With the landscape of international travel in near constant flux, the ILTM team are in constant communication with our friends around the world to check the pulse of the global luxury travel community, and bring you the views of your counterparts around the world.
To kick things off, this week we were delighted to speak at length to Carol Chen, Director of Chinese travel agency, Diadema Group, about her outlook on the luxury Chinese traveller’s mood and behaviour during this time. She had this to say:
As you know, the international travel industry ground to a halt in late February. We locked down at home, feeling both upset and very worried. After several months we decided we had to do something to change this situation and insisted that we needed to contribute more to this industry which we love so much.
How has your team and the business managed?
During this quiet period, we organised webinars for the team, arranged book reading sessions internally every week and organised hiking and trekking activities since March around the countryside of Guangzhou or Shanghai. In terms of the business, as we have only operated an outbound business for the past 20 years, we didn’t have any business to manage until just now in May! Despite that, we insisted we could recover fully in the near future and it helped keep our spirits up to hear the good news from European countries too.
You mentioned you didn’t have any business until May, so are you starting to see more enquiries from Chinese travellers this month?
Yes, we have had some enquires now for domestic tailor-made travel experiences as early as May! Some of the locations requested include Yunnan province. Because of these enquiries, we feel confident that the world will eventually keep moving as usual, even if it needs more time for now. We are happy to know that brands like Belmond, for example, are already putting things in motion to encourage travellers back, which is a good sign for the whole luxury travel industry.
Can you explain a little more about what Belmond did and what lesson is there for brands operating in China in terms of enticing Chinese HNW travellers back?
Belmond seems very smart, as they have 5 hotels in the Asia area and they recently announced their pre-sell program including 5 hotels in different Asian countries that are valid until 30th September 2021, which gives more confidence and flexibility to the clients, and encourages them to purchase in advance. Of course, they offer a very competitive rate for the clients too, which is very effective in the market.
What practices have you put in place to help secure your own business?
We are still keeping up communications with the international cruise companies and suppliers in order to postpone or change our previous program, though the situation depends on many things including whether flights are able to proceed and what Governmental policies allow, which we couldn’t control based on our own country policy. However, we still feel confident and know we need patience and time as well as the support of suppliers and partners globally, whether in the Polar area, or in Africa, or in Latin America. For now, things are looking very promising in China, with the domestic situation getting better all the time and some travellers showing an eagerness to travel in June.
It’s promising that Chinese travellers are already showing interest in travelling again, what kind of enquiries are you getting?
Currently, we’re only receiving enquiries concerning domestic travel. We’re starting to think about sending prospective travellers to places like Yunnan, Tibet and Xin Jiang etc. as they’re naturally peaceful and beautiful with typically fewer people. Attractions like hiking tours, culture tours, the study tour of Buddhism with Philosophy etc. are also very popular. Family travel is still on demand, but again, only domestically and not at an international level.
So do you expect that Chinese individuals will first travel within China, then the rest of APAC, then the rest of the world? Can you talk a little more about this? Where do you think the Chinese will like to go and when?
Yes, I suspect the Chinese travellers will travel firstly within China, then Asia, then other destinations. The air travel situation and the permits from the Government are really the key elements for travellers to travel again though and what we’re all waiting for.
Do you notice any trends in the demographics of travellers who have approached you so far?
Overall it was family units or groups of friends and the ages ranged from 18 to 55.
Any particular trends you are seeing within China since COVID-19?
Yes, the Ecotourism concept is getting more and more popular since COVID-19, and the government are also taking notice of this concept too. In light of this, we organised an online forum focusing on China named REBORN. With it, we arranged more than 50 international and domestic webinars, where we invited the experts in the travel industry to discuss ecotourism as a concept and the real examples of it from around the world. For example, there are many good ecotourism cases of domestic travel in China.
We’re currently trying to help the domestic travel industry to build up an ecotourism concept, educate them as to the necessity of ecotourism, and help them to re-build the product-designing process.
Lastly, has there been any room for rethinking your business model during this travel lockdown?
During this slow down period, we have had to really think about strengthening both ourselves and our partners, re-consider our products and methods, re-connect with the world and try and get the REBORN situation more commonplace after COVID-19.
Last but not the least, we are confident we could re-start business fully soon, with the help of not only ourselves but our global partners and with the power of the travel industry as a whole.