With the travel and tourism industry being among the worst-hit due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, major tourism economies are facing the heat with a bulk of their finances drying up. Hamish Keith, CEO of EXO Travel, in a tete-a-tete with TD talks about how communication and safety will be the two major drivers to renew the industry, its recently launched ‘We are Still Here’ video and much more.
TD: What has been the impact of COVID-19 on your company? (global revenues and plans)
HK: As with every travel company, it has had an enormous detrimental impact on our business. In 28 years of operating in Asia, we have seen many ups and downs but never experienced anything like this. Like many travel companies, EXO has zero revenue now and from where we are sitting at the end-of a long-haul travel chain in Asia we are not expecting any more income this year. Naturally, all growth plans have been put on hold and we have had to focus on survival by conserving cash and restructuring where we can. The key point now for us to get some level of clarity on when borders will reopen so that we can make credible plans and manage our finances and resources appropriately.
TD: Any early signs of recovery witnessed (specific markets)
HK: Despite the seemingly never-ending stream of bad news, most of our major overseas partners remain optimistic. European governments have been quick to support the travel industry through furlough schemes and loans and almost all of our key partners are not only confident they can ride out the crisis but are making plans to restart next year. We have run several surveys and can see there is a clear intent to travel as soon as borders reopen.
TD: What kind of travel trends do you foresee in the Asia and Thailand region?
HK: Clearly safety is the most important factor moving forwards. The vast majority of travellers will need to feel confident the destinations they are travelling to are safe and the companies taking care of them are trustworthy and meet international safety standards All our research shows that coronavirus will impact the travel industry for the next 12-months at least and the impact will diminish over time. We believe the first travellers to return will be early adopters, either luxury travellers who are able to avoid crowds by staying in exclusive resorts and utilising private services or adventurous travellers potentially willing to take a higher perceived risk. We don’t see mainstream travel returning to anywhere near pre-COVID levels until a vaccine is in general circulation.
TD: What can the travel sector do to reassure travellers?
HK: The travel industry needs to work together to reassure travellers that the destination is doing everything possible to reduce the risk of infection. Countries in Southeast Asia such as Thailand and Vietnam have done extremely well in containing the spread and keeping infections under control. It is now essential to put in place safety standards and guidelines that will keep the disease manageable while also making it possible to open up to international tourism. It is also really important that communication plans are in place to ensure the world knows what we are doing in Asia in terms of safety measures, medical facilities etc. We are seeing Europe start to open and while there may be some hotspots in some parts of the world, the overall spread of the virus has now flatlined far below the initial surge of infections. We hope that Asian countries can follow and open in a controlled and careful way so as to contain the spread and build confidence in the international travel community. We also believe all companies should be obliged to meet international safety standards such as the WTTC Safety Stamp, which we have already adopted at EXO Travel.
TD: Could you throw more light on the recently launched video and what it aims to achieve?
HK: We launched the ‘We are Still Here’ video for two reasons. Firstly, with so much chaos and uncertainty in our industry and many companies inevitably collapsing, we wanted to reassure all our partners that we are still here and will continue to operate no matter what happens. We also wanted to send a positive and inspiring message to the world in general to highlight the beauty of Asia and our passion for experiencing Asia. EXO has been operating for 28 years and Asia has been my home for thirty years and the video is very much a message from the heart to say how much we love travel and our home in Asia.