Checking out destination Nowhere and checking in to destination Hong Kong

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It’s nearing five months since I last took a flight following a year in which I felt I was in the sky more than I was in my own bed. COVID-19 may have reduced my carbon footprint but it has only increased my appetite to see other places. I suspect I am far from alone and that many of those who feel safe about travelling and can afford it will want to do so as soon as possible.

That longing for the travel experience was ingeniously tapped into by Songshan Airport in downtown Taipei earlier this month, where management began offering travellers the chance to check-in, go through passport control, clear security, climb onboard a China Airlines Airbus A330 and chat to the flight attendants.

So far so good, then. But what’s so ingenious about that? Simple. The flight never took off. After the brief travel ‘experience’, the passengers duly disembarked after their short flight to destination Nowhere. The experience has been repeated many times since due to public demand.

Songshan Airport management introduced the initiative not only to whet consumer appetite for international travel once it is allowed, but also to instil confidence in COVID-19 health and safety protocols. The programme also offers the opportunity to show off renovations (including an impressive Ever Rich Duty Free shop makeover) completed while passengers have stayed away.

Taiwan has kept COVID-19 under impressive control, with just 451 cases recorded and only seven deaths (that’s a mere 19 cases and 0.3 deaths per million people), helped by borders being semi-closed since mid-March. Citizens have been warned against overseas travel unless absolutely necessary. The Songshan promotion is at least building consumer anticipation for when things change.

Given that Heathrow is unlikely to introduce a similar scheme, I’m going to have to wait for the real thing. Fortunately it’s not long now and I plan to depart these shores very soon for the rather safer ones of Hong Kong (via Doha). The dithering of the UK government has been a prime reason for the high infection and death rate here (658 fatalities per one million people, the second-highest rate behind Belgium among the 30 countries with the greatest number of total cases) and I still do not understand the political or popular blaseness at best and antipathy at worst to wearing masks.

Who is that masked man?

I will be cautious when travelling of course but I will not feel any more exposed than when I walk to my local village shops as I had to this week. Enough of the cases and deaths per million rate, what about the mask-wearing percentage? Still, pitifully low, based on my experience.

Social distancing in place outside my local Co-op store but other than mine not a single mask in sight
CNN headlines the unwillingness of most Brits to wear masks, despite having the world’s third-highest COVID-19 fatality count. “Walk into any busy store in England or board a train on London’s cramped underground system and you will see dozens of people unmasked. And you can forget about face coverings at recently reopened pubs… that’s about as likely as a free pint of beer,” it writes.

I love living in the UK but right now Asia strikes me in every way as more suitable, sensible and safe (despite the current Hong Kong spike) a place to both live and to help my business recover after the trauma of the COVID-19 months. Despite the pressures on our revenues from advertising (depressed) and physical events (disappeared) we’ve made a long-term decision to maintain our subscription-free model across our media portfolio. In many ways the experience of running my company this year feels like my start-up year in 2002 when as a team of one I had to scrap for every single victory. The team has grown but the scrap is truly on.

In a crazy way I relish the fight (it helps that I love my job), working every hour I can, focusing on making our product shine, and innovating wherever and however we can. In that regard, the success of our Virtual Travel Retail Expo has been encouraging and I am cautiously optimistic about the future of our business as well as, long term, that of travel retail in general.

One of my industry mentors, Rakhita Jayawardena of King Power Traveler, likes to quote English poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s words: The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.

I like those words very much too. There’s been a lot of toiling upward in the night this year and it must continue, albeit from a different location. For me, destination Asia, rather than destination nowhere, is my chosen flight path.


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