News: ATM Virtual: China offers light at end of tunnel

With the spread of coronavirus under control and domestic leisure travel growing, Middle East travel professionals are now looking to China to initiate international tourism.

A joint survey conducted by the Ivy Alliance Tourism Consulting, China Comfort Travel Group and Pacific Asia Travel Association was discussed by a panel of experts during the three-day ATM Virtual event that is currently taking place.

The Virtual ATM China Tourism Forum, took an in-depth look at the potential of the Chinese outbound leisure market post COVID-19’s closed borders and what overseas destinations and attractions can do to reassure and convince Chinese tourists, that their destination is safe to visit. 

Danielle Curtis, exhibition director, Middle East, Arabian Travel Market, said: “In China we are already witnessing the green-shoots of recovery and many industry experts are looking to China to kickstart international tourism.”

Moderated by Adam Wu, the panellists for this session, included Taleb Rifai, chairman of the International Institute of Peace for Tourism and former secretary general of the UNWTO; Helen Shapovalova, founder of Pan Ukraine; Lisa Dinh, tourism director, VIA Outlets; and Tony Ong, chief business officer and vice president of HCG International Travel Group, which has over 7000 local travel agents across China focusing on outbound travel.

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Rifai, opened the debate comparing Covid-19 to other crises that the industry has faced in the past.

“After 9/11, people had to get used to security restrictions such as removing their shoes and belts, no liquids, now that is a way of life,” he said.

“People are now afraid to travel, but things will change, new protocols will be introduced and the quicker that happens the more trust and confidence will be communicated, bringing travellers back.”

Rifai added that governments need to cooperate by signing bi-lateral agreements and an international certification programme would help to standardise levels of sanitisation and general protocol. 

Shapovalova commented that ecotourism would be major trend when international travel restrictions were lifted.

“Natural settings with green open spaces, mountains, rivers and fresh air will play a big part post COVID-19,” she explained.

Shopping has always been a top attraction for Chinese tourists especially luxury goods and Dinh, expected changes here as well, balancing risk management with the customer experience.

“Trust is the new currency.

“The demand is still there, but health and safety and relationship building will be key.

“Training will be essential to changing mindset,” she added.

Other issues discussed included, technology, the role of international industry associations and why destinations need to change their propositions, safety, trust and consumer confidence were often cited throughout the hour-long debate.

Returning to the survey, nearly half of those questioned said they preferred group tours but given the coronavirus outbreak, many Chinese would now travel, in smaller groups catering for better social distancing.

Ong remarked: “Groups will be smaller, reduced to 10-50 people, which will probably happen one to two months after the borders have opened.”

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