Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that it could be five years before the Coronavirus pandemic is under control. What does this mean for travellers?

There’s no way to sugarcoat this: travel in 2020 is cancelled. Bans and restrictions are aplenty during this time and it can be hard to see anything beyond our shores. Though virtual travel is picking up across tourism boards, hotels and museums around the world, nothing gets us going than dreaming about our next trip abroad.

Rather than asking when we will be able to travel again, the real question is: What will travel look like when we eventually can?

According to Mike Harlow, General Manager at Scott Dunn, holidaymakers will definitely have to rethink the way they venture around the world: “There will be a need to step up on sanitary procedures and destinations will likely benefit if they can provide up-to-date factual information so travellers can make informed decisions.”

We sat down with Harlow to chat about how the pandemic has affected luxury travel operators like Scott Dunn, as well as what changes travellers can expect to see after the travel bans and restrictions are lifted.

Mike Harlow, General Manager of Scott Dunn (Image credit: Scott Dunn)

LSA: Hi Mike,tell us a little about yourself and Scott Dunn.

MH: Scott Dunn has been around since 1986 and we specialise in creating bespoke luxury holidays. It’s our service, our attention to detail, and our vast and varied portfolio of properties and holiday experiences that sets us apart from the rest.

I now head Scott Dunn’s operations in Asia and lead our team to deliver our bespoke Scott Dunn experience and ensure our guests are at the heart of everything we do.

LSA: Update us on how the pandemic is affecting travel operators like yourself.

MH: Travel is pretty much at a standstill due to travel restrictions. When governments started implementing the restrictions in March, our main priority was to help guests return home as safely and quickly as possible.

We were able to provide round-the-clock updates to guests across different time zones and take action quickly as our teams in Singapore, the UK and the US worked together and kept in contact with our local partners on the ground to get first-hand information and insight.

In the past month, our team has been progressively reaching out to guests who were or are due to travel in the coming weeks to make alternate travel plans. We have started to see enquiries come in for potential holidays in 2021 and even end 2020 which is very encouraging. We’re thankful for all the support, patience and understanding during this time.

Taktsang Palphug Monastery (Image credit: Scott Dunn)

LSA: Are there any specific measures or actions that the company is taking during the COVID-19?

MH: We recognise the increased uncertainty at this time and are continually monitoring the situation as we want to do all we can to keep our guests, team members and local communities safe. Our teams in Singapore, UK and the US are all now working remotely from home.

LSA: That being said, how is Scott Dunn preparing for a post-pandemic world?

MH: The post-pandemic world will look quite different for sure. But with everyone staying home to flatten the curve, there’s likely to be pent-up demand to travel when travel restrictions are eased. Our priority is guest safety, so when it is safe to explore the world freely, we’ll be ready to deliver exceptional holidays.

Druk Path Trek (Image credit: Scott Dunn)

LSA: You mentioned that Scott Dunn’s priority is guest safety, are there any specific measures that will be taken so that potential travellers can feel more reassured? 

MH: As countries start to open up, we will continue to monitor advice from governments and global health authorities to ensure that we are providing guests with the latest facts during planning discussions, we believe this will be beneficial in helping them make informed decisions.

Privacy and sanitisation throughout the consumer journey, as well as contactless service (where possible), will be a key focus. So as airlines, local partners and properties update/upgrade procedures and experiences, I’m confident we will be able to customise offerings that guests will appreciate and enjoy.

LSA: Broadly speaking, what do you feel will be the future of travel post-COVID? Are there any trends that will pick up?

MH: It’s hard to tell because this all depends also on how different countries rebound and open up. It’s also likely that business and luxury travel rebound first. Travellers might also feel safer travelling to countries that have handled the pandemic situation well such as South Korea and Taiwan.

They are likely to look for experiences that include wide-open spaces and are nature immersive after being cooped up at home and there will be a strong focus on wellness and health. Smaller group travel will likely become more popular too as people will want to avoid crowds.

LSA: How do you think the pandemic will change the luxury travel industry moving forward?

The travel sector is a resilient one and with luxury travel catering to individuals who have greater wealth at their disposal, things might not change too much especially since they have access to private and exclusive properties and experiences. It will be essential to ensure that these offerings have a high standard of safety and security for the luxury traveller.

LSA: What are some of the ways holidaymakers can travel in a healthy and safe way?

MH: Simple things can be done such as wearing a face mask on board a flight or in enclosed spaces while commuting and washing your hands regularly and not touching your face.

It’s good to be clear on cancellation and flexibility procedures and this reinforces the need to travel with companies that understand the importance of high standards for safety and health.

LSA: Some destinations in the world rely heavily on tourism for their economy. What do you think are some of the ways they can attract travellers back and rebound once things begin to get back to normal?

MH: They need to assure travellers that they are open for business and are upkeeping high standards for safety and health with well-equipped and functioning medical facilities, essentially abating fears and reinforcing that it is safe to come explore.

Tiger Nest Monastery wtih Prayer Flags (Image credit: Scott Dunn)

LSA: What can travellers do to support their friends in the travel and tourism industry now?

MH: In such times, patience and understanding is really appreciated. We’ve had some kind guests who sent in really nice and encouraging messages to travel consultants too. A little encouragement goes a long way!

LSA: On a more positive note, where is first place you want to travel to after this?

MH: I’m looking forward to explore the hidden kingdom of Bhutan, known for its stunning rural scenery and vast open terrain. Famed for its mix of cultural and historical sites, it’ll be great to learn more about this remarkable country and its people. Would love to try the locally brewed Red Panda beer too!

(Hero image credit: Erico Marcelino via Unsplash)

This article first appeared on Lifestyle Asia Singapore.

Jocelyn Tan
Writer
Jocelyn Tan is a travel and design writer. She's probably indulging in serial killer podcasts or reading one too many books on East Asian history. When she actually gets to travel, you can find her attempting to stuff her entire wardrobe into her luggage. Yes, she's a chronic over-packer.