Travel trends post Covid-19

By Craig S. Smith

At this time of heightened uncertainty, there are two things I’m sure of. First is that Covid-19 will forever change the way we travel. Second is that we will travel again.

A full rebound may not happen anytime soon, but already some markets in Asia Pacific are showing early signs of recovery. The resilience of travel demand is evident as we see Greater China start to recover. All our 360+ hotels have reopened and occupancy at our hotels in the region had reached 40 per cent in May. We’ve also started to see recovery in South Korea, Vietnam, Australia and Thailand. Our resorts in Thailand saw pick up from domestic travellers with occupancy at almost 100 per cent.

As restrictions ease, I must thank all our associates, who continue to work tirelessly to ensure that we can welcome our guests back safely when they are ready to travel again. Our associates are the heart of our company, and I am proud of every single one of you.

As we slowly recover, we must be mindful that today’s new normal is here to stay and that means changes are in store for the travel sector. I’d like to share some trends we’ve observed.

Uptake in staycations and leisure travel by young and experienced travellers

Travel recovery usually begins domestically. For example, now, more than 90 per cent of our guests in China are Chinese traveling for either leisure or business. We’ve started to see a large uptake in staycations and domestic leisure travel. Shorter trips to destinations closer to home are also becoming a popular choice as people move out of lockdown. People are opting for road trips to explore a refreshing change in environment, without having to forfeit their holidays. Post-lockdown, young travellers and the non-family segment are expected to be the most eager to explore the world again, just as we have seen in China so far.

In China, travel returners are the young generation and those without family. McKinsey estimates that on Tomb Sweeping Day, the first holiday following the pandemic, 60 per cent of the people who booked trips were below the age of 30 — a significant increase from 43 per cent in the same period last year. This resonates with our occupancy data. At The Sanya EDITION, our average guest demographic decreased by 5-10 years, from 28-35 to 23-28. Young couples and groups of friends are leading the charge.

The younger generation does everything through their phones, and we have been investing heavily and rolling out technology quickly to move our services online. This has led to a change in booking behaviour where more and more booking is made through our Marriott Bonvoy app.

Safety and hygiene is ‘the new amenity’

Covid-19 has changed travel behaviour. In Asian countries between 78-88 per cent people say they are now more fastidious in their personal hygiene. Safety and hygiene has become the must-have amenity that travellers demand when booking stays.

In April, Marriott International launched a global cleanliness council to promote even higher standards of hygiene to increase the level of safety for our guests and our associates. Our guests can expect more hand sanitising stations in public areas, re-arrangement of furniture to allow more space for distancing, especially in restaurants where we are designing new approaches to buffets. For meeting and events, guests will see reduced seating capacities, F&B options which include Grab + go, canned + bottled beverages, and plated service.

We are also offering worry-free cancellation policies and flexible booking measures such as extended member privileges for peace of mind.

Mobile technology is going to be essential to providing reassurance and distancing options for our guests. In over 3,200 hotels across the world, guests can now use mobile check-in, access their room and order room service without any physical or close contact.

Trust in our brand

We know there is a lot of pent-up demand for travel, and it will still take some time for travel to recover, but when it does resume, we know that guests will be more comfortable returning to a brand that is familiar to them and trusted.

We are still on track to meet our hotel signings goal for 2020. This underscores the trust hotel owners have in Marriott International as a brand.

Despite the current climate, there is still a strong demand for our brands and there is continued optimism for the growth of Asia. Later this year we will see the debut of JW Marriott, EDITION, AC Hotels and Aloft Hotels in Japan. We’ll also see the debut of The Ritz-Carlton in the Maldives and Moxy Hotels in China.

Experiences in F&B

Travellers are increasingly in favour of takeaway or delivery options as they look to enjoy dining but without needing to venture far (or at all). We’ve created new ways for our guests and non-staying guests to enjoy the same great dining experiences that they come to expect from us.

In China, we partnered with Eleme, an influential food delivery online platform powered by Alibaba, to offer food delivery from 32 hotels.

In APEC, we are also piloting food delivery services in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, India and Singapore. “Marriott on Wheels” in India provides takeaway and food delivery within a defined radius of 30 hotels, while in Australia our hotels are providing experiential dining hampers.

We have also rolled out exclusive dining privileges for Marriott Bonvoy members, so they earn points from dining even for takeaway.

These are unprecedented times of dramatic change and we are committed to doing what is necessary to provide our guests with the safety and assurance that they seek.

I can’t wait for the day I can travel again, I‘m sure you can’t either. But in the meantime, stay safe.

Note: This op-ed was originally published on Linkedin by Craig S. Smith, Group President – Asia Pacific at Marriott International.

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