As mentioned in our previous blog post (which you can read here), Thailand has done a stellar job at containing #covid19, but now it's time to think about what's going to happen next. As 30% of Thailand's GDP depends on tourism, everyone is wondering when tourists will be back. Below is our our interview with Kevin Beauvais, CEO and Founder of InVision Hospitality, on the future of hospitality and tourism.
Tell us a bit about yourself. What's your background?
I have been in the hospitality industry for more than 35 years, starting as a part-time van driver with Marriott International. My wife, Therese, and I arrived in Thailand in 1997. Prior to starting InVision Hospitality 13 years ago, I served as Thailand Country Manager for Marriott, overseeing the expansion of the brand in Thailand. I celebrated 25 years of service with this hospitality powerhouse and will be forever grateful of the teachings and foundation it provided me. I moved on in 2003, to become Chief Operating Officer for Minor hotel group. During this time, I oversaw the development and expansion of Anantara hotels in Thailand and the Maldives, as well as the Mandara Spa division (now Anantara Spa). I served on both the Board of Directors for Minor International PCL and Rajadamri Hotel PCL, intimately involved in the design development and opening of the Four Seasons Tented Camp in Chiang Rai.
What are your thoughts on the way Thailand has handled the pandemic?
On the global bell curve for overall handling of the coronavirus, Thailand has done well in these unprecedented times. There are many dissenting voices and different points of view on what should or should not have been done, but this was an extraordinary situation that was wiping out entire swathes of industry and changing minute by minute. That would be almost impossible to plan for or know what the right move should be, so I give a little slack on this. I recently read a National Geographic article highlighting Thailand as one of the countries that handled the pandemic well. For any of your interested readers, here is the link: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/2020/06/look-inside-thailand-prevented-coronavirus-gaining-foothold/.
What is the current situation like at InVision Hospitality?
Honestly, we are as stressed out as everybody else. How could we not be? But, we are also steady, focusing forward and determined. The reality is that cash is king in any major downturn. Closing out year 2019 with strong profit levels has allowed us to maintain almost our entire team and therefore able to support and advise our owners as they navigate this very difficult time. Fortunately (and unfortunately), my team and I have been through many crisis’ in Thailand’s past and have learned what we need to do immediately in order to quickly adapt.
What will it take for travel to start again? How long do you think the market will take to rebound?
Unfortunately, my crystal ball is out of batteries at the moment, so I can’t foretell what will happen in the future – as much as I wish I could! A strengthening domestic and limited international arrivals is anticipated for Q4 2020. If we see 50% of the volume of 2019, that would be great. Looking forward for the whole of 2021 (assuming there is no onslaught of the virus that sets the global economy back even further), I’d be overjoyed if we could reach 70% of 2019 business levels.
How will travel change as a result of the pandemic?
Short term, there will be strong travel contractions and people will stay close to “home”, which is why all hotels are currently focused on domestic markets until international flights reopen, and travelers regain confidence in the hygiene and safety of the airline industry. What I do know, with certainty, is that we are all in this together. We need to remember this fact and help each other the best we can by remaining patient with our partner industries, the government, suppliers and colleagues as we work through the learning curve.
Will travel ever go back to normal once all this is over?
Yes. I believe in the resilience of the human spirit and our need for connectedness and desire to learn about destinations unknown. We have a need to explore and enrich ourselves with all the wonderful sights, sounds and cultures the world has to offer. I also have faith and confidence in the global scientific and medical communities that they will find a vaccine and sustainable protocol for us to remain safe and healthy in the future.
What measures are you taking for your properties to ensure guest and staff safety?
As we prepare to reopen 9 hotels and launch 4 new properties in Thailand and Vietnam, this enhancement is ongoing and multi-faceted. As I highlighted in a recent public message distributed through InVision’s website and social media, a big part of the reopening process involves complying with all government regulations, including applying for the SHA health certification and utilizing the Thai Chana QR tracking for all arrivals. We are implementing the specialized InSpired Health Promise hygiene standards and sanitation procedures to help keep our guests comfortable, healthy and safe during their stay. Additional guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO) helps define our actions.
Will hotel/airline rates skyrocket once this all over (to make up for losses)?
Airline rates – yes. Low cost carriers and regional carriers will have some good opportunity here, as they will be more flexible and adaptable than the larger international carriers and struggling national carrier, Thai Airlines. Hotels will not be able to employ the same strategy. The decreased demand and oversupply in Thailand and SE Asia will keep us all carefully managing our costs, while still driving our unique selling points and offering well devised value-ads until the demand increases to previous levels that allow us to manage the rate mix more positively.
What does the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) have planned for bringing back tourists?
The current domestic campaign, “Travel from Home with Amazing Thainess” is great to revive interest and encourage local travel, but the recent statement released by the TAT suggesting their future focus on predominantly high-end tourists is silly and not based in reality. Thailand is not a small island or protected nation, such as Bhutan, that can be hyper-selective in their targeted demographic. The foreign and local investment in Thailand is massive and covers all types of hotels, spas, restaurants and other tourism related industries. A balanced approach to help support ALL segments is required for sustainable growth, not only the high-end and luxury markets.
When do you think tourism will pick up for Thailand/SE Asia?
I believe we will see a slow and gradual growth in Q4 2020 that will continue steadily through 2021.
How are hotels going to cope with the loss of MICE revenue?
This is Déjà vu for Thailand and not the first time MICE has been disrupted. Although MICE business is good business when it’s “On”, but it is also a behemoth to get turned back around once it is moved elsewhere or switched “Off”. For now, the big properties who have 300-1,000 rooms will refocus on leisure business to fill up and drive revenue. This challenge is a big part of my TAT comment above, who will fill these massive properties if not busloads of midscale and 4 star tourists? Surely not a private jet with 6 luxury tourists at a time.
What advice do you have for hoteliers and people in the hospitality industry?
Stay calm, think clearly and act decisively. Keep your expectations of rate, occupancy and revenue tempered. By planning for the worst and looking at your overhead with minimum revenue levels, you will clearly see the path and know where the ‘line’ is for your business. You can survive this and you can actually thrive in the end! But it will take an internal strength and calmness that will be supported by your industry knowledge and professional experience.
Is there anything else you want to share with us?
22 years ago I thought there was no better place to be than Southeast Asia. Today, I have an equal amount of exuberance and faith in the potential for the travel and tourism recovery throughout Southeast Asia, and our dominance in it.
Thank you so much for your time and insight, Kevin! I'm sure your answers will help everyone that reads this feel confident in the future of tourism and hospitality in Southeast Asia.
Interview led by Devi Bajaj
Executive Director of Enliven Services