Tourists will begin travelling again as soon as restrictions allow, says the largest online travel booking agency in the Middle East.
“As soon as people are able to travel again, as soon as governments take away restrictions, people are immediately ready to travel again,” said Ross Veitch, chief executive of Wego Travel.
Speaking at the second digital Abu Dhabi Tourism and Data Analytics Forum on Sunday, Veitch confirmed there is still an appetite for travel.
Using Saudi Arabia as an example, Wego’s data shows that when the kingdom relaxed travel restrictions in mid-September and early January, there was an immediate return to travel witnessed by a spike in search traffic on Wego's booking site.
“As soon as inbound or outbound restrictions are removed, people will go,” confirmed Veitch.
Veitch was a spokesman at the Travel & Tourism: Where's the Recovery? session at the Abu Dhabi forum, where he joined several other tourism and data experts to discuss the latest trends affecting the industry.
An optimistic outlook on the future of the industry is possible, affirmed Veitch, citing several reasons to be “bullish about the recovery”. These include the effectiveness of vaccines in preventing illness and death, and in limiting contagion.
Top 10 destinations people want to travel to
2. New York City
Research from Wego, a travel metasearch engine, shows the top destination here people want to, in terms of search volume, is Dubai, followed by New York City in the US and Turkey's Istanbul.
For spring travel, searches by Wego users ranked Dubai first, New York City second and Thailand's Bangkok in third. When it comes to travelling in summer, when Dubai typically is in low season, New York City and Bangkok ranked first and second, closely followed by Los Angeles.
Despite his optimism for a return to international travel, Veitch also revealed Wego’s travel bookings this year remain at less than one-third of 2019 levels.
Health passports a new must-have travel accessory
Getting to international destinations in the future will revolve around "health passports" for travellers, added Veitch.
“New ‘health passports’ will make travel easier,” said the head of Wego, who thinks they'll be used for more than simply hopping on a plane.
“I think we’ll have them for a lot more than just travel, but in our day-to-day lives, even just going to the gym or the cinema."
It's not the only thing changing when it comes to international travel, either.
Airlines around the world have already had to adapt when it comes to planning new air routes or restarting flights to existing destinations, and that's not something that will change any time soon, said Tristan Thomas, value stream lead in delivery and innovation at Etihad Airways.
“In the past, you would have six months to a year to plan a route. Now, of course, we have to react to government changes in the space of days, and sometimes hours. It's an hour-by-hour planning process at the moment."
Quarantine policies hamper return of travel
The UAE's national airline is the only one in the world to require 100 per cent of passengers to provide a negative PCR test before boarding any flight, and it's something that's worked well for Etihad.
Thomas said that recent customer feedback has shown passengers are placing a higher value on this element of travel than they do on almost any other aspect of flying with the airline. "It's the biggest factor for willingness to travel and for happiness on board," he said. "More than food, crew, even timeliness, it's leapt right to the top of the list, people want to feel safe."
With such stringent safety policies in place, quarantine restrictions in several countries around the world may do more to hamper a restart of travel if they are upheld indefinitely.
"People aren’t willing to take two-week quarantine periods, especially if it’s at both ends,” said Thomas.
This was echoed by Veicht, who urged destinations to waive quarantine requirements for travellers who can prove they are vaccinated.
“Research is now showing that vaccinated travellers are no threat to the destination they are visiting.
“The UAE has done an amazing job of keeping Covid-19 under control, and has been vaccinating at a record speed. We’re now at the point where almost all vulnerable residents have been vaccinated, or will be very soon, and I think that gives each of the emirates a chance to come together and unify their approach to travel both inbound and outbound, which would greatly assist everybody in the industry."
Thomas added that Abu Dhabi currently "has a big opportunity to leverage the safety that it has created".