With the spread of coronavirus under control and domestic leisure travel growing, Middle East travel professionals are now looking to China to initiate international tourism.

A joint survey conducted by the Ivy Alliance Tourism Consulting, China Comfort Travel Group, and Pacific Asia Travel Association, was discussed by a panel of experts during the three-day ATM Virtual event that is currently taking place.

The Virtual ATM China Tourism Forum, took an in-depth look at the potential of the Chinese outbound leisure market post Covid-19’s closed borders and what overseas destinations and attractions can do to reassure and convince Chinese tourists, that their destination is safe to visit.

Danielle Curtis, exhibition director, Middle East, Arabian Travel Market, said: “In China we are already witnessing the green-shoots of recovery and many industry experts are looking to China to kickstart international tourism.”

Moderated by Adam Wu, the panellists for this session, included Taleb Rifai, chairman, International Institute of Peace for Tourism and former secretary general of the UNWTO; Helen Shapovalova, founder, Pan Ukraine; Lisa Dinh, tourism director, VIA Outlets; and Tony Ong, chief business officer and vice president of HCG International Travel Group, which has over 7,000 local travel agents across China focusing on outbound travel.

Rifai, opened the debate comparing Covid-19 to other crises that the industry has faced in the past.

“After 9/11, people had to get used to security restrictions such as removing their shoes and belts, no liquids, now that is a way of life.

“People are now afraid to travel, but things will change, new protocols will be introduced and the quicker that happens the more trust and confidence will be communicated, bringing travellers back.”

He also added that governments need to cooperate by signing bi-lateral agreements and an international certification programme would help to standardise levels of sanitisation and general protocol.

Helen Shapovalova commented that ecotourism would be major trend when international travel restrictions were lifted.

“Natural settings with green open spaces, mountains, rivers and fresh air will play a big part post Covid-19.”

Shopping has always been a top attraction for Chinese tourists especially luxury goods and Lisa Dinh, expected changes here as well, balancing risk management with the customer experience.

“Trust is the new currency.

“The demand is still there, but health and safety and relationship building will be key.

“Training will be essential to changing mindset.”

Other issues discussed included, technology, the role of international industry associations and why destinations need to change their propositions, safety, trust and consumer confidence were often cited throughout the hour-long debate.

Returning to the survey, nearly half of those questioned said they preferred group tours but given the coronavirus outbreak, many Chinese would now travel, in smaller groups catering for better social distancing.

Ong remarked: “Groups will be smaller, reduced to 10-50 people, which will probably happen one to two months after the borders have opened.”

Other sessions today included, ‘Bouncing Back: Tourism Strategies for the Future’ and ‘Catapulting Resilience Through Technology and Analytics’.

The third and final day of the debut ATM Virtual will feature an interview with Wizz Air chief executive, Joszef Varadi, taking place from 11:00-12:00GST, while the International Travel Investment Conference summit, will discuss sustainable investment measures for the Middle East travel and tourism sector to restore travellers’ confidence post-pandemic.

The responsible tourism session, ‘The Implications of Covid-19 for Responsible Hospitality’, will also take place on day three, followed by the Influencers’ session titled ‘Make Your Connection: Influencers as a Key Part of the Marketing Mix – COVID-19 The Road to Recovery’.

This session will feature a panel of prominent travel and lifestyle influencers discussing the importance of creating relevant, engaging, and impactful travel and lifestyle content in the current climate of best practices.

A special networking event focusing on the Influencer Tourism market will follow.

Concluding the event is a webinar titled ‘What are you doing to energise your operational performance?’, which will discuss the power of data analytics in helping to maximise performance.

There will also be a series of independently moderated, roundtables designed to discuss emerging hot topics such as domestic travel, luxury travel trends, corporate travel, food travel and tourism recovery plans.

Day three will kick-off with the ‘Will Hygiene Surpass Price, Facilities and Services, in the ‘New Normal’ Hotel Experience?’ live webinar from 10:00-10.45GST, moderated by Hotelier Middle East editor Claudia de Brito.

The ministry of tourism Saudi Arabia and the Italian Tourist Board are both Gold sponsors of ATM Virtual.

ATM Virtual: China offers light at end of tunnel | News

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