Tests must replace quarantine: industry leaders

Travel leaders call for Covid tests instead of quarantine; Hong Kong Tourism Board chairman says new platform will tell world that city is coronavirus-free ’when time is right’

GOVERNMENTS that have successfully contained coronavirus outbreaks are being urged to replace quarantine measures for travellers with Covid testing and tracing technology to revive Asia’s tourism and visitor economy.

The calls came during a global online forum hosted by Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) on Wednesday in which the coronavirus pandemic was described as a “black swan event” and the biggest crisis faced by the global travel industry since the second world war.

Pang Yiu-kai, HKTB chairman, also announced in the web-conference’s introduction that tourism chiefs are joining forces with the city government and tourism partners to create “Open House Hong Kong”. The platform has “a shared goal to communicate the message Hong Kong as a Covid-safe destination to the wider international audiences”.

Pang’s comments about Open Hong Kong are the strongest indication yet that the city will re-open borders “when the time right” and use travel bubbles to facilitate safe passage between overseas destinations that have also controlled the pandemic.

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Non-residents are currently denied entry on arriving in Hong Kong while travellers arriving from mainland China, Macau and Taiwan must undergo a 14-day quarantine.

A panel of international experts on the travel and tourism industry presented findings on how trends were changing with China’s domestic market indicating full recovery. The problems faced by the global travel industry, however, were likely to double if action is not taken to revive markets.

Leaders representing Hong Kong’s luxury hotels, international travel and aviation called for quarantine to be replaced by other prevention measures “before it is too late”.

“Measures such as contact tracing [can be] more effective than quarantining,” said Peter Borer, chief operating officer and executive director of Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels, which owns the Peninsula hotels.

In addition to the “mandatory wearing of masks”, Borer said there should be “travel bubbles in locations where the virus is under control including Hong Kong… [and] alternative solutions before it is too late. It’s important that quarantine restrictions are lifted.”

Jane Sun, chief executive of Trip.com Group, the largest travel company in Asia, said there were hopes that borders would re-open without the need for quarantine. “We will be able to serve a lot of travellers to Hong Kong once the borders are open,” Sun said.

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Biosafety is a “key area” for the aviation industry, said Alexandre de Juniac, director general and CEO of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) with 80 per cent of respondents to surveys saying they believe there is potential for infections while on board aircrafts.

De Juniac said quarantining was a “major obstacle” to the industry’s recovery and should be replaced with compulsory Covid testing to assure air passengers.

IATA has also called for a tightening up of preflight health declarations, discouraging those with symptoms from travelling and giving flexibility for passengers to rearrange bookings.

Kai Hattendorf, managing director and chief executive of UFI, the global association of the exhibition industry, said more advocacy should be done to make governments aware of the value business events have for their economies.

Hattendorf said hybrid events that combine digital with physical formats have been emerging for years, but business still preferred face-to-face for major purchases and signing deals.

He said a virtual pavilion at the all-digital Canton Fair had some 150,000 online visitors but only three actual trade inquiries.

Search-enquiry trends on Google and studies by the McKinsey marketing consultancy showed that China’s domestic market is recovering well, but business travel was unlikely to be back on pre-Covid levels until 2022.

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