The hotel industry and the travel industry are resilient, but they have never before faced anything like the current crisis, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. We expect the domestic market to start recovering first, and travels to international conferences and congresses to come last, whereas some hotels will close down – Thomas Emanuel, a London-based director at STR, which provides market data for the global hotel industry, says in his interview for eKapija. He is one of the participants in the REBEC 2020 conference
, held on June 30 and July 1 in an online format.eKapija: How do you assess the outlook of the hotel industry in the Balkans and Southeast Europe compared to other parts of Europe?
– I don`t think there`s any reason to separate SEE. The whole of Europe was hit hard. We expect the recovery of the domestic market to happen initially: the speed of recovery will depend on the strength of the domestic market. In SEE there`s a mixture of demand, and one thing that you have on your side is that a number of your key source markets are driveable, You can reach them by car.
The recovery will be domestically driven initially, it will be leisure driven initially. eKapija: What about international travel within the region?
– Leisure business and driveable leisure business, providing governments are fine with it, should recover more quickly.eKapija: Do you see any signs of recovery in certain markets, and where?
– China is at the head - we`ve now seen leisure traffic resume and also the domestic corporate demand. US - there are some signs of recovery, too - domestic, leisure, and for those markets, you can drive, too. Similarly things are starting to pick back up in the Middle East, across Australia. Here in Europe, first kind of signs of recovery we started to see in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Netherlands - holidays. leisure driven destinations.
We see some hotels being opened, we see airlines starting flying, and we should start to see some demand for the cities, that were slower to recover than leisure driven destinations.eKapija: A number of hotels have been opened in the past years in Belgrade, and all of them are oriented towards foreign guests. What will happen to city-break and congress tourism?
– We should see the city breaks come back, once the travel ecosystem starts recovering and people are comfortable traveling. People want to travel. But, the conference segment, group segment will certainly be the last to recover. I still think there`s a future ahead - although we all spent many hours on virtual conferences, virtual seminars, virtual presentations, and they worked pretty well, nothing beats personal interaction. It`s the human race, that`s what we want. So, I think that it will come back, but it`ll be the last sector to recover. Social distancing presents a significant challenge to convention industry.
eKapija: You wouldn`t give any timelines? Could the situation improve in six months, a year...?
– No, every city and every market is different, and there are so many challenges ahead. eKapija: Do you think certain, or even a large number of hotels could be closed due to the present situation?
– I think it`s too early to say at the moment, but if you look at any previous downturn, there were always victims. We will have to see. There will be some hotels to not reopen.
This is a challenge our industry has not faced before, but we believe in the people`s desire for the travel not to go away.eKapija: If the current crisis ended, say, by the end of this year, when would you expect the things to go back to normal?
– If we look back to the global financial crisis, it took seven years for RevPAR (Revenue per available room) to recover. It took five years to recover the demand. So, it`s going to take time. eKapija: Are you planning your summer holidays?
– I was planning to go to Thailand, but obviously we had to cancel that. We`ll see what the UK government says about air bridges and things like that, and my family and I will make decisions after that. But for now, nothing is booked.eKapija: Do you think at least a part of the summer season could be saved?
– I`d like to think so, but... I think, if these air bridges could be set up, there will be a portion of people who want to travel, so there will be a “section” of demand. M. Radonjic