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A two-speed world eager to bring in the new year

By Mike Ford, Founder and Managing Director at SiteMinder


For the first time since mid-March, hotel bookings globally rose to above 55% of 2019 levels on 6 September, and then dropped back to 54.7% just three days later to mark the tenth week that hotel bookings have remained in the plateaued (second) stage of global recovery.

The momentum at a global level may have stalled, but the last-minute booking trend that we’ve been reporting since June certainly hasn’t. It continues in markets all around the world, including in Cambodia where an incredible four-out-of-five hotel bookings made in the last two weeks are for stays during the remaining days of September.

Only one trend is bucking the last-minute booking trend, and that’s the growth of Christmas and New Year’s Eve hotel bookings. That week is now visible as a clear spike in multiple countries, including Australia and New Zealand in the Pacific, Barbados and Canada in the Americas, and the Philippines and Vietnam in Asia. It seems the world is keen to end 2020 on a high note, and usher in a fresh new year.

In Europe, we see a similar pattern emerging. Just two weeks after the summer-end, we are already seeing spikes in bookings for the summer months next year, in the Nordic nations of Denmark, Finland and Norway, as well as Portugal and Italy. It’s clear that Covid hasn’t completely deterred plans for enjoying beach weather and, interestingly, international travellers have been behind half of all bookings made within most of those countries over the past month.

Could we be learning to live with Covid? Perhaps in Europe, we are. In spite of new coronavirus outbreaks across the continent, hotel booking volumes have continued to climb to 65.5% YoY in Germany, and the destabilisation occurring in Spain, France and the UK is far from the drastic dip we saw in March. Two cities within the UK are, in fact, back to pre-pandemic levels. They are Brighton (102% YoY) and Bournemouth (99.8% YoY), which are both a two-hour drive from the London city centre.

However, we see a different picture in the Asia Pacific where government restrictions around international travel remain steadfast and hold back movement in many countries. Singapore, which has struggled to rise above 20% of last year’s levels, is the latest market to incentivise domestic travel with a staycation stimulus, and consider introducing flights that take off from Singapore Changi Airport and land in the same place. Meanwhile, in spite of zero locally-transmitted coronavirus cases in three months, Thailand is introducing a “special tourist visa” scheme that appeals only to foreigners willing to stay a minimum of 90 days.

The cautious measures could be working, with Asia contributing three out of our five fastest risers this past month:

  1. Vietnam: from 9.85% YoY to 25.1% YoY (+154.82% MoM)
  2. Philippines: from 6.05% YoY to 14.24% YoY (+135.37% MoM)
  3. Barbados: from 22.22% YoY to 44.39% YoY (+99.77% MoM)
  4. South Africa: from 37.49% YoY to 65.05% YoY (+73.51% MoM)
  5. Sri Lanka: from 20.58% YoY to 31.52% YoY (+53.16% MoM).

Will 2021 bring the change that we’re all hoping for? Only time will tell. In the meantime, what we know is that COVID-19 has created a world operating at two speeds—one faster and internationally-focused, and the other slower and domestically-focused—both designed to find balance and normalcy where there is none.

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