Delay in Hong Kong-Singapore bubble highlights hurdles to travel recovery

Photo: Cathay Pacific Twitter account.

A delay to Asia’s first travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore has hit the shares of their flag carriers and highlighted the challenges facing the global travel industry as it tries to rebound from the pandemic.

The arrangement was postponed on Saturday, one day before it was due to launch, after Hong Kong reported a jump in coronavirus cases. Authorities and aviation experts have said the bubble would provide a blueprint for quarantine-free travel before a vaccine is widely available.

“There is no doubt that there are many challenges around it,” said Singapore hotelier Marcus Hanna, who had taken bookings from Hong Kong tourists and hopes for similar arrangements with major markets like mainland China and Australia early next year.

“Let’s hope that things improve in Hong Kong … many countries would have been looking to see how it goes,” said Hanna, general manager of Fairmont Singapore and Swissotel The Stamford.

Shares of Cathay Pacific fell as much as 6.6% in early Asian trade on Monday, their biggest intraday fall since Aug. 10, before paring some losses to trade 5% lower. Singapore Airlines shares traded 1% lower in a positive local market.

The two airlines have been harder hit by the pandemic than their global peers as they do not have domestic routes to fall back on.

The bubble would have only brought incremental traffic into both cities. But Jefferies analyst Andrew Lee, who covers Cathay Pacific, said for Hong Kong it could serve as a template that could be extended to 10 other countries next year.

Singapore and Hong Kong also set cautious conditions for the bubble, including a suspension if the seven-day moving average of the daily number of unlinked COVID-19 cases exceeded five in either place.

A mooted travel bubble between New Zealand and Australia has also failed to take off, while Europe’s Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia created a short-lived travel bubble in May that burst in September.

“It is important to not let this kill any momentum to open up safely in Asia,” Brendan Sobie, an independent aviation analyst, said of the SingaporeHong Kong setback. “It is hard to get things aligned given the various spikes.”

Reuters

Singapore Reporter/s

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Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

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Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.