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Stabilising travel costs key to ensure ‘regional competitiveness’

ASEANTA urges industry to collaborate and maintain pre-pandemic prices as much as possible

ASEANTA’s president, Mingkwan Metmowlee: “It’s important to recognise that now is not the time to make profit but to collaborate and regain business together. It’s not about short-term profit but to instil travel confidence.”
ASEANTA’s president, Mingkwan Metmowlee: “It’s important to recognise that now is not the time to make profit but to collaborate and regain business together. It’s not about short-term profit but to instil travel confidence.”

ASIA – Ahead of the anticipated increase in travel costs due to strong demand and weaker supply, the ASEAN Tourism Association (ASEANTA) is urging the industry to collaborate and maintain pre-pandemic prices as much as possible to “ensure regional competitiveness”.

The ASEAN Tourism Association (ASEANTA), led by president Ms Mingkwan Metmowlee, is in discussions with governments of ASEAN countries to help minimise the negative impact of COVID-19 on its members, who are National Tourist Organisations (NTOs), hotel and travel associations, and national airlines.

It is urging governments, travel and tourism businesses to extend support in four crucial areas.

First, it is calling on travel and tourism businesses to “keep the price for visiting ASEAN as the same as before the pandemic happened in order to maintain regional competitiveness until 2021”.

Ms Mingkwan voiced hopes that the overall cost of travel can be kept to the same level or capped at a 10% increase, with airlines possibly raising price between 10-20%.

“It’s important to recognise that now is not the time to make profit but to collaborate and regain business together. It’s not about short-term profit but to instil travel confidence,” she said.

Airlines “should provide flexible conditions and sensible refund regulations to allow the travellers and tourists to make better decisions”.

ASEANTA is also calling for members to continue marketing ASEAN as a destination as a crucial strategy to help the industry as a whole to recover. Finally, raising awareness of health and hygiene standards will also be a key focus.

“Many things will change. The tourism industry will limit the number of tourists, due to the industry now being aware of the impact of over-tourism. There will be more investment on the preparation to welcome all the tourists,” added Ms Mingkwan.

She foresees that it will take one to two years before businesses will be in a better position to review travel pricing. On her part, her agency has committed to maintaining pre-COVID prices for its key MICE clients who are from France and have decided to postpone travel plans to 2021.

Ms Mingkwan, who has run Image D’Asie & Asia Holidays Destination Management Company Ltd for over 20 years, has focused efforts on renegotiating with suppliers to keep prices the same.

Her agency specialises in attracting inbound groups from France and handles outbound groups from Thailand to long-haul destinations like the US and Europe as well as to ASEAN countries such as Vietnam.

Her clients are mainly pharmaceutical companies who engage her agency to plan 15-day to month-long trips that combine Thailand with other regional destinations such as China, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam and Malaysia. Groups range between 1,300 to 3,000.

Her outbound business largely comprises seminars to long-haul destinations like the US and Europe as well as to ASEAN countries such as Vietnam, and includes a corporate social responsibility component.

Philippines-based JLT Travel & Tours, which counts MICE and corporate travel as its most profitable segments prior to the pandemic, expects that MICE will prove “very challenging and costly” due to considerations such as the number of participants against venue space and addressing physical distancing and health protocols, said the agency’s president Ms Erlinda L Tan.

In a post-pandemic world that has profoundly changed travel overnight, what is certain is the outsize role that planners will play to enable clients to regain confidence in holding events and better manage travel costs. Relationships between planners and clients will hinge even more on trust.

“It will be more crucial to reaffirm clients and sell based on the planner’s own experience. The role of planners will be to provide the maximum level of information to clients in advance and ensure it is accurate and useful for clients,” said Ms Mingkwan.

Citystate Travel’s executive director Albert Ho says his company’s main business comes from the cruises, corporate travel and meetings and events segments, which all were profitable before Covid-19.

Corporate customers will still need agents to manage their travel programme, handling aspects such as booking within policy and travelling on approved fares, accommodation, duty of care services in times of crisis and data consolidation, he added.