated that governments need to come together and do something different, with some out of the box thinking. On the other hand, the ‘Euromonitor Session’ at WTM Virtual concluded that digital and sustainable innovations will boost travel recovery.

According to Euromonitor International, creative new ideas in digital and sustainable technologies will help travel and tourism to rebound after the pandemic. The global research specialist said its best-case scenario sees the travel and tourism sector taking at least three years to recover to pre-coronavirus levels. However, Caroline Bremner, Head of Travel Research, Euromonitor International stated that the industry has a chance to build a more sustainable, equitable future and to reset everything in order to chart a better path forward.

She also presented the findings of Euromonitor International’s major global study, called ‘Accelerating Travel Innovation after Coronavirus’ on the first morning of WTM virtual. The report said global tourism arrivals will plunge by 57% in 2020 and the sector could take three to five years to recover, depending on the availability of a vaccine. This was followed by the ‘Greece Press Conference’presented by Greece’s Tourism Minister, Harry Theoharis, where he detailed the swift actions of the Greek government to deal with the COVID-19 crisis and shared how the actions have helped the country’s tourism industry to remain resilient and prepared to bounce back in 2021.

The Minister told WTM Virtual that the country took decisive action very quickly and hence it was successful in emerging from lockdown sooner than other European countries. He shared that the Greek economy is faring better than average in Europe, as the country went into lockdown much faster with stricter rules early on. Greece re-opened to foreign tourists from July 1 and has seen more than 4.5 million overseas visitors this year.

The aviation session “The Long-run Evolution of Aviation Activity following the coronavirus pandemic”explained how aviation is reacting to the coronavirus pandemic. Moderator, Euronews presenter, Damon Embling, invited a panel of experts to assess the lasting impacts on passenger behaviour as well as airline activity. Rami El-Dahshan, Head of UK and Europe Sales, Virgin Atlantic Head said one of the changes brought about by COVID-19 will be “a complete mindset change” and an end to airlines putting on new routes, then waiting a while to see if the route becomes popular.

During the Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates Ministers’ Summit,tourism opportunities were discussed at WTM Virtual. Ministers from Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates discussed the peace enhancing tourism opportunities created by the signing of the Abraham Accords this September, which formally normalised relations between the countries. Their remarks came in an online session entitled ‘Tourism: The Path to Peace in the Middle East’ that was part of the UNWTO, WTTC and WTM Ministers’ Summit on the first day of this year’s WTM Virtual.

Meanwhile, in the WTM Virtual session titled ‘How Does the Smaller World of Tourism Look to You’, Nigel Huddleston, Tourism Minister, the U.K. informed the travel trade he is happy to hear their views on how the industry can work its way through the COVID crisis, and told WTM Virtual that “All ideas are welcome.” Huddleston informed that inbound tourism has dropped by 90% but domestic tourism varied “massively” this year with occupancy in some cities in “single digits or teens”, while destinations such as Devon and Cornwall at up to 90% in the summer. He said that the key priority is to get the inbound business and events industry up and running again as business travel hugely benefits tourism as well.

As WTM Virtual has unveiled Saudi as its registration sponsor this year, the kingdom prepares to launch an international brand campaign over the coming months. Saudi Arabia sets out ambitious tourism plans with ‘giga’ projects and hopes to attract more travellers from around the world with a series of ‘giga projects’ that will add to its wide range of tourism offerings. During a session at WTM Virtual, Saudi Tourism Authority (STA) outlined its current attractions and major leisure developments. It was informed that the kingdom will open up to overseas travellers again in early 2021 and currently boasts six international airports with access to three continents within a few hours’ flight time.

In one the sessions, YouGov researchrevealed that Gen Z and Millennials are more likely to travel than older generation and shared that about 52% of consumers surveyed for YouGov’s Vacation Dreams report said they would travel next year but only about 27% were considered overseas trips. The report also showed that Canada and New Zealand performed particularly well in terms of awareness and ‘buzz’, notably with the latter due to its long COVID-19-free status. Eva Satkute Stewart, Global Sector Head for Travel and Tourism at survey specialist YouGov, said as the younger generation wants to travel first, it would be important to think about how to market.

She stated that young generations use social media differently and are looking for low-cost carriers and cheap hotels as compared to babyboomers who are driven by value for money, temperature, outstanding natural beauty and the fact they visited a destination before and liked it. She also mentioned that there were differences in attitudes to sustainable travel, with Gen Z and millennial consumers considering themselves as responsible travellers. Stewart also noted changing fortunes for destinations, according to factors such as the ease of travel and coverage of the COVID situation.

Niall Gibbons, Chief Executive of Tourism Ireland, agreed and shared that young people are likely take more risks and the older demographic is set to come back later. He informed that the “intent to travel is still there for 2021, and people are longing to get back on the road.” He said that the key trend is “wholesome reconnection” which will see travellers choose destinations close to home, such as the U.K., as they can reconnect with friends and family when borders re-open.

The German National Tourist Board also witnessed recovering numbers from neighbouring countries while prospects for long-haul travel continued to be very weak. Matthias Hickl, Director Business Intelligence at the German tourist body, said during his session that he had to react swiftly to rapid changes in consumer sentiment as traditional market research could go out of date quickly, and urged him to analyse other sources of data such as flight statistics.

Similarly, Indonesia also shared its post-Covid recovery plan and the country informed in WTM Virtual that it is “resilient and optimistic” as it prepares to welcome back visitors. Opening WTM Virtual’s programme of ‘Destination Briefings’, Nia Niscaya, Deputy Minister for Marketing at Indonesia’s Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, outlined the new protocols the country has introduced to ensure that it is COVID-safe. She also highlighted the ‘InDOnesiaCARE’ campaign for Cleanliness, Health, Safety, and Environmental Sustainability (CHSE) that is currently being spread out across the tourism sector.

Minister Niscaya also mentioned in the session that tourism contributes 4% of the country’s GDP, equivalent to US $16.9 billion and informed that in order to ease the regulation for visitors entering Indonesia; an e-visa has been launched. Similar Destination Briefings sessions with Philippines, Balearic Islands, Andalucia, Saudi Arabia, Italy, Poland and Costa Rica also took place on first day of WTM Virtual.

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