What if the Chinese stopped travelling?

BANGKOK, 9 March 2020: It seems like an eternity, but just a year ago the Pacific Asia Travel Association’s CEO, Mario Hardy, raised the spectre of a crisis that would see Chinese tourist arrivals crash through the floor.

He asked in a January 2019 blog: “What if the Chinese stopped travelling?”

Not many saw what was coming, but the writing was on the wall, according to Hardy, who leads a prestigious travel association that lobbies for the tourism and hospitality industry across the Asia-Pacific.

In his weekly blog just a year ago Hardy asked if he had the members’ attention as he questioned what would happen to global tourism if the Chinese stopped travelling tomorrow?

Well, we know now exactly what it means now. Airlines face billions in losses, tourism destinations that were discussing “over-tourism” are now wondering will they see Chinese tourists visiting deserted beach resorts six months from now?  Tour companies are sinking into a cash flow bog, some even facing closure. Hotels mothball floors as occupancies slide south to ground zero. Worst still hotel owner fire staff or ask them to take unpaid leave.

Hardy challenged PATA members in his January 2019 blog: “It doesn’t matter if it’s China or any other source market, but by removing them from the equation it does help put things into better perspective. This is an exercise well worth trying for your respective destination or organisation.”

Hardy linked his comments to the Asia Pacific Visitor Forecasts 2019-2023, noting that he had cautioned “ASEAN tourism ministers and national tourism organisations on the the “importance of diversifying their source markets.”

At the time he identified potential threats such as environmental, economic and political changes, currency fluctuations, volatile stock markets, and extreme weather patterns stating that any of them could have an impact on travel.

He missed the tiny, but notorious, coronavirus family that last gained the travel industry’s attention 17 years ago. The SARS virus lasted nine months and disappeared almost without a trace, but the damage to travel was horrendous. It put countries back three years on performance targets. Today, only the most foolhardy would dismiss Covid-19 as a flash in the pan as it takes hold in 84 countries worldwide. We could be in for a long-haul battle; months or even a year.

No one dreamed a year ago that the Chinese travel boom would ever unravel or turn tourism into a wasteland.

 Hardy commented: “I will be the first one to admit that the title of this blog post was meant to be provocative, however in all seriousness, we see a slower pace of growth in China’s economy as well as fears of a global economic slowdown. What does this mean for your business, and which source markets are seeing growth.”

Now in hindsight, we know what it means when China shuts down travel for whatever reason. Looking forward to January 2021 is there a blog out there that can show us the way forward. Just what can we expect and what will be the shape of travel post-Covid-19? Can we expect a bold new blog from PATA?