Revenge of the Tourists

April 19, 2022

With Covid-19 vaccination rates greatly improved and travel policies being eased according to each country's ability to curb infection rates, people are on the move again.

In Thailand, approximately 50 million people, or 71% of the population, have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. The steady progress of vaccination campaigns gave the government the confidence to start reopening the country to international travellers in November last year, after a few months of encouraging results from the Phuket Sandbox programme.

International tourist arrivals to the country in the fourth quarter of 2021 totalled 342,024, far below pre-pandemic levels but dramatically better than the near-zero levels seen a year earlier, indicating that travel sentiment has improved alongside domestic management of the pandemic.

Getting down to more of a psychological level, the adoption of the so-called new normal lifestyle among the population has generated a degree of pandemic fatigue. Pandemic fatigue, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), is a natural response to stress from change due to a prolonged public health crisis. This has also led to a shift in consumer behaviour and travel habits, one of which is trending under the name "revenge travel".

The revenge travel phenomenon has become a common expression to describe a recent shift in behaviour and refers to a temptation to engage in increased travelling and spending.

Tourists who partake in revenge travel are often seeking more remote or distant destinations with lush nature that help them escape the feeling of psychological imprisonment caused by living through the pandemic. As a result, interest in resort and island destinations, rural areas and ecotourism have spiked in popularity in the last couple of years.

Other than pandemic fatigue, domestic revenge travelling is driven by factors such as travel stimulus incentives and Covid safety marketing. Examples in Thailand are the SHA+ programmes or schemes such as Rao Tiew Duay Gun (We Travel Together), which have strongly promoted domestic travel and spending to revive one of the country's key economic engines.

Looking more closely at tourism performance, Phuket and the Maldives saw improvements in occupancy rates for the second half of 2021, of 8.2 and 44.7 percentage points year-on-year respectively, as people increasingly sought to get away somewhere.

The Maldives moved earlier than nearly any other location in Asia to adopt a visitor-friendly policy under which PCR test results were not mandatory for either arrival or departure, and travel-related quarantines were also lifted.

As higher mobility and leisure travel can be expected during the festive season and long holidays in April and May, there are several strategies that hotels can implement to exploit this heightened demand. For instance, hoteliers should devise and promote attractive packages, including food and beverage offerings, spa and wellness promotions, and other activities to compete within the market.

The trend of working from anywhere will also continue as long as the pandemic drags on, so hotels need to ensure their business centres and function rooms are in top shape.

Food delivery and outside catering will continue to be a source of potential revenue that hotels may wish to promote during such periods. Hoteliers should also keep a lookout for and participate actively in travel fairs, such as Thai Tiew Thai, in order to boost sales and secure incoming demand not only for the rest of 2022, but for 2023 also.

In addition, it is essential that hotels continue to participate, promote and emphasise safety and hygiene standards by meeting the requirements of government-certified programmes that improve guests' confidence.

The key is to create a safe and secure tourism experience while providing more tourist-friendly arrival requirements that bring international tourists back to Thailand long-term in the kind of numbers we saw pre-pandemic.

However, there is a looming risk that after the Songkran holiday the number of confirmed cases in Thailand will spike, despite restrictions on activities such as water-splashing during the long holiday. How authorities, the public and the tourist industry will respond in such a case will be interesting to see.

An article written by Kieran Chaiyataj Chevamongkol, Senior Analyst, Research and Consulting, CBRE Thailand for Bangkok Post dated 19 April 2022.