By Gerardine Donough-Tan

Air Travel Bubble (ATB) flights between Singapore and Hong Kong begin on November 22, with just one flight a day into each city, capped at 200 travellers per flight. From December 7, this will increase to two flights daily to each city with a quota of 200 travellers per flight.

Travellers will be subject to COVID-19 tests but there is no quarantine or stay-home notice, nor restrictions on purpose of travel. A controlled itinerary or sponsorship isn’t required either. While a good re-start, what are the implications and expectations?

The respective tourism boards give their views below.

Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) hailed the ATB as a milestone for the global tourism industry, as it paves the way for a safe resumption of international travel. “It is a hugely important moment that shows the world safe international travel is possible, and paves the way for us to bring tourist flights to and from other markets,” said HKTB.

However, MICE events usually have a longer lead time; any pick-up won’t happen so soon. HKTB said that even before the resumption, Hong Kong had secured a few major business events wins. They will take place starting from 2021 through the next few years.

“We are taking a flexible approach and have activities readily in place to roll out when the timing is right for business events,” said HKTB.

Singapore Tourism Board (STB) is also sanguine about the prospects of recovery in business events. “MICE events bring about significant spill-over benefits to our economy, including bringing in business for our lifestyle and hospitality sectors. Business travellers are also important to our long-term, yield-driven tourism growth strategy, as they spend almost double that of leisure travellers to Singapore,” said Andrew Phua, Director, Exhibitions & Conferences at STB.

The recovery for MICE will take time, he acknowledged, as mass international travel will not return in any significant way soon. However, in preparation for this, STB is gradually restarting the industry by piloting MICE events of up to 250 attendees.

“We have gradually reopened our borders to allow safe business travel for foreigners entering in limited numbers since June. This has started through green-lane arrangements with selected countries like China, Japan, Malaysia and South Korea. Border restrictions have also been lifted for visitors from Brunei, New Zealand, Australia and Vietnam,” he added.

The resumption of more events in the MICE sector will depend on the success of the pilot events and ability and readiness of event owners and organisers to implement the necessary safe management measures effectively.

“We will continue to review and update our border measures as the COVID-19 situation evolves globally, while putting in place suitable measures to ensure that the progressive resumption of events takes place without compromising public health,” Mr Phua concluded.

Not quite so hunky-dory, commented a few travel industry players. They pointed to restrictions on group sizes in eateries, activities and transportation, as well as higher costs due to safety measures. While these impinge on incentive travel and corporate meetings, conference delegates and exhibition visitors may be faster in returning to Singapore and Hong Kong, they said.