This week, LVT had the privilege and the pressure to speak to Ren Yung from Banyan Tree, Krystal of Blue Sky Escapes, and Andrea, Singapore's resident editor of Luxe City Guide about the future of travel and tourism in a COVID world.
Lisa: So we haven't been able to leave Singapore without having to quarantine (alone, not leaving the hotel room) for two weeks when we come back. Essentially, we're still in travel lockdown, and beginning to get cabin fever! Like when will this end?! I've never yearned for travel so much. What's your thoughts on when borders will open up again? What can we expect in the near future?
Essentially, we're still in travel lockdown, and beginning to get cabin fever!
Krystal: At Blue Sky, where we focus on crafting and booking off-the-beaten-path luxury travel experiences, it's been tough. We've pivoted towards offering exclusive staycation packages, with Raffles Hotel or the Capella... even special yacht weekends - but in Singapore waters of course! We’re expecting that leisure travel will not be available any time soon. We have to prepare for a long winter.
Ren Yung: I think it’ll be patchy everywhere. Different countries have different rules, and these rules keep changing. For example in China, everyone is travelling domestically.
Andrea: They’re so lucky, they have so many options across that big land!
Ren Yung: Yes, exactly. Same with Europe. They have that geographical and cultural diversity all at their finger tips. Southeast Asia is a different story. Bali was suppose to open on September 11th, but was just locked down again. Thailand has said that they probably won’t open until the end of this year.
Lisa: Yeah, I wonder why cross-country travel in China and Europe is alive and well. Do you think it’s a cultural difference? Or what do you think it is?
Ren Yung: I think a lot of it is confidence in government regulations and protocols. That’s just on an individual level. But surveys that we’ve seen, for example, in Indonesia, show that they don’t have the security that the government is transparent about the actual statistics of the pandemic, and the precautions that they’re taking to ensure everyone’s healthy and safe.
The new ‘breed’s traveller will be travelling less frequently but for longer periods, and more meaningfully as well.
Krystal: It’s such an ever-evolving situation. Especially with Singapore, it’s still really early to start to think about travelling. But I think this will change the way we travel in the future, where people will start taking longer trips to make up for the ones they ‘missed out’ on, and it will take more time to get health tests done to receive health certificates and what not, just to get on the flight. And, for the travel industry, we definitely need to shift and change and cater to this new mindset. The new ‘breed’s traveller will be travelling less frequently but for longer periods, and more meaningfully as well.
Andrea: Absolutely. I think it’s about rediscovering your own backyards as well. Some people are really lucky to have the diversity of nature at their doorstep, but some of us have to get a bit creative with that, by creating or cultivating a similar experience for the time being. And in terms of the risk assessment, people have started to really think twice on where they’re going and for how long. It has to be for a really, really, really good reason. I’ve actually seen a lot of long-distance loves, just waiting to be reunited. It’s so sad to be apart for so long.
I think it’s about rediscovering your own backyards as well.
Krystal: We actually did a survey and we had about 300 respondents. A majority of people said that [when reunited], they would spend their first few hours with their spouse, their closet family and friends. And you would think people would want to hit the beach, and go to nature destinations, but nope - those were definitely the top of the list. But, what came second were city holidays.
Lisa: I wouldn’t have expected that.
Krystal: Yeah, so you have two factions of people, one who wants wide open spaces and sandy beaches, but other people want that city experience with bustling energy.
Lisa: Last year I was really attracted to places like Mongolia, Bhutan, but now, I am dying to go to Buenos Aries and just dance! I crave people, bustle, culture!
Andrea: Yes, I think we are all craving a sense of togetherness. That’s part of the beauty and excitement of travel - the different people and the serendipitous experiences, and because of COVID, we’ve all been starved of that.
Ren Yung: Even this, having a nice meal outside, I haven’t done this in months! It’s become a different experience.
Lisa: Well on the plus side, I’ve seen articles about how less travel is better for the environment. So what do you guys think about sustainability and travel?
For a while, people were just taking budget flights like buses. I was guilty of that too, there were times I would take three flights a week. The carbon that comes out of that is easy to forget.
Ren Yung: I think there definitely is going to be less flights and higher taxes. For a while, people were just taking budget flights like buses. I was guilty of that too, there were times I would take three flights a week. The carbon that comes out of that is easy to forget. But in this time period, where we’ve all seen the before and after pictures of pollution in cities - it’s incredible. We’re seeing one of the biggest differences in China. This crisis has made people more conscious about their buying. 84% of affluent consumers would pay more for a product that was eco-friendly, and USA was 62%.
Lisa: That’s interesting. From a Western perspective we see China as this manufacturing, industrial ‘monster’. Whereas, on the ground, the reality is quite different.
Krystal: I think it’s also that there has been so much damage done by COVID, people are becoming more conscious, they want to create with their hands, it affects the way we relate to other people. And, we want to be a part of a community ensuring that we’re all in this together. So I think that kind of mindset also has trickle down effects into other areas like sustainability and environmentalism and so on. Because now we’re so aware of how the world is so much more than ourselves.
Andrea: Makes you think twice about flying to a destination to get lost in nature, when actually your carbon footprint there isn't so honourable! How have bookings changed for you both along the lines of sustainability?
We can see a shift in requests for Forest Bathing (shinrin-yoku), which is a Japanese concept. It’s about taking nature walks, paying attention to every bit of sensation, the air you breathe, the negative ions.
Krystal: We can definitely see a shift in requests for Forest Bathing, which is a Japanese concept. Its called shinrin-yoku. It’s not literally bathing in a forest, but it’s about taking nature walks, paying attention to every bit of sensation, the air you breathe, the negative ions.
Ren Yung: For us, we’re seeing two types of markets. The first is the type who want to dip into what eco-therapy is and what ‘grounding’ means. They’ve heard about it and have a regular practice around it but they want to have a safe environment which is familiar, where its not so extreme that they’re going on a retreat for two weeks. The most popular experience is conscious grounding - which is actually just walking barefoot, guided, with your feet touching grass. What we find is that city-dwellers are actually uncomfortable with that and there’s a lot of fear with that. Not being able to see what’s in front or behind you, are there bugs, that kind of thing.
On the other end, we’re creating an experience based on ‘escape’. There are no walls, you wake up in the morning and see the mist and fireflies in front of you. It’s going to be in Bali. People are worried about staying in a ‘room’ with no walls, but it’s really an incredible experience. Travel is, and always will be, about exploring frontiers. One is about your knowing personal boundaries, the other is pushing it. Grounding is also about your sense of mindfulness, which is fundamental to hospitality. You exist and you love to bring joy into other people’s lives. And you can’t do that unless you are grounded in yourself.
Travel is, and always will be, about exploring frontiers. One is about your knowing personal boundaries, the other is pushing it.
Krystal: It’s interesting that we need experiences like these to do something so natural. Because we were born without shoes on, we were born barefoot. It’s almost bringing people back to who we really are.
Andrea: Yes, and another thing COVID has brought is really that return to whats fundamentally important to us as human beings. At least in my circles, my friends and I are all saying ‘ok, life is short, where do we want to go, what do we want to experience?’ Forget about making a bucket list, let’s do the stuff on the bucket list, as soon as we can.
I had a similar experience on a ‘star bed’ in Africa. You basically have a bed in the middle of nowhere, with a couple of pillows, literally under a bed of stars. Just sleeping, with the wildlife grazing around you.
Krystal: When talking about where to go, I had a similar experience on a ‘star bed’ in Africa. You basically have a bed in the middle of nowhere, with a couple of pillows, literally under a bed of stars. Just sleeping, with the wildlife grazing around you. That is the ultimate wildlife nature experience.
Ren Yung: That sounds so extreme, have you been getting a lot of requests like that?
Krystal: Gosh, not anymore. The recent requests we’ve received, they’re mostly wellness-focused. People just want to tune out from what’s happening. I’m not sure if it’s like that for you as well.
Andrea: Absolutely. With some of the hotels we work with, they’re using sounds and modality to connect their guests to bring nature experiences, like being on the beach, to you at ‘home’. Fortunately, we have all these connective tools. We’re developing things like virtual meditation as well.
As we all get more digital, tangibility becomes priceless.
Lisa: As cool as that sounds, I am old school when it comes to connecting with nature and other human beings. I've been having a hard time, for example, really getting into all of these 'Zoom Parties'. Like, you can't fool me - I'm still alone in my living room! And that - is why I can't wait til we can travel again. As we all get more digital, tangibility becomes priceless.
SHOP THE LOOKS
Krystal, Ren Yung and Andrea were all styled with pieces from Lisa Von Tang's lords of Leisure collection.
On Ren Yung