The recovery will be stronger in Asia-Pacific in the second half of the year.

The recovery will be stronger in Asia-Pacific in the second half of the year.

As the pandemic continues, the International Olympic Committee and Japanese government intend to host the Tokyo Summer Olympics—postponed last year for the first time in history—this summer. Thousands of athletes, coaches and journalists are expected to attend and will be subject to venue requirements.

Whether spectators will be allowed is still being hashed out as Japan proceeds with vaccination efforts amid a new infection wave. Resumption and planning of such a large international event amid a pandemic in flux and ongoing national efforts to contain it, however, exemplifies the confidence of recovery in the Asia-Pacific in the second half of 2021.

As the starting point of the Covid-19 outbreak, Asia-Pacific was the first region to see its travel industry decimated in the wake of the pandemic. Of the 22 cities in Asia-Pacific tracked in BTN’s Corporate Travel Index, more than half saw double digit declines in their average corporate hotel rates between the first quarter and second quarter.

Compared to North America and Western Europe on a full-year basis, however, Asia-Pacific’s business travel industry has not been as devastated. For the full-year 2020, business travel dropped 44 percent compared to 60 percent and 58 percent drops in North America and Western Europe, respectively, according to the Global Business Travel Association’s Business Travel Index.

While crossborder travel is depressed, domestic travel has improved somewhat in countries where the virus is under control. “We’ve seen an increase in domestic travel in countries like China, Thailand, and Vietnam where the pandemic is under control,” said BCD Travel Asia/Pacific CFO Neeraj Singhal. “Japan also remained quite active in their domestic sectors almost through the end of third quarter 2020,” he said. “Even India is slowly showing improvement in domestic traffic.”

The scheduling of annual regional events could point to more in-person activities occurring after the first quarter. For example, The Asian Hockey Federation and both the Men’s Asian Champions Trophy Dhaka and Women’s Donghae Asian Champions Trophy are now scheduled for October this year, after originally postponing them last year to January 2021. The organization cited travel restrictions, athlete safety and Covid-19 variants as risks.

Regardless of when business travel resumes, it will likely be weighed down by a strengthened corporate focus on sustainability, which can now be buttressed by new habits built around virtual meetings. “Employers and industry leads will increasingly factor a trip’s impact on our climate into their travel decisions. Some ‘not so important’ trips will be eliminated for this reason alone and internal meetings will be replaced by virtual meetings,” Singhal said.

Throughout Asia-Pacific, the industry is lobbying for and helping build a business travel infrastructure that will support traveler confidence. “There will be a lot of testing in this region for certain protocols—not only for ourselves but for our customers who are going to start traveling in this region first,” Sully said. The travel industry is pushing rapid testing protocols for international travel to avoid quarantines, travel corridors between major cities and countries with similarly low Covid-19 and standardized hygiene and health protocols, according to Singhal.

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