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Coronavirus variants and restrict borders: 2021 will still be mostly a year for domestic travels in Brazil

The New Year holiday in the country already flags this trend. See what the sector's associations in Brazil, as well as important players such as OYO and Movida told LABS

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With closed borders and canceled flights, 2020 was a year of losses for travel companies worldwide. The second wave of the coronavirus pandemic and, more recently, the virus variants identified in European countries and South Africa have increased restrictions on international travel. But within Brazil, step by step, people are beginning to travel again. A preview of what would be the end of this year and also 2021 was seen on national holidays in September and November: crowded beach towns.

Roberto Haro Nedelciu, president of the Brazilian Association of Tour Operators (BRAZTOA), told LABS that in October, 92% of Brazilian operators sold trips, indicating a gradual recovery in the sector, following the reopening of stores, national parks, and the gradual returning of the airlines’ operation.

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“The industry’s rock bottom was in April. Since then, however, it has been growing,” he says. Of the ones that had sales in October, 18% had sales between 50% and 100% of what they were last year, and 4% sold more than in 2019. “Due to many big deals, mainly to trips abroad,” he explains.  

According to Nedelciu, among the places most researched by travelers are quite nature-based destinations. BRAZTOA is among the associations that support the Supera Turismo (Tourism Overcome) campaign, which recently launched the responsible tourist booklet, with protocols about the use of face masks and how to keep places well ventilated. “We support companies, agencies, hotels, and parks to follow the safety protocols. But it does not help if the tourist does not follow the basic protocols for wearing masks, hand sanitization, or keeping a safe distance from other people,” he says.

According to Nedelciu, the revenue from travel operators in Brazil this year is likely to be 50% lower than in 2019.

We think that, if we have a vaccine, the (industry’s) revenue will return to the 2019’s levels in 2021

Roberto Haro Nedelciu, president of the Brazilian Association of Tour Operators (BRAZTOA).

Safety and good experiences will be key factors to attract tourists next year

With coronavirus mutations starting to cause new restrictions and affecting international travel in early 2021, domestic tourism will continue to be the main driver of the sector in the coming year.

In April and May, the Indian unicorn and hospitality chain of leased and franchised hotels OYO reached 20% of the occupation it registered in pre-pandemic periods, according to the startup’s head of New Businesses, Enrico Geiger. In November, the company was already operating close to 50% of its pre-pandemic occupancy rates, expecting to end 2020 with a rate close to 70%. 

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Geiger, from the Indian unicorn OYO. Photo: OYO/Courtesy.

We have positively seen this evolution, even with the hotels closer to the capitals being more resilient to this evolution. In 2022 we should return to the same levels (as before the COVID-19 pandemic)

Enrico Geiger, Head of New Business at OYO.

With COVID-19, many companies had to invest in digital transformation. Not OYO, which was born digital. “Our digital channels perform twice as well as our competitors,” he comments. The company’s year-end campaigns began in early November, and by the middle of the 20th of last month, OYO registered 30% occupancy in Northeastern Brazil. 

In addition to digitization, OYO also bet heavily on a cleaning anti-coronavirus certification in a partnership with the health group Fleury, a leading provider of private healthcare services in Brazil. “The initiative ranges from measuring guests’ temperature and distributing hand sanitizers. We train hotels, do a test and an audit. After they are certified, they receive a stamp that appears on Booking, Expedia, and OYO’s direct channels.”

According to Geiger, hotels with the stamp are twice as busy as those without it. More: guest rating tends to be 0.3 points higher in these hotels than in those that do not have certification.

Until last month, half of OYO’s hotels had the stamp; by the end of the year, 70% of the hotels are likely to be certified. “There are several large hotels with more than 100, 200 rooms, and the possibility of meeting more people is greater,” comments Geiger, stressing that 70% of the hotels that OYO manages have around 30 rooms. “If you compare it to a big hotel, you are in a more controlled environment, with less contact with other people,” he says.

Airbnb points out that in 2019, American travelers’ top destinations were Paris, London, and Rome. By 2021, national parks, ski resorts, and beach towns have entered the international radar.

In Brazil, this has been reflected in an increase in bookings for whole houses in the countryside and small beach towns, up to 300 km (186.411 miles) from urban centers.

If the car has been the option for short trips for those who want to avoid public transport, those who do not have their own car have sought out rental companies.

In July, August, September, October, and November, the Brazillian car rental company Movida saw a strong resumption of short and medium distance leisure. Jamyl Jarrus, commercial and marketing executive director at Movida, told LABS that the company’s worst time was in April, with frozen corporate travels and the partner apps, such as Uber and 99, reducing activity as demand dropped in major cities due to lockdowns. 

Movida and other rental companies were perceived by the health authorities as a service of first necessity, which allowed their stores to remain open.

Jarrus, from the Brazilian car rental company Movida. Photo: Courtesy/Movida.

We served everyone who couldn’t stop. In May, corporate services started to use the cars again, as flight offers were low. In the third quarter, we have resumed volumes close to those pre-pandemic

Jamyl Jarrus, commercial and marketing executive director at Movida.

This year’s third quarter, Movida’s net revenue reached BRL 1 billion, an increase of 3.6% over the same period last year. 

According to Paulo Miguel Junior, president of the Brazilian Association of Car Rental Companies (ABLA), Brazilians have been traveling for up to three, four hours, and states have been promoting regional destinations to enable people to make these shorter trips. “Apart from that concept that holidays and tourism only happen over long distances, travel by plane, that kind of thing,” he said. 

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And what about the airlines? 

The American scientific journal Jama (Journal of the American Medical Association) published an article showing that air travel offers less risk of contamination by COVID-19 than the subway or a classroom. This is due to an aircraft filtration system, the HEPA filter, which renews the air every three minutes. Contagion by another passenger can be prevented by wearing face masks and avoiding food consumption on the plane.

This filter cleans 99.97% of the microparticles. It is a filter that absorbs the air from top to bottom. When a passenger wearing a face mask sits next to another passenger talking, eventually, what passes through the mask will be sucked into the filter. So the risk of contamination on board is the same statistically as a lightning strike on your head,

Eduardo Sanovicz, president of Brazilian Association of Airlines (ABEAR). 

With an average tariff of 63% of the average value in the pre-pandemic period, airlines are part of one of the sectors most affected by the COVID-19 crisis. “In the worst moment of the crisis, between March and April, we had 8% of the air network operating (in Brazil)”, recalls Sanovicz. 

Slowly, the sector in Brazil is recovering month after month. According to Sanovicz, in October, 52% of the air network was in operation; in November, 60%; and in December, the forecast is that activities will reach between 68% and 70% of it would be normal.

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For some destinations more connected to leisure, such as Salvador, the air network can reach 80% of operation. Stronger numbers should be repeated in Fortaleza, Foz do Iguaçu, and cities with these characteristics in the domestic market, according to the president of ABEAR.

For domestic air travel, Brazil does not require RT-PCR tests to detect coronavirus infections. “The protocol is extremely rigorous, but it does not require testing because it does not have any legal coverage for that. The protocol provides for a series of attitudes since entering the airport, luggage, boarding area, all the time on board, suspension of services (such as food), and of course, HEPA filters.”

The international network, on the other hand, should take time to recover. This is because it relies not only on the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions but also on each country’s rules and the view about Brazil in each of them at this moment.