by Amanpreet Bajaj
THIS pandemic has been a global, fork-in-the-road moment for all of us. COVID-19 has impacted communities, businesses of all sizes, governments, and industries not just within Malaysia, but across the world.
It continues to be a challenging time for the tourism and hospitality sector as we learn to adapt nimbly and innovatively to the evolving circumstances.
As the Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky recently wrote in a global ‘From Isolation To Connection— Travel in 2021’ report, “Once people feel safe to travel, they will. But it will look different than before the pandemic. Travel will be viewed as an antidote to isolation and disconnection. People don’t generally miss landmarks, crowded shuttles, and lines and lobbies packed with tourists.
“Mass travel is really just a different form of isolation—you are anonymous, herded around with other travelers, never really experiencing the people and culture of a community. What people want from travel now is what they’ve been deprived of—spending meaningful time with their family and friends.”
We know that travel has fundamentally changed in this current state of global uncertainty. As the pandemic situation continues to ebb and spike, the reinstatements and extensions of the movement control order (MCO) are gradually melding into new domestic routines for Malaysians.
When they can, they are choosing to take quick, short getaways with their families. Safe and clean travel is their utmost priority.
Meanwhile, mainstream travel continues to remain at a standstill. It is undeniable that Malaysia’s tourism industry is hurting: businesses, local communities and operators are impacted by budget deficits, revenue losses, job cuts and more.
As we push forward in 2021, it is clear that sustained, long-term recovery will be the collective focus of our industry.
Notably, digital transformation has emerged as a key thrust that is proving essential to building economic resilience.
Last year, Airbnb introduced Online Experiences in response to the pandemic, enabling hosts to continue sharing their passions and skills over Zoom, and guests around the world to travel virtually and interact with hosts from the comfort of home.
In 2021, as Malaysians continue to stay at home, we anticipate that Online Experiences will continue to satiate guests’ local travel wanderlust from the comfort of their homes.
From the first Malaysia-based Online Experience led by local artist Nini Marini, to Malaysia’s own three-time Olympic cyclist Josiah Ng hosting his own Online Experiences on how to cultivate an Olympian’s mindset, to most recently the limited edition Chinese New Year Online Experiences hosted by Malaysian personalities including Melinda Looi and Sherson Lian, we have seen how Online Experiences have connected Malaysians together regardless of physical distance.
In the same vein, there is an opportunity for Malaysia to showcase its tourism offerings to the rest of the world. By pivoting and embracing a digital approach, industry players such as tour operators and traditional brick and mortar enterprises can potentially reach a wider audience.
Our physical borders may be closed, but we can still connect virtually with existing and new consumers and communities worldwide.
As we look ahead, it is important to keep in mind that this is an opportunity to shape how travel looks in the next decade. Flexibility, creativity and innovation will be key as Airbnb doubles down on new ways to bring meaningful travel closer to Malaysians amidst this new normal.
Airbnb’s roadmap for the year is led by our vision for healthy travel – travel that is authentic, inclusive, diverse, and sustainable. We have observed in the past year the impact of technology and the digital economy as a catalyst for growth.
The future of tourism will be determined by how we adapt today. This is the chance for us to build back and emerge even stronger than before. – March 27, 2021
Amanpreet Bajaj is the general manager of India, Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and Taiwan for Airbnb.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.