The Jakarta Post
The impact of COVID-19 might linger long after the pandemic ends as stakeholders in tourism, one of the hardest-hit sectors, brace for a major shift in customer behaviour and preferences after the dust settles.
As tourists drop travel plans on the back of social distancing requirements, the government, initially set to develop tourism as the country’s economic powerhouse, had to adjust its expectation with a 30.6 percent year-on-year (yoy) drop in foreign visits as of March, according to Statistics Indonesia (BPS).
The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) notes that tourism will see a gradual return, but that there will be a “new normal” before a vaccine is available on a mass scale.
In the post-pandemic new normal, after months under lockdown, public officials and businesspeople predict that hygiene, health and physical distance will be travellers’ new main concerns.
Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Wishnutama has pledged to focus on anticipating the new trends in tourism.
“For future tourism development, we will focus on principal things to anticipate the trends and the new tourism paradigm, known as ‘the new normal’, where there is higher concern about sanitation and hygiene,” he said in an official statement on Monday.
The ministry’s undersecretary for tourism products, Rizki Handayani, said the government was also mulling plans to issue certification as well as standard operating procedures to ensure compliance of tourist destinations and accommodation providers with health and hygiene standards.
Rizki also predicted that visitor management for busy destinations, such as world heritage site Borobudur temple in Magelang, Central Java, would be required to maintain a physical distance between tourists.
“If they [the tourists] were okay to go to packed and crowded places, not anymore. They will be more aware of the physical and social distancing concept,” she told The Jakarta Post on Monday.
Consequently, tourists might also avoid transit flights to minimize contact and the possibility of transmission, hence direct connectivity to destinations would be preferred in the future, Rizki added.
A study by the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) confirms the predicted change in preferences. The survey of more than 1,200 Chinese tourists highlights that health and safety had become the main concern for future travels.
“The tourists surveyed hope that travel agencies and destinations can do a good job of health and safety protection, take necessary measures to ensure the health and safety of tourists during travel,” the finding reads.
Chinese tourists were the largest group of foreign visitors to the country before the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the WTTC also suggests that new standards and protocols for safety might be required for tourist facilities.
Outlining a new possible protocol, the WTTC said that, in a hotel for example, new protocols may be in the form of check-in involving digital technology, hand sanitizer at frequent points and contactless payment instead of cash.
New preference for tourist product
As people get used to the new normal, tourists might also prefer to go to quieter places and opt for nature-based tourism and outdoor activities, Indonesia Travel Agent Association (Astindo) spokesperson Madeleine Sophie said.
Madeleine, who runs the Era Tour and Travel company, drew the insight from her consumer survey.
“Places that offer natural tourism, outdoor activity would be the new preference for tourists in the future. In the past, people would only go to Instagram-worthy places, even if it was crowded, but now guests will avoid crowded places,” she said.
The finding contrasted the country’s tourism state before the pandemic, where Tourism Ministry data shows that the majority of foreign tourists visit the country for culture-based tourism products.
Madeleine also said that tourism products that could offer a local wisdom experience, sustainable tourism and culinary experiences would be preferred by tourists after the pandemic ends. People were also likely to go on vacation in smaller groups or with their family rather than in big groups, she added.
PATA’s survey on Chinese tourists also shows that more than half surveyed choose to relax at the seaside, while the rest would opt for homestay and mountain sightseeing in the future.
Meanwhile, tourism expert Muhammad Baiquni from Gadjah Mada University said there would be a surge of emerging small-scale, community-based destinations in the future, as people would cease to go to popular destinations like Bali, the country’s main tourism hub.
“There will be more destination diversification,” he said, adding that wellness tourism would also be a new favourite in the future.
The government has been promoting new destinations as alternatives to Bali, including Lake Toba in North Sumatra, Mandalika in West Nusa Tenggara, as well as Bangka Belitung Islands.
Homesharing platform Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky, while laying off nearly 1,900 of its workers on Wednesday, announced that the company would have to evolve its business to meet customers’ new preferences.
“People will want options that are closer to home, safer and more affordable. But people will also yearn for something that feels like it’s been taken away from them — human connection,” he wrote in an official note on the company’s website.