By Monica Pitrelli, Editor, CNBC’s Global Traveler
A new type of traveler is emerging from this pandemic. What are destinations doing to attract these travelers now, and in the longer term when mass tourism returns to a new normal?
To help answer this question and provide further insights on the development of the travel industry as a response to the pandemic, we spent the last year chronicling changes in the travel scene, analyzing new safety standards and emerging travel trends—and condensing it into clear, concise stories that our readers could find all in one place on our website.
A new type of traveler is emerging. Will Southeast Asian countries try to attract them? If so, what should they do?
As work has shifted from offices into homes, the notion of what constitutes a “holiday“ or “vacation“ has shifted as well. We see a new type of traveler emerging, where work and travel blend together. This is having profound effects, from changing when people travel to how they spend their time away. Traditional travel seasons are being disrupted, and people are traveling for longer. Rather than a two-week holiday, travelers may book a month away now.
These travelers, which we have coined “white-collar workcationers,“ can do their jobs from anywhere with any internet connection. This is appealing to everyone from younger workers to senior executives. Families are joining too, if kids are studying remotely.
Destinations, particularly in the West, have responded to this by equipping hotel rooms with office equipment, upgrading their Wi-Fi capabilities, providing places for kids to study—usually empty ballrooms—and creating monthly rates in addition to daily and weekly rates.
Some countries are taking things a step further. Since it’s risky to rely on a high turnover of tourists who travel for short periods of time, some countries have created work visas that specifically target white-collar workcationers. If workers no longer need to show up in their offices, why stay cooped up in your home office or working from your kitchen table? That’s the question these countries want people to ask themselves. Before the pandemic, the opportunity to live abroad, in places such as Europe or a Caribbean island, was a pipe dream for most people. These programs turn this into a realistic option for those who are working from home.
Taking this back to Asia, to date, no country in Southeast Asia has announced a program specifically designed to attract remote workers, but this isn’t surprising given that borders are still largely closed to tourism. We know the core of this trend—which is moving workers from offices into their homes—is alive and well in Asia, and that the inclination for working from another destination is strong.
Southeast Asia is likely to be highly sought after by remote workers around the globe, who will be attracted to the weather and lower cost of living in places such as Bali, Chiang Mai and Hanoi. The potential for remote work to outlast the pandemic is expected to be highest from advanced economies, such as the U.S., western Europe and Japan.
If Asia wants to capitalize on this trend, they can create their own one- to two-year visas specifically for these workers. As others have done, they can make the application process simple and clear. Take, for example, Bermuda’s program: It explains why you should work from Bermuda, how to apply, where you can live, where to rent cars and even schools that kids can attend. The website is easy to navigate and understand. In effect, Bermuda is stripping away lingering doubts that may prevent a workcationer from pulling the trigger, by addressing all their questions up front.
Some places are sweetening the deal with merchant discount cards and free relocation consultations, while others are doing the opposite: they are limiting the type of worker that they want by applying income thresholds. One example of that is the Cayman Islands, which requires remote workers make $100,000 a year to live there.
This is a trend that CNBC Global Traveler has been closely monitoring, and that’s because we feel that it’s possible that countries will court workers in the future in the same way that they court corporations today.
What travel trends from other parts of the world can we expect to see in Southeast Asia?
Safety is emerging as one of the top concerns of travelers around the world. This is backed up by numerous surveys as well as our own content.
However, surveys are also showing safety may be even more important to Asian travelers. Interestingly, there are indications that residents of countries that have successfully controlled Covid-19 infection rates are more—not less—concerned about travel safety.
Additionally, we see that travelers are very interested to know the safety protocols that destinations have in place, which is also evidenced by the number of people who read Global Traveler’s articles on the topic.
A survey by Booking.com found that globally 70% of travelers would only book an accommodation if they understood the health and hygiene policies in place, but this average was higher in South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Taiwan. Thailand topped that survey, with 86% of respondents saying safety policies mattered.
Another trend, if you can call it that, emerging in Asia is one of price-consciousness. While there is evidence that those who can work from home financially benefitted last year, more people suffered job loss and financial instability because of the pandemic. To this extent, competitive pricing and promotions will be important. People will be looking for deals.
Right now, but for a few exceptions, many borders in Asia are closed, and countries are relying on domestic tourism. As a result, we are seeing tourism boards and brands come up with some creative opportunities to satisfy their stir-crazy residents. One example would be Singapore Airlines which let travelers dine on board of a grounded A380.
There are indications that trends related to road trips, such as people are seeking smaller cities and rural locations, are occurring in Southeast Asia, thus beach resorts are expected to recover faster than large, big city hotels.
What are the new technologies that travelers want and expect?
We have seen a huge increase in touchless technology in the travel industry, which has transformed airport and hotel experiences. Now, the next big thing on the horizon is digital health passports. These are apps that hold coronavirus-related medical information, such as vaccination records and Covid-19 test results. A number have been developed and are currently being trialed, including CommonPass and IATA’s Travel Pass.
The better question is: which passports will dominate? Will the world coalesce around one—deeming it to be “the best”—or will apps vary by global regions? My understanding is that either of these scenarios would be workable, but that’s not what we are seeing right now. Currently, countries, start-up companies as well as major corporations such as Microsoft are either in the process of or have developed their own apps. The fear here is that this will add to traveler confusion rather than alleviate it.
There are, of course, privacy and security concerns around these apps. For example, IATA says its Travel Pass relies on labs and testing centers to upload documents instead of passengers. And it doesn’t store data centrally, rather it links to data, which the traveler must release. Travelers are still skeptical though, but if a government or airline says you’ll need to download and use this app to travel to see family, conduct business or go on a dream holiday, it’s expected most people will.
Beyond technology and vaccinations, there is a huge need for information right now, and that’s where quality travel journalism comes. People want current, in-depth information; they want to be inspired; they want to know what is happening in destinations around the world and when it is safe to journey out again. And so this is what Global Traveler focuses on and what we deliver to our readers.