When Will Belgians Travel Again?
Towards the end of week 1 of 2021, the news about and the perspective on a relatively quick roll out of the Covid-19 vaccines in Belgium has accelerated. An ambitious, but realistic planning has been communicated by the Belgian government. Throughout the weekend, both the Prime Minister as well as the Minister of Health have confirmed this planning in various media interviews.
This news allows the travel industry to have a fresh, concrete and more positive view on the development of the Belgian market for spring, summer and autumn/winter 2021.
In this memorandum, Travel360° wants to inform its partners about the current situation. We think it might be important to have as much information as possible about the recent developments and the consequences for the short term potential as far as travel is concerned. Feel free to contact us for extra information. Travel360° is more than a potential partner for marketing budgets – we take partnership very, very seriously. (*)
- New elements since 15/12/2020:
- Growing availability of Covid-19 vaccines, with access for Belgium through EU agreement
- Successful first trial roll out between Xmas and today
- Confidence in getting group immunity by end of summer
- Travel restrictions probably until after spring holidays, openings for Easter, positive about summer
- Targeted timing of vaccination process – influence on consumer behaviour
- Phase 1: “Save the extra vulnerable people”
In January 290.000 pax should be vaccinated, mainly elder homes inhabitants & staff + hospital patients & staff.This phase will have a gradual positive effect on the death ratio of the old & vulnerable part of the Belgian population
It is expected that throughout this phase, the existing lockdown & travel restrictions will be maintained or even tightened, because of the fear of a third wave with new varieties of the virus.
- Phase 2: “Structurally decrease the death toll”
In February 456.000 pax should be vaccinated, mainly first line medical staff + patients. In March & April, 3.300.000 pax should be vaccinated, mainly 65+ target group (2 million pax) & 45+ target group with medical risk (1,3 million pax)
This is considered as the most critical phase of the vaccination process. While more and more people will be vaccinated (37% cumulatively by the end of Phase 2), a large part of the population will still be vulnerable to contamination. This will force the government to continue to hang in to strict corona measures and travel restrictions, at least until after the spring holidays (15 – 22 February 2021).
If a third wave is kept under control and at the same time the roll out of the vaccination process goes as planned, the Easter holidays will be the first period for which travel restrictions can be relaxed. By then, a clear view on worldwide travel protocols (testing & tracing before, during & after trip) without quarantine obligations should be implemented for a big part of the world.
- Phase 3: “The Tipping Point”
In May, priority will be given to high risk professions. A list of these professions will have to be defined in the coming weeks, but it will probably be quite a big group, including dentists, hair dressers, horeca professionals, garbage collectors, airline crew … It is not possible to quantify this group today, but it is expected that this will be between 750.000 and 1 million Belgian citizens.
This phase will allow the economy to reopen again at full speed, and will allow the government to drop most of the restrictions, but still focusing on essential hygiene measures like hand washing, social distancing and mouth masks.
Travel restrictions will be further relaxed, depending on the situation in the destination countries. The colour scheme will be maintained, and it will still be possible that certain destinations will be “off limits” for a period of time.
- Phase 4: “Back to some sort of normal”
All through June, July, August and September the rest of the Belgian 18+ population will be vaccinated – a target group of approximately 4 million citizens. The introduction of personal, fast tests will allow people to test themselves, so that contaminated persons can ask for priority vaccination. This last phase will result in 75% - 80% of the Belgian population to be vaccinated. The result of such a percentage is group immunity, according to scientists.
A further relaxation of travel restrictions is expected, so that the travel industry should be able to count on a reasonably semi-normal summer. Protocols and concrete health-protection measures all through the customer journey will remain important, both for the governments as for the consumer.
- Conclusions for the travel journey of the Belgian consumer.
As from last week onwards, Belgians have a positive perspective and see more “light at the end of the tunnel”. On the short term restrictions will be maintained and possibly intensified, because of the aggressive spread of the virus. This could even mean stronger travel restrictions in the weeks to come.
It is important though to continue to see the broader picture, with a development that will lead to gradual normalisation of consumer behaviour and economical activity as from May/June onwards.
Today, we see a high pent-up theoretical demand for travel & holidays. Because of previous uncertainty about health restrictions and quarantine obligations, the conversion rate was limited. Gradually, the booking intentions will be concretized in actual bookings, with a booking wave to be expected as from mid April onwards. The last minute booking season will be very important in 2021.
Based on the new vaccination planning as it was officialised at the end of last week, we expect that as from mid February, the Belgian consumer will be keen to start the first part of the customer journey: search & get information. In this process, we expect the travel agent distribution to play an active role.
(*) Sources: Belgian media, Travel360° research, the author’s opinions and insights.