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Pivot like a ballerina

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BANGKOK, 27 August 2020: Tourism companies in the Mekong Region facing the threat of bankruptcy due to Covid-19 travel restrictions have to learn to adapt and pivot like a ballerina according to the author of the first book on the impact of the virus on tourism worldwide.

Organisers of the Destination Mekong Summit recruited Simon Hudson who is a professor at the University of South Carolina to kick off a marathon six-hour summit that attracted 1,000 delegates online.

Hudson made three simple recommendations to deal with the devastating losses tourism companies are now reporting.

He told them to “adapt and change their business operations completely… Learn to be agile and pivot.”

Companies that are probably staring bankruptcy in the face need to keep “open lines of communications… advertise, use social media to keep the promotions going and stay-top of the mind for recovery kicks in.”

He rounded off by recommending more collaboration between the various sectors that make up the tourism industry.

“We are heading into unchartered territory we need to collaborate in marketing and creating travel bubbles.”

He called Cobid-19 a wake-up call for destinations that have become over-dependent on tourism. They will need to either diversify economies fast or invest in tourism to secure survival.

He touched on a yet to be researched subject in Asia when he recommended the need to invest in “place branding” in an effort to reach so-called “digital nomads.” They represent an emerging group of travellers who are seeking places where they can work, live and play under long-stay visa rules. It would require governments to launch digital nomad visas allowing for a long-stay as they don’t fit conditions for retirement or marriage visas.

Thailand will have to review its tough visa rules if it sees value in persuading digital nomads to commit to a long-stay. However, public health authorities favour long-stay tourism claiming it easier to manage and conduct tests for Covid-19 to minimalise the risk.

Destinations with a strong Covid-19 health track record will enjoy what Hudson called the ‘halo effect’. They care for people, balancing wealth and health issues and reassuring travellers the destinations are safe and clean. They tend to move up the list of desirable destinations to visit.

Thailand’s former minister of tourism, Weerasak Kowsurat, waded into the panel discussion saying “we have to rethink how would like to see tourism in our countries.”

When discussing the situation with financial institutions, he noted bankers invariably said they still believed in tourism prompting Weerasak to respond “we need credit, not hope… credit.”

Claiming 20 airlines are already bankrupt, he said the losses would take three to four years to resolve in Asia.

Throughout the summit, sentiments percolating to the surface suggested that if governments continue to keep borders closed, they need to offer generous grant rescue funding to tourism and hospitality companies until the situation improves. Soft loans with repayment schedules extending through to 2030.

Weerasak confirmed talks are now in an advanced stage to begin reopening tourism in Thailand, first through a pilot project in Phuket involving direct flights for tourists staying a minimum of 30 days including a 14-day quarantine.

“Phuket people are talking about how to handle the nonstop flights and maintain a safe environment for communities. There are challenges,” he noted.

As he spoke the chat board comments delivered a single message; “Tell us when we can expect borders to open, give us a timeframe and a plan?”

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