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  • Writer's pictureWan Qing

The vaccine is coming! What does this mean for travel?

Last week, the pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced that its experimental COVID-19 vaccine was found to be 90% effective against the virus. Later this month, Pfizer is set to announce whether the vaccine is safe enough, with the aim of obtaining approval from the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration).

Once given the green light, Pfizer is expected to produce up to 50 million vaccine doses globally in 2020, and 1.3 billion doses in 2021. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the US will receive a supply of 20 to 30 million doses in 2020, which is enough to vaccinate less than 10% of the US population. Furthermore, demographics with higher risk rates would be prioritised, such as older people and frontline workers. While this news may seem insignificant, it is important to note that it is not a small feat; finding an effective vaccine in less than a year is remarkable. It could also mark a revival in the different sectors most badly affected by the coronavirus. This was reflected in the stock market where Channel News Asia reported, “S&P hotels, restaurants & leisure index shot up 5.43per cent … hotel operators Marriott International and Hilton Worldwide each gained more than 10per cent.” and “Airlines... jumped 15.22 percent, led by gains in Delta Air Lines, up 15.07 percent. Upon Pfizer's news release, the aviation and hospitality industry received a much-needed boost.

According to the Transport Minister for Singapore, Ong Ye Kung, a vaccine is the key to jumpstart global travel. Within regional areas of the globe, different geographical regions have begun practising special travel arrangements for short term visitors or business and official travellers. We may start to see an increase in leisure travel once the vaccine is ready for distribution. In a survey by the global travel data provider OAG, results show that passengers all over the world are most concerned about contracting the virus while on the plane. Pfizer’s new vaccine can change all of that. It could help reduce the fear of travelling in enclosed spaces such as airplane cabins and slowly build confidence in travellers.

One way to increase confidence would be digitalising travelling processes to reduce human-to-human contact. Philip Balaam, President of Inmarsat Aviation, said: “With safety and reputation becoming even more important to today’s flyers, there is a clear need for airlines to differentiate themselves in order to encourage passengers back onto their flights. Digitalisation lies at the heart of both; minimising critical touchpoints in the passenger journey to improve confidence, all the while keeping passengers connected and entertained.” This is aligned with Porter’s strategies on boosting the hospitality industry in this New World – by emphasising the need to reduce touchpoints and eliminating the need for physical proximity. (full article HERE) For example, encouraging the use of online check-ins would allow people to skip the lines during check-in and also reduce the number of people congregating at one spot at any point in time. Biometrics systems could also play a crucial role in supporting airports through technology such as facial recognition, thumbprints, and eye-tracking.

Travellers should expect certain social etiquette norms to stay in place, e.g social distancing and the usage of medical masks when in public. The vaccine would not be widely available till 2021 as certain logistical problems will have to be overcome. Furthermore, it is possible that vaccinated people may be asymptomatic and could still carry or spread the disease. In light of the news of a possible vaccine, hotels should not expect pre-COVID-19 footfall to return anytime soon. Some people will still be wary of travelling. Instead, hotels should take this time to set themselves apart from their competitors – in other words, adapt and learn how to better engage guests. (read HERE)

To jumpstart and sustain the travel and hospitality industries, we need to first gain a sense of respect for the disease and for the people who worked hard to develop a vaccine. Thus, we should cultivate our social responsibility and understand that travelling is a luxury in these times. The fate of a viable vaccine could still be up in the air – but we should remain optimistic that significant progress will be made. In the meantime, prepare for a whole new way of travelling!


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