How the tourism industry can recover post pandemic
Three chief executives, representing the tourism, airline and luxury hotel sectors, discuss the future of travel in a post-Covid world, and how they will meet pent-up demand
Presented by Ravi Mattu
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Welcome to this panel on the future of tourism. I think it's safe to say that the pandemic has pummelled global travel. All of us on this panel probably would have been in the same room, for it not being that we're in a situation that's shut down flights for most of the world. So the question is what are you going to be the long-term implications for these changes?
In Europe alone, one of the biggest markets, spending was down 64 per cent in 2020 compared to the previous year. But as vaccinations rise in many countries there is some sense that the situation could improve with the discussion of vaccination passports and some easing of travel in some countries. So what does the future of travel look like post-pandemic?
Jane, let me start with you because, of course, in China things are much more open than in many other parts of the world. Can you give us a sense of what things were like once the restrictions were eased there and travel resumed? What did it look like?
Sure, thanks for having me. We just had a very good holiday for the Labour Day holiday. And the government just published their number. Compared to pre-Covid 2019, head counts for travellers already exceeded 100 per cent. I think it's up to 103 per cent, fully recovered from pre-pandemic level.
And for our company, that number is even higher. For air tickets, we grow more than 20 per cent compared to 2019 pre-Covid level. For hotels, it's even higher during the five-day weekend, close to the 50 per cent year over year growth. For rental car, it's 300 per cent year over year growth. So we have seen a very strong rebound from the pre-Covid level, which we're very excited about.
So the numbers have got better. Were there changes in the type of travel that was done? Were there specific sectors that were more successful than others? Was the way people were travelling different than it was before the pandemic?
Yes, there are a couple of trends we have observed. First of all, people are paying lots of attention to safety. So we facilitate the infrastructure.
So hoteliers as well as the air ticket issuers and also local tour operators can offer a safety network. They join us for the safety alliance. So customers are offered hand sanitisers, masks, etc.
Secondly, customers prefer to travel within much smaller groups, rather than a big bus with 50 people. So we innovated small tours, customised tours, where people can travel with their close family members, as well as their close friends. And certainly, customers much prefer to use flexible packages, such as a free cancellation, free changeable tickets, hotel reservation, etc. So we work with our industry partners to make sure they offer more flexible packages to suit customers' needs in this new environment.
And finally, before I go to Johan, just in terms of, if more flexibility, did that mean higher cost, higher packages, that people were spending more for their travel than they were in the past?
Because the market is still in the climbing mode, so the whole industry are very positive, they are willing to offer the flexible packages to stimulate the market. So people are very open-minded when they are travelling. I remember that last year, when travel started to climb up, some of the airlines offer $10 from Beijing to Shanghai to fly, just to make sure people are willing to try it out.
And once the loading data is up, then the price will come up gradually. So I think so far the volume have recovered very nicely. And the next step is for the ADRs to recover very nicely as a follow up step.
Johan, let me come to you. So Europe is obviously, seems to be opening up or giving signs that they are. The UK is talking about allowing travel between certain countries. We have a big article today in the FT on how southern European countries, tourism hotspots - Spain, Greece, Italy - are changing a little bit how they operate in order to try to attract some of those tourists back. Give us a sense of what you, as someone who's running an airline, and also someone in Europe. How do you see, I guess, the return to travel shaping up over the next few months?
Well, I think it's a good question. And you can tell by Jane's answers as well. You see now that there are regions and parts of the world that has actually already moved into a growth phase.
I always saw that this was a situation where you had a survival phase for the industry. There's a recovery phase. And then ultimately, because the underlying demand of what we all do is so strong, it's going to head you into growth phase.
But Europe at this moment in time is quite a place of divergence because of the different restrictions that the governments have has imposed. You'll see, as you mentioned, the European Commission now has recommended to the member states that they should, for instance, allow travel to take place without any restrictions at all if you can show that you are vaccinated. Now, that's not, at this moment in time, reciprocated by the UK as an example.
And the way you have to prove also these things is also different from country to country. So I think that there will be a divergence now for the next two or three months on how countries are really adapting according to the phase that they are all in. But your point is well-made. Particularly countries around the Mediterranean who are now just craving for tourists to come to the destinations, as well, is going to do absolutely everything they can to open up the travel.
And at the same time, we have an overabundance of caution, I would say, in the UK that, still, it is illegal to travel unless you are exempt for reasons. So there's a lot of things that needs to come into place here in order for us to have a strong summer. But I still believe we will have so. But there's a number of things that needs to happen here in the next couple of weeks to make sure that customers has the confidence to book and make the arrangements for the summer.
So let's break that down in a couple of ways. I think you touched on some really interesting issues there. Let's talk first, I guess, about the UK because, as you said, there's a slightly different set of arrangements there versus the rest of the continent.
But of course, that's a very important source of income, travellers going from the UK to Europe. Do you think many parts of Europe will still be on the green list going forward in the next few days and weeks? Are you confident that that will still happen?
Well, that's a key question you're raising just there. The government are due to very imminently now produce the categorisation. And I hear that it's already happened tomorrow where they're going to decide what country is going to go into green list.
The reports are saying that there will be only a handful to do so. And if that is the case, they're not following their own advice. Their own advice has been to opening up in a safe way based on data available. And the data, scientifically proven model, robust analysis shows that you could basically put much of Europe onto the green list as of today without having any significant impact on the hospitalisation rate in the UK to protect the healthcare system.
So I'm afraid that it might be the case that it will be a smaller number of countries that will be on that green list. And then that will be the increased. But mind you. Here's what's going to happen.
While this has potentially then happened, being announced here the next couple of days, the remainder of Europe is going to open up, which means that it's going to be very odd and ironic that actually UK, who's been the most advanced when it comes to the rollout of the vaccination programme, is actually going to find themself left behind. So other member states will be free to go on to make the reservations and bookings for the summer, while the public in the UK and consumers here will need to wait. Because certainly, a lot of people won't go to destinations in the first instance that requires any type of quarantine, as an example.
So I think this is going to need to change. It's going to need to change very rapidly. And it can be done so in a safe way without jeopardising the healthcare or have an impact on the hospitalisation rate.
Can I ask you briefly before I come to Clement? Just in terms of Europe itself, then, the European Union block - obviously, the UK is no longer part of that.
But in terms of the co-ordination you're seeing between governments there, you mentioned that things are going to start opening up. Are you encouraged that there are measures that are at least co-ordinated between governments so that you can create a kind of zone of travel within those spaces that might be encouraging for companies such as yours in the summer?
Well, they're definitely attempts to do so. And the European Commission came out, as you know, with the proposal of the Digital Green Certificate. And there was some pressure on them. And they've been criticised why they didn't come up with a common solution.
So then when they presented that it turns out that a number of member states that had reservations about it said, well. It might not work in our country because we have X, Y, and Z, there are unique conditions. And this is one of the problems. Now, mind you. I don't think we can aim for a perfect 100 per cent digitalised solution on this taking place here from tomorrow.
So I think we're going to need to live, us working in the industry, that there will be some variances on how governments are going to look at this in order to make sure that people can prove vaccination, that they've done their testing, or they're recovering from the virus in itself. And that's a small price to pay if that is what it takes at this moment in time to enable travel to just get going again. But I think very soon, there needs to be an automatic digital approach to this to make sure there's no complexity and no cost involved in travel once again.
Clement, a good point to come onto you. Your business, obviously, is a slightly different one. You're a long-term owner. You have properties all over the world in multiple cities.
And I think it'd be fair to say, Hong Kong has had a special set of circumstances. Before the pandemic, we had the US-China trade war. We had the protests in 2019, the pro-democracy protests in 2019 here in Hong Kong. And then the pandemic hit.
You've been operating hotels across these markets and other services, dealing with the pandemic, as well as gearing up for what comes next. Give us a sense of some of the ways in which you've had to change your offering or alter the way you manage in order to adapt and deal with the specific conditions that we're facing now in terms of a health crisis, and how that rolls out to your properties and hotels around the world.
Yeah, hi, Ravi. As you kindly said earlier, we obviously do not deal with the sort of volumes that Jane and Johan deal with in terms of travel. We are the Peninsula Group, owns and operates 10 properties around the world, which are all at the super luxury hotel level.
So really, we only cater to a pretty small segment of the overall travel population. But what we have seen there is really that, as we believe also, the fundamentals of hospitality have not really changed. Things that we emphasised, such as personalisation, attention to detail, providing very good service, anticipating what the needs of our guests might be, those qualities continue to be very much welcomed.
Now, I was very glad to hear Jane talk about the recovery in China. We only have two hotels. But those have seen a similar recovery pattern. We are seeing that domestic travel is there. But also, luxury travel is alive and well.
We're seeing that people still enjoy. Of course, we've seen a lot of wealth creation in this world. And that wealth is looking for experiences that they would like to enjoy. And we're not really seeing any change to that.
One of the things I would mention is you mentioned Hong Kong. Actually, although the travel restrictions in Hong Kong are still very strict and there's very little international travel, we're seeing a lot of domestic demand. So even amongst our local audience we're seeing that appreciation and a wish for a quality or a luxury experience. And we're encouraged by that, as well.
Now, how has that product or requirements changed? Again, as mentioned earlier, clearly health and safety is a very important factor. And we've emphasised on that a lot.
We've also created more virtual experiences. So you can even have a Zoom party for a wedding or an engagement. And we can cater for that. We can deliver food. And then you can still have a party.
And generally, the world of digital has become more important in the world that we live in already. But we're looking forward to the future. So for instance, there are shopping arcades within the Peninsula hotels, which during this time we have repositioned somewhat.
We're thinking that, in the future, there will still be people who want to experience a good lifestyle. We have converted part of the Peninsula Hong Kong Arcade into more of a lifestyle experience, not just pure high end fashion, high end retail. So we're adapting to some of the changes that we're seeing in that direction, as well.
I guess the other thing is in the immediate term, of course, of the demographics of where the visitors are coming from is changing, much more domestic travel. And of course, there's this word 'staycation,' a lot of locals, a lot of demand coming from that. But actually, if you think about it, in a big, mature market like the US, a lot of demand is from the US.
That is nothing new for a country that becomes economically developed, that you would expect to see quite a proportion of demand coming from the domestic audience. And that's exactly what Jane was referring to and what we're seeing a lot of here. But in the short term, we are adapting to, of course, different places of origin of where the customers are coming from.
And on that point, I mean, all of you mentioned, both you and Johan in particular. Jane's company is obviously already inherently digital. But some of the changes that you've implemented, are those issues or challenges or things that you'd been thinking about implementing?
Ravi, can you hear me? You've completely frozen... sorry, Ravi. Sorry, Ravi. You completely froze just now on my line. And I couldn't hear your question.
OK, I'll try again. Clement, I was just going to say, in terms of some of the... can you hear me now, Clement? In terms of some of those..
In terms of some of those changes that you implemented, are any of those things issues you'd been thinking about doing and had been accelerated by the crisis? That mantra among managers, never waste a good crisis, whereby you're building back better. You're implementing changes. And this crisis has forced you to accelerate some of those.
Ravi, do wave if I get cut off because it seems the connection is not too good. But, can you hear me?
We can hear you, Clement.
OK, all right. Well, of course, there are many trends that we have been working on already. Things like sustainability very important for us, and we've continued to take initiatives in that direction. The whole world of digital, virtual communications, that has been very important, as well.
But I think one thing that I would talk about, which is more internal facing, is the impact it has had in terms of our internal communications, the way that we manage, the way that we've come together a lot more, even between people who are based in different operations. In the past, it wasn't such a common practise to use video conferencing and to make people just pick up and look at each other on a screen and to communicate in that way. So there are positives.
And I would like to think that... and to be honest, going through a crisis like this, of course we do our best to look after our staff at the same time as maintaining our service quality. But it is an opportunity to increase efficiencies, as well. So hopefully, coming out of this crisis, we would have improved some of our internal practises. We would have improved our financial resilience and our financial position, and look towards more future development in the world of digital, virtual, and sustainability.
Jane, let me come to you. The Chinese tourist of course has been a very important part of the overall travel story in recent years in places like Milan, London, Paris, shopping, luxury. And the growing Chinese middle class has gone abroad and visited and spent. Are you getting any sense, in terms of your sales, of what kind of appetite there will be for Chinese to continue to go abroad? Are you getting a sense that they're booking lots of trips already in anticipation of what is to come?
Yes, we looked at our search results. The consumers pent up demand for travelling abroad to Europe, to North America, to South America, and the rest of Asia is very strong. So as long as the virus is under control, we're very hopeful to bring these customers to the wonderful, beautiful countries around the world. Everywhere Chinese consumers go it will bring the buying power and job opportunity for the local economy. And we're very excited to bring high quality of the customers over to these countries.
Great. Johan, let me come to you because Europe is obviously a market which has had a lot of Chinese tourists. I want to go into a bit more of the dynamics of what a trip looks like though. In a pre-pandemic world we're used to booking something on an app, travelling to an airport. And it's as seamless and efficient as possible. In a place like Hong Kong it's incredibly easy to get through the airport, compared to sometimes some of the challenges in London.
As we think about the safety protocols, what does a typical flight look like? Where are the particular pressure points on your journey from home to airport to flight? Can you give us a sense of where you think those biggest challenges and changes might be in the process from home to plane?
Well, at this moment in time, it's really the check-in procedures, and then also the Border Force touch points. That's where the issues lie. And clearly, because governments aren't having the restrictions in place there's a number of documents that needs to be checked. And you need to show various evidence of the fact that you have your passenger locator form, as an example. And you need to prove you've been, in some cases, vaccinated, or that you've been tested, and all of that.
And of course, the issue is that while governments are imposing these restrictions they're not to the same extent equipping the Border Force to deal with them. And they haven't automated these services. And in some cases, they are handing off the liability now to the airlines to check some of these things, even to the point you get fined if somebody haven't filled out these forms correctly.
And it only takes a small, small error in some of these forms. And you stop and hold up the lines. And that's why you've been seeing queues of five to six hours at some places when it comes to the departure point. So there's really the check-in procedures, and then also the approach on the Border Force.
The actual journey in itself is relatively the same. Clearly you would have masks on board. There's limited service when it comes to the in-flight service. And of course, there's less people on board the planes. But these are relatively, hopefully, temporary changes before this gets resolved.
But that is a big fear that I have. And as soon as I can, I'm on to the authorities about these things, that we cannot have residues of all these restrictions lingering on, just as after we saw after 9/11, actually. The type of security measures they would put in place that turned out after a while, it wasn't efficient at all, the liquid in the hand luggage, and so on, as well.
So it's very important that we don't sit and have these things on, unless they are scientifically proven that they need to be there. And that's why data and robust scientific analysis on why restrictions and what restrictions are actually needed in order to provide a safe reopening on all travels, to make sure that they don't stay on and drive complexity and drive costs. Because that could threaten the democratisation of travel.
It's very interesting. And also, you talked earlier about this idea of digitisation of vaccine passports. That's been discussed.
I wonder whether some of those checks, there might be an online system that, say, we as travellers might have to do before we get to the airport that might help to speed up that process in order that the burden doesn't necessarily go on the airline. Is that the kind of thing that you might see happening in the future as this becomes a realisation? This is more of a normal thing, and we have to find a way of coping and making the system adapt to deal with it.
Yes, absolutely. And it will go back to that ourselves, and together with the authorities and the regulators, will find the most efficient way to do that, whether that is in an app form that the airline provide, or whether that is something that the government provide. But I give you a taste of where we stand today. I spoke to... and I will not mention what country it was.
But I spoke to one minister of one country. And I asked the person to say that, look. What type of evidence in what format are you looking for to welcome customers coming in? And the person said, well, I'll take it in any way, form, and shape it looks like, just as long as I can get customers in here in a safe way. So that means that everything from a piece of paper to an app or whatever that is.
Now, I think it was partly joking around that because, clearly, nobody wants to jeopardise and sacrifice safety on that to make sure that these things are certified and valid. But I will tell you that we will have some weeks here and months before this gets landed. And then I think we need to go through some inconsistencies around this in the summer. But after that happens, this will be made in a common approach, I believe.
Clement, one topic that has been discussed, and you mentioned it before. And I'll come up to the others with it, is this idea around sustainability. There has been a suggestion that there might be less travel out of this because, leading to maybe a more, better environmental impact. You talked a little bit about this, about being sustainable in your business. Can you give us a sense of what that means in practise and how that is reflected in the customer experience at some of your hotels?
Yes, obviously, we understand the importance of sustainability to the future of the world that we live in. And that is not, of course, only for the current generation but for future generations, as well. Now, our global climate footprint is not very big.
But nevertheless, we believe that we can play a part in this. And of course, in the past, people might not have associated luxury with sustainability. Luxury is giving a lot of stuff away, giving a lot of resources. But we firmly believe that even by providing luxury you can do it in an increasingly sustainable way.
So examples are things like sourcing. So we've done a lot of work in terms of sourcing more responsibly, more sustainability, more sustainably. And actually, we've taken some sacrifices. Actually, our group was one of the first in the world to ban shark's fin being served on our menus.
Now, as you know, that's a very important Chinese delicacy. But we decided to forego that because of the bigger picture, the wider interests. And of course, we've been trying to do what we can in terms of reducing energy consumption, waste management, and so on.
But the other underlying message is what we have done as a company for the last 13 or 14 years is to try and make sustainability a way of life for the people who work in our hotels and our various businesses. So rather than being a top-down initiative, where we're just saying do this or do that, we're educating so that all of our staff live in a more responsible way in terms of sustainability. And then that can be provided through the services we offer, the products, and all the rest.
And there's so much to be done. But in the measurements that we have, such as energy usage and all of this, then at least we've made some improvements in all of those areas. And of course, it's not just us. The world, I think, has come together very nicely within a relatively short period of time and made some real improvements. But of course, more is needed.
Johan, this is a particularly live issue, I think, in Europe. In Italy, the government there is using some of the EU recovery fund money it's been granted to try to build back their tourism industry along more environmentally sustainable and green lines. Can you tell us a little bit about.. because when you talk about the democratisation of travel, obviously there is concern that that leads to issues around pollution.
In France, as well, there's been an initiative to ban flights of a certain duration if rail alternatives are practicable. Give us a sense of how you see this working out for someone running an airline in Europe. Which has been built on, as you put it, much more freedom to fly and much more mass market operation, which has allowed people to get places in a way that they weren't able to, say, 10, 15, 20 years ago.
Yes, easyJet was born out of de-regulation, as you know, in the mid '90s. And the slogan at the start of the company, that you could fly now for the cost that is less than a pair of jeans. And by the way, it still is.
And that has allowed millions and millions of ordinary people to take advantage of these products and services that previously was there only for wealthy and privileged people. And that force and that strength that sits so close to millions and millions of people now are so strong. So this will, of course, continue.
But what I am so observant about is the fact that there is this tendency by decision-makers when it comes to sustainability, as an example, that they tend to focus much more on how we can actually choke the demand in here in order for them to control and reduce the impact on hospitality and innovation, in particular, on the environment, which is completely an awful narrative to do. Which basically means that you're going to make sure that, well, once again, this is something that some people can afford to do.
And it's not necessarily better for the environment. Certainly, the load factors will be worse. There will be less investments that can be made because funds will be less in the industry.
So I look at this from the perspective that, first of all, there are some imminent things that we need to do. And within that comes a number of operational things we can do. EasyJet has reduced it's a carbon emission per passenger kilometre by one third in 2000. So there's things we can do as we speak. And we continue to do those things.
The other one is what we're doing as the first major airline in the world, that we are offsetting all the carbon emission from the fuel we're using. So we're flying carbon neutrally in that sense through the highest standards of products you can find within the carbon offsetting projects. Now, that's an interim solution. It's not the end game. But that is something you can do right now to lessen the impact on the environment.
And then thirdly, the most important thing, I believe, is access to groundbreaking technology. And the development when it comes to both hydrogen, as an example, or electric, with the latest development of the generation of sulphur batteries, as an example, are amazingly encouraging. And the Airbus, as you know, have set out that by mid-2030s now, they expect to have a 100-plus seater of an aircraft available.
So we need to get on to getting up to zero emissions aircraft. And that is now within sight. When I was onto this a couple of years ago, I had a number of people say, well, it won't happen. Now nobody can say that it won't happen. The question is when that will happen.
So there is the plan now. And I'm also, as you know, I'm chairman of Airlines for Europe. And we've set out the roadmap on how we're going to decarbonise innovation by 2050 in a very credible roadmap. But of course, we're going to need also the support and the funding from the government to get onto that, and not only through penalties that actually just makes travel out of reach for the millions of people who's now starting to enjoy this.
So just to be clear, you're saying to policymakers, it's not just about arresting demand or choking demand, as you put it. But it's allowing people to travel, but making sure the investments are made and the conditions put in place that the industry can become better through use of technology and more efficiencies, in order that its output is less damaging than it was...
It is now or was in the previous years.
People should fly and travel more. And it's up to us as an industry together with the authorities to make sure that we reduce our impact on the environment. The solution is not to get people to travel and fly less. That's not where we want to be.
So we need to make sure that we can do that in a sustainable way with a credible roadmap. And that exists now. And that's why we all got a responsibility to make sure that we can transition onto that next stage in that journey.
Jane, I want to come back to you just on the Chinese consumer. Because one of the trends we've seen over the pandemic is that a lot of the luxury sector..and I want to focus on that because inevitably a lot of FT readers are in that segment. But whereas in the past, they might have gone abroad, as I said, to Europe or indeed to Hong Kong, even, and done a lot of the luxury shopping, we've seen during the pandemic a tendency to either spend at home or also to travel to Hainan Island, the tropical island in China.
That's become a very major destination for the traveller, but also for the luxury industry and the luxury sector. Are you seeing that as something that might be long lasting, that Chinese consumers might be more inclined to stay at home and spend their money on luxury than going abroad? What are you seeing at that luxury sector, really, the luxury traveller?
Yes, we saw a huge pent up demand on the luxury segment. We love Peninsula to open up more hotels in China. And I think there are many more cities other than Shanghai and Beijing who will have the huge demand for luxury hotels, such as Peninsula.
If you look at the luxury malls in China, during the weekend there are huge lines lining up to get to Tiffany's, LVs, Hermes, et cetera. And when you look at the growth trajectory into the hotels, the hotels such as Peninsula, Four Seasons, Shangri-La, et get the most premium customers in China. One of the reasons is that GDP per capita is increasing every year for China. And more and more people can afford these luxury hotels.
The second reason is because the border now is closed. So people who can afford going abroad now are turning to domestic travellers. So they are really spending the money they save from the international tickets into the hotels, into the attractions, into the local buying, local shopping experience.
So we have experienced significant pick-up for five star above, for business class and first class domestic flight, for business and first class high-speed railway tickets. So the luxury segments really is the leading winner in the recovery. And going forward, I think once the border opens again the luxury hotels and high-end spending will still lead to the way.
Right, so we've got some questions from our audience. I don't know where they're from, from Europe or Asia. But there's some good questions, so I'm going to throw them out there.
Let me throw this to Clement first. Are you seeing the potential for lower frequency but longer stays? Are people choosing to stay in one place for a longer duration than in the past but taking fewer trips? Are you seeing any evidence of that?
At the moment, it's too early to see any particular trend because many of the places are still closed. We have hotels in North America. We have a hotel in Paris. We have hotels in Southeast Asia. But the level of recovery of those hotels has not yet been at the level where we can see what the future trend is going to be.
What I would say in more general terms, though, is we really see that people are looking for experiences now more than ever. And I very much echo what Jane said, that there is a lot of pent-up demand. There is affordability. There is wealth.
And when people have wealth, they want to enjoy that wealth. And they want to enjoy that through coming on an experience. So in many ways, whether the stays lengthen or not will depend on what we as an industry can offer to those people who are staying.
And here we, and I think many of our fellow hoteliers, are doing more and more in curating experiences for people. So of course, once upon a time, the idea was, you come into a hotel, you stay for the night, have a couple of meals. And then maybe you do a business trip, and then you leave.
But now, there are programmes, immersion with local culture. We do programmes like learning to cook dim sum and doing Tai Chi and things like this. And these are the sort of things that would create that more of that overall experience.
And actually, even in terms of local staycations, they're not always just one or two nights. Some people have chosen to stay longer because there's a sense of refuge. And there's a sense of experience in that.
Yes, Johan, another question from the audience. More about managing during the pandemic and through it, which obviously must have been one of the most challenging periods for any CEO of any industry but particularly, I think, all of yours to deal with. How did you deal with issues around staffing and employees? How did you manage really your people through this crisis?
Well, it's been an incredibly challenging task. And many, many of our viewers here are, and particularly on the panel, are leaders in their own right, and will have their experience about that, as well. No, that the key thing is that, first of all you need to try to get people to understand the context in which you are operating in.
And that takes some time and some resources in order to, first of all, set the scene and be realistic about the situation that we are in. A year ago, we were in lockdown. We didn't fly anything. The airline was grounded. And we became grounded for 11 weeks.
And of course, people's immediate concerns is after the healthcare, , what this actually means. Am I going to have my job? And what does this mean? And the uncertainty about that when you then, ultimately, need to get on to very difficult decisions that you're doing with your employee organisation through resetting and reshaping the organisation.
And that is difficult. But you have to be, on one hand, realistic. But also, you need to point out and set out that, look. We're going to get ourself out of this. We are structural winners coming into this.
And we're going to be structural winners coming out of this. We don't know exactly. And we don't have the answers to all these questions. But I think that an organisation appreciates honesty and an authentic message from its leadership and have the right to demand so.
Which means that there's a combination of realism in there, but also an absolute determination that, look. You're on the right team. You're on the right company. We're going to get us through this all together. And I can already see now that there's a tremendous, tremendous spirit among people in this organisation that has come through this and will be so.
And that was something that we're clearly going to build upon as we now are starting to fly again. But I think authenticity, and a genuine appreciation of the reality of the situation, and keep engaging contact very often and in very close contact. But also, make sure that people know that, look, we're going to get through this. Follow me and follow us on this journey. I think that's an important message, as well.
Ravi, can I jump in on this one?
I think very important is how much trust has been built up in the past with your workforce through the actions you've taken over many years. This is an investment that has to be made over a long period of time. And over that period of time, look. Your colleagues have seen what you've done.
What values do you have as an organisation? How have you treated people? How have you dealt with previous hardship periods? And we went through SARS in Hong Kong. And people still remembered the actions that we took at that time.
So of course, this time, the scale of the crisis has meant that, unfortunately, words like furlough and layoff, which were not words that had ever been in our dictionary before, have had to enter the equation. But nevertheless, the level of support, loyalty, and commitment, and even among some of the staff that have been laid off, they come and thank us for the experiences that they've had before. And of course, it doesn't make me feel good that they're in that position. But at least, one gets the sense that a great sense of trust had been built up through what we had done over many years.
Yeah, Jane, I wanted to ask you, obviously, China was hit first by this pandemic in the early part of last year, really. That was when the mainland was put under lockdown. I know you had a tough year last year.
You've had a secondary listing in Hong Kong now and raised a good deal more money. Tell me about the early days of managing this crisis for you and Trip.com and the group in China. What was that like? And how did you make sure your staff were on side?
Sure, we understand that the travel in the long run will always grow. So last year, Q1, it was the most difficult year for China and for Chinese travel industry. So in Q1, our chairman, James, and I volunteered to our board that we will take zero salary until industry recovers. And our VP volunteered to our board that they would take a 50 per cent reduction for their salary.
However, we retained our workforce. Our staff would work four days and stay at home for one day doing some training. And after the effective control of the virus, our industries start to recover. So very quickly, our workforce is fully loaded. And this Labour Day weekend, we have to borrow more than 1,000 per cent employees from the other organisation to handle the pent-up demand.
So all our measures have worked very well. We always believe that if the government does a very good job controlling the virus, we'll be able to recover very quickly. So the team was very united and made sure we weathered the storm together.
Clement, we're coming close towards the end. But I want to ask you one thing. Johan already talked about the co-ordination among governments in the EU as one economic bloc, obviously. The UK's slightly separate.
But as someone who manages businesses in multiple countries, one of the things that strikes me is that even if the situation improves in one country, unless there's some co-ordination and other countries are on board, it's very hard to see how business revives to something like back to normal. If you were to be able to tell global governments one thing in order to improve their co-ordination, what is the thing that they need to do in order to get this industry back up and running?
Definitely to have a travel protocol that can be applied similarly across different places. Of course, we hear that, for instance, some vaccines are approved by some places but not by others. It would be great to have a uniform set of vaccines that are recognised, and that a travel protocol is put together in association with that.
If I may just speak on behalf of Hong Kong, of course we want to welcome international travellers from all over the world. But actually, the most immediate priority is to open up between China and Hong Kong. And that is being worked on at the moment.
There are some initiatives right now to open up a bit more travelling between China and Hong Kong. We're working on a bubble with Singapore, as well. But we're hoping that that would set a precedent for other places to adopt bubbles, as well. But yes, really a uniform protocol.
Right, so we have about a minute and a half. Before we go I want to ask each of you a personal question as travel leaders and people who probably like to travel a lot. When things return to somewhat approaching normal, I just wanted to ask what the first thing you wanted to do when you could travel.
So is there a place you want to go? Is there an experience you want to have when borders open up and flights are available? Jane, can I start with you? Where's the first place you want to go or the first thing you want to do when travel returns to normal?
Oh, I love many places, but my favourites are Africa.
Great, I think that sounds quite fun. Johan, what about you? Where do you fancy going as things are regular?
Anywhere, I go anywhere. I go anywhere where we have our people, where we have a base so I can meet our crew again and our customers. But I'm not picky after being over a year in lockdown. I'd take it anywhere.
That reflects what my 15-year-old son said, exactly. I'll take a plane anywhere. If it's from Hong Kong to Macau, I'll take it.
Clement, for you, where would you like to go? And what would you like to do when things kick off?
Like many people, family should take priority. I have family abroad. I have elderly parents. I would love to go and see them. That of course, is high priority.
The other thought in my mind is that despite the travel restrictions, we have a big project in London. And I've sent a whole bunch of people to London with no certainty of how and when they're going to return. And that's amazing loyalty for them to go. But I would love to go and join them and be able to be part of that team.
Fantastic. On that note, I want to thank all of you for an absolutely brilliant panel. A reminder, all the viewers, this is available to you on demand on the FT Global Boardroom website. And on that, I'll hand it back to the studio. Thanks so much, all.