From your experience, how did the industry respond to the pandemic and what were some of the ways the industry came together during the height of the pandemic?
During the initial part of the pandemic, countries reacted differently with varied entry and quarantine requirements. As the crisis progressed, there was better coordination. Speaking from the Singapore experience, private-public cooperation was very important. We realised that this was a health crisis that had severe implications for aviation.
CAG co-led a task force with the Singapore Tourism Board as part of the national Emerging Stronger Task Force. To help kickstart inbound travel, we worked on a Covid insurance for foreign travellers to cover Covid-19-related costs in Singapore. It is not typical for an airport to get into the insurance business, but the sooner we accept that Covid will affect everyone, the more meaningful private-public cooperation can take place to anticipate and solve issues which can be quite complex.
There is an expectation that tourism will really begin to kickoff, now that vaccination rates are higher in general. Do you think that business travel is going to be coming back to the levels that it was at pre-Covid-19?
When Singapore started the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) scheme, the initiative picked up momentum. The first few segments that travelled were visitors of friends and relatives, people who wanted to reunite with their loved ones.
I think that business travel will follow suit very quickly as well. People need to get back to their customers, before their competitors close in. They can choose to Zoom, but by and large businesses will want to re-engage in person, so I think some essential business travel will return. People also want to establish new relationships. They can maintain existing relationships via video calls, but nothing beats networking in person to forge new partnerships. In the near term, in my personal opinion, business travel may not return to the intensity of back-to-back business travel that some travellers used to do.
Leisure will also start to come back because you cannot Zoom a beach through your computer. It is returning slowly, and we have started to see green shoots. If Europe and North America serve as indicators, travel will bounce back extremely quickly, when allowed.
Moving forward, what are the changes that travellers have to deal with stemming from COVID-19?
From the Changi Airport experience, we have quickly moved towards contactless processes in terms of the passenger interaction and stepped up cleaning. We encourage travellers to pre-book their travel procedures via various digital touch points, look at checklists, and have documents ready, for a seamless travel journey.