The WTM World Travel Leaders Awards took place virtually this year, honouring companies and individuals for their outstanding contribution to the industry. A committee of judges from Reed Exhibitions and TTN bureau unanimously voted Emirates as the winner of this year’s WTM World Travel Leaders Award, for making travel that little bit easier with its world-first free Covid-19 global cover. Sir Tim Clark, President, Emirates Airline, collected the award on behalf of the carrier and spoke exclusively with TTN’s Rashi Sen.
Consumer demand in the travel and tourism industry will come back if we can eliminate the concerns people have about travelling and restore confidence, says Sir Tim Clark, an industry veteran. He is hopeful of a big bounce back, once a successful vaccine is found for Covid-19.
"So long as this situation exists, people will be facing restrictions on travel. If you can gradually eliminate the concerns people have about travelling and restore confidence, consumer demand will come back," said the Emirates Airline President.
"I am not one of those people who think [the bounce back] will be bobbing along at the bottom of the trough, no. I think when the vaccine comes along, we will see a big bounce back," he said.
For Emirates, the award-winning free Covid-19 insurance scheme proved a huge confidence-building step among its customers. "Interestingly, the take up [for the free Covid-19 cover] was so high that we have now extended it to not only Covid-19 but medical insurance in general. And we will absorb the cost of that in the ticket as well. While this doesn’t eliminate all the concerns that people have when travelling, it does alleviate some of them," he explained.
Another challenge that we are facing today is the lack of a single uniform solution to Covid-19-related travel problems, he continues.
"Governments around the world are trying to introduce track and trace, they are trying to introduce different testing regimes – but there isn’t one solution that fits the problem. You’ve Public Health England saying something, you’ve Singapore saying something else and then the US is doing something else.
"The biggest problem is the absence of a universal set of protocols that deal with track and trace, testing, levels of efficacy everybody is happy with, with the results turned around as quickly as they can."
Looking ahead, even after the vaccine comes out, governments around the world will have to work on some key standard protocols, emphasises Sir Tim Clark.
"When we get through this and the vaccine is propagated on a global basis, there is going to be a kind of protocol requirement for people to prove that they’ve been vaccinated. This will be a universal door opener, not just for the airline business but for hospitality and everything else if we are going to restore consumer confidence in all the segments of the global economy."
He also stressed on the importance of the fair and equitable distribution of vaccine (once it’s proven a success) to all the countries around the globe. "It’s really in the best interest of the global economy and all the key players around the governments that they should get this vaccine out sooner rather than later, and in a manner that is affordable for everyone. It is vital to get the global economy up and running again," he said. "The World Health Organisation should take the lead on this, regardless of whether the vaccine is Russian, Chinese, American, British or whatever. If they stand up to the rigours of scientific study and medical application, this is the biggest single problem they must get on to."
"I am not one of those people who thinks this is the endgame for the airline industry. The pandemic is a huge disruption, but not something that’s permanent"
– Sir Tim Clark
Sir Tim has been cautiously optimistic about the future of the airline industry in his approach to the pandemic. "I am not one of those people who thinks this is the endgame for the airline industry. The pandemic is a huge disruption, but it is a disruption nevertheless - not something that’s permanent. We will restore and recapture the way we were doing things.
"If you roll back to 2019 and before that, there was already an exponential growth in the digital space, whether it be retail, financial services, or travel.
"We have seen during the course of the pandemic how technical solution companies – Google, Amazon, etc., - have done really well as people are depending more on the digital economy. Do I see this accelerate? Yes, I do. Do I see a place for the travel agent? Online, of course, there is.
"It’s a question of adaptation and adapting to the needs of the modern, online consumer and understanding through personalisation the choices and decisions they can make," he said.
"There are those that think that the pandemic will arrest the rate of change. No, that’s wrong. It might give us some more time to think but productivity is actually rising because you don’t have to travel. People are sitting in front of the screens, they are also working at weekends because they are used to it. So, the ability to interact with people in the online world is greater than it used to be. Online travel agencies have a huge opportunity if they understand the way things will have changed as a result of this," he forecast.
Speaking of new opportunities, Sir Tim mentions the normalisation of UAE-Israel ties as the next big thing for 2021. "The new arrangement that the UAE has with Israel and the opening up of the Israeli flights, for both Israeli carriers and carriers in the UAE, will be a game changer. This is a prolific market and I’m hoping that it’ll work well for us.
"We would be looking forward to activate this, whichever way we can," he said.
Meanwhile, the GCC and the countries around us will be more open to business than they have been in the past, he says. "A restoration towards normality during the course of 2021 is absolutely essential, not just for the airlines but for the economies.
"I’m optimistic that the cost of fuel will remain in the region of $40 during the course of 2021, which allows us to operate the aircraft very economically."
He also said Emirates will defer some of its orders, until such time that it is ready to take them on.
"I hope Pakistan, India, Bangladesh Sri Lanka will all restore themselves to where they were. The Indian economy was moving ahead at a great pace prior to this and therein lies the potential," he ends on an optimistic note.
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