Never one to shy away from a challenge, WiT founder, Yeoh Siew Hoon ,kicked off a new Travel Roadshow series at Marina Bay Sands last week (25 March). Having launched Singapore's first hybrid travel event at the Marina Bay Sands Hybrid Broadcast Studio in October last year, Yeoh was keen to push the boundaries even further for the Roadshow by incorporating mixed reality.
"The fact that we launched the Roadshow at Marina Bay Sands with a mixed reality storytelling component, taking our audience on an immersive road trip that took in the Himalayas, Iceland, Bangkok and the beaches of Southeast Asia, demonstrated how this crisis has forced us to redesign experiences and be more engaging," she said.
Opening the event with a bang, Maunik Thacker, senior vice president, marketing, Marina Bay Sands, joined Yeoh on the mixed-reality road trip. He said adversity had bred innovation and as the industry figured out how to adapt to changed circumstances, venues such as his had to move rapidly to embrace new technology to bring virtual and hybrid events to the next level.
Yeoh and the WiT team created a storyboard for the immersive experience and worked with Marina Bay Sands technicians to bring the concept to life. Mixed reality (which blends the physical and digital worlds with interactive motion graphics) is the latest addition to Marina Bay Sands' event tech toolbox, following the ground-breaking launch of its Hybrid Broadcast Studio in 2020, which includes Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), Extended Reality (XR) and holographic telepresence.
The Roadshow started on a positive note with speakers believing that the industry, both travel and events, will emerge better and stronger after this cataclysmic crisis.
During the panel on “Air, After A Year of No Travel”, Subhas Menon, director general, Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA), said airlines would emerge more resilient — “we are still around” — and with a stronger focus on sustainability. His association has set sustainability goals at 50% reduction in net emissions by 2050, based on 2005 levels.
Steve Saxon, partner, China, McKinsey, said travel would become safer following the implementation of safety and hygiene protocols enacted as a result of Covid.
Vinoop Goel, Asia-Pacific regional director of airports & external relations, International Air Transport Association (IATA), said the crisis will propel the industry towards digitisation — getting rid of paper — and the use of biometrics for identity.
Julie Kyse, vice president, global air partnerships, Expedia Group, cited “gratitude” — that having had it taken from us, we humans realise how precious the freedom to travel is and how important the industry is to economies.
As vaccinations pick up, there is hope for bubbles to open safely
A medical expert, Dr Walter Lim of Fullerton Health, announced his organisation had crossed the 200,000 mark in numbers of people vaccinated in Singapore (his is one of several entities involved in the national vaccination programme) and expressed optimism that as citizens get vaccinated, restrictions on local life as well as border openings would ease. As of 28 March globally, the World Health Organization estimates at least 520,540,106 doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered and in Singapore, the Health Ministry reported 1,109,000 shots have been given as of 23 March.
Fullerton Health was involved in the pilot of the IATA Travel Pass with Singapore Airlines, and Dr Lim said the technology and processes that have been put in place by airlines were admirable and would go a long way towards reassuring governments of safe and responsible border openings in a measured way.
He said he had high hopes that as the vaccination pace picks up in Singapore, and across key Asia Pacific countries such as Philippines, Malaysia and Australia, chances of bubbles opening and staying open were high, and expressed most optimism for the Singapore-Australia bubble.
All about data in the DC and AC era: urban planning, delivery of services and identity
It does feel things are moving in the right direction. Last week, GeoConnect Asia, a hybrid event that utilised new tech (a dongle), tracked the movements of attendees in Singapore to ensure safe management measures were adhered to during the meeting.
The government has also announced further easing of restrictions, allowing for live arts and live sports events for up to 750 and business events to be scaled up to 750 with pre-testing and up to 250 without testing.
Indeed, the industry is abuzz with news of a major physical esports event, One Esports Dota 2 Singapore Major, to be held at the Fairmont from 27 March to 4 April. And Riot Games is understood to be heading Singapore’s way next March.
Health, travel, identity: as intertwined as a triple decker sandwich
It is clear that while travel has been most impacted by Covid, this period in history will touch everything, and impact the way we work, live and play DC and AC (During and After Covid). What is also clear that is that health, travel and identity have become as intertwined as a triple decker sandwich.
Dr Lim, noting this was the first time he had spoken at a travel conference, talked about the importance of the travel industry to engage with health authorities on the linking of health, travel and identity.
From discussions at the roadshow, this appears to be the golden key to unlocking closed doors. The development of travel passes (up to 25 are in the works) will have health and identity at its core and Steven Greenway, strategic commercial advisor to Zamna, said radical change was required and the industry needed to moved towards self sovereign ID which would solve identity and health.
This gives individuals control of their digital identities, stores documents digitally via wallet linked to travel provider app (not a separate app) in order to maintain the relationship of the organisation’s brand and the customer. The key is to make identity “persistent” — connect the dots in GDPR-secure way, without creating process/friction for the traveller, he said.
The key is there are lots of organisations trying to solve this problem — and that’s the good news.
“Keep the human touch”, advises Maldives' Minister of Tourism
The even better news is, while all this is going on, it is possible to reopen safely. Dr Lim held up the example of the Maldives as a success story. Granted, its geography of natural island bubbles is an advantage but the fact that the government thought through the process, put systems in place, means it is possible to open safely with science as the guiding principle, he said.
Dr Abdulla Mausoom, minister of tourism, Maldives, speaking from Delhi where he was attending a travel trade fair, said that for his country, there was no option. “If there is no tourism, there is no economy,” he said, and that necessitated its opening last 15 July.
He spoke of the intense coordination and collaboration that had to take place to ensure safe opening, first of a few islands and now the whole country is open and it’s as normal as can be, he said with a smile as he invited all of us to visit.
It has set a target of 1.5 million arrivals and 10 million bed nights this year, compared with the 1.7 million arrivals, and 10.7 million bed nights achieved in 2019 — this, despite the fact that 40% of its usual market, Asia, remains closed. And he is optimistic that slowly but surely, markets like China and Singapore will open.
And it’s adapting to changing trends for example introducing year-long visas for people who wish to do remote work in the Maldives. Asked what advice he’d give island resorts across Asia that are talking of reopening – from Phuket to Samui to Bali, he said, “Don’t lose the human touch".
A good reminder that even as we talk tech, data, health and identity, travel is a human industry and the pent-up demand, as humans wait to fly and travel, is palpable. Indeed, AAPA’s Menon wondered if one of the challenges that would face travel after Covid is whether there’d be sufficient airline capacity to meet pent-up demand.
Now that would be a good problem to have. So as Dr Lim advised during the Travel Roadshow, “hang on in there".
Additional reporting by Yeoh Siew Hoon, Web in Travel