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Agoda’s CEO John Brown on the future of tourism and how he navigates COVID-19


The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a profound toll on the world’s economy, and the tourism industry has been one of the hardest hit since the outbreak. John Brown, CEO of Agoda, shares his insights on how Thailand and Taiwan confidently navigate through the pandemic with domestic travel and the future of tourism.

According to Agoda’s research, the domestic travel scene in Taiwan and Thailand are vibrant, with both exceeding the performance of the same period from last year. They are also two markets that made efforts in COVID-19 prevention. Taiwan, with a population of more than 23 million people, has 540 cases and seven deaths so far.

“Taiwan is close to China and could have been a total disaster. So I see their lack of cases as a truly amazing result,” said Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, author of a new book about the best health care systems around the world.

The territory was crowned as this year’s most searched global destination for travel, followed by Thailand and Japan. The top 10 destinations in Taiwan include Hualien, Yilan, Taipei, Kenting, Taitung, Nantou, and Taichung.

Other than being an attractive destination, Taiwan’s people are passionate about traveling. 66% of Taiwanese want to travel abroad, compared with only 35% in other countries. Additionally, multiple airlines are organizing the “pretend to go abroad” tours to fulfill the wanderlust of Taiwanese.

Brown predicts the traveling industry will rebound when the COVID-19 ends. However, the nature of business trips might change forever.

“I am 100% sure that people’s travel habits will be revived to the level before the pandemic, but in the next few years, hygiene and safety will be crucial,” he said.

“In the past, I had to take a flight to Europe and North America three times per year for a board meeting. The pandemic had made many of us realize that virtual conferencing tools can replace some parts of a business trip,” he added.

Amid the pandemic, Agoda has launched a series of activities such as the “GoLocal” campaign to boost domestic tourism. The “GoLocal” initiative offers travelers a 25% discount on selected accommodations. Meanwhile, accommodation providers can enjoy multi-channel exposure, such as being featured in Agoda’s exclusive landing sites. More than 10,000 accommodation providers in Taiwan signed up for the campaign.

In addition, Agoda implemented a feature called EasyCancel in April, which allows guests an option to cancel up to 24 hours before arrival.

“The EasyCancel feature is part of Agoda’s proactive response to supporting hotel partners in this current challenging landscape. We want to help all our partners by attracting customers that still want to book a hotel, but are perhaps reluctant to do because of uncertainty around evolving travel restrictions,” said Errol Cooke, Agoda’s vice-president of partner services.

To ease guests’ concerns on the accommodation hygiene, Agoda launched a verification feature called HygienePlus in September, allowing travelers to see the health and hygiene measures adopted by the accommodation providers in advance.

Agoda also partners with the governments in Japan and Thailand. In July, Agoda announced the partnership with the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Ministry of Tourism and Sports, Fiscal Policy Office, Ministry of Finance, and Krungthai Bank PCL to revive local tourism. While the government subsidizes 40% of room night rates, Agoda simplifies the process of booking, payment, and verification process.

Despite its efforts in producing new products and services during the coronavirus crisis, in May, Agoda axed 1,500 jobs in the Asia Pacific, which is about a quarter of its total workforce. The majority of the job cuts come from its customer experience group, but the product, IT, finance, partner services, marketing, and Rocketmiles divisions are not exempted. In addition, senior leadership team members are all taking a salary cut of 20% since 1 June.

"Due to the impact of COVID-19 on our business and the travel industry, we've had to say goodbye to great people at Agoda recently; talented individuals whom we believe other companies would be lucky to have. In support of our teammates departing Agoda, we've launched the Agoda Talent Directory to help connect these talented individuals with new opportunities," Agoda said on LinkedIn.

Samantha Chan

Samantha Chan is a Hong Kong-born journalist who has taken an interest in Taiwan’s business scene. Over the past three years, she has written for numerous newspapers and magazines in Hong Kong. She is currently studying for a master’s degree in journalism at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.