I am one of the lead trainers of Aviator revenue management software and I live in Fiji. I want to share with you what it has been like living on a pacific island during COVID19 times over the past 15 months.
Let me start by saying Fiji is predominantly a tourist destination with direct flights from USA, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and many from surrounding pacific island countries like Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga, Solomon Islands just to name a few.
The Fiji border has basically been closed since March 2020 to keep the country safe from COVID19. After a few initial cases early in 2020, Fiji managed to avoid any community cases for over 1 year until last month where some returning citizens from overseas came home and in conjunction to a breach of protocol has resulted in community cases again.
Some of our close neighbouring countries like Tonga, Kiribati, Palau, Tuvalu and Nauru have had zero cases of COVID19 whilst other close countries like Samoa and Vanuatu have only had 1 case.
So, What’s Life Like Inside a Country Without Coronavirus? Life stuck in paradise and a paradise without COVID-19 might sound like the dream to a lot of people right now. In a lot of ways, it is. Some of our neighbouring countries can freely walk around, go to restaurants, go to bars and clubs and they don’t wear masks, and they’re not constantly reminded to wash their hands (although we should anyway!)
But being stuck in a small island nation located in the South Pacific Ocean means we are really far from everywhere.
And just because the virus is not here in a physical sense, it has certainly affected our lives here in one way or another.
The key impact is loss of tourists. Loss of tourists means loss of jobs. Resorts are closed. Transportation companies are grounded. Fleets of cars and buses just sit idle. Those that make handicrafts have no one to buy their products.
Here are some of the benefits of being stuck in paradise during COVID19:
Heaps of eggs and they are cheap. The number of chickens in Fiji needed to be high enough to supply enough eggs to all the resorts so guests could have their eggs (whether poached, fried, scrambled, boiled, omelette etc.). So, with no tourists, the eggs are still coming out, so we find a tray of 30 eggs selling as cheap as U$4 – so if you like eggs, there’s heaps.
– Do you like bacon to go with those eggs? Well, pork and bacon has never been so cheap. And in Fiji with over 50% of the local population either Muslim or Hindu, the eating of Pork (and or beef) is not high on the agenda, so if you like pork, there is plenty.
I have observed the way people do business now and how they have been forced to adapt. Online meetings, online school which were initially thought of as temporary solutions have been going on now over 1 year. Forecasting when travel will return to normal is proving very difficult.
Like all of the trainers of Aviator revenue management software, my whole job is about teaching revenue management staff how to maximise airline passenger revenue by forecasting what is the maximum price each customer is willing to pay. I have often suggested to students that whilst we can put a lot of science into the forecast, at the end of the day it is still a guess. I have been quoted sometimes calling it ‘Scientific guessing’.
“not sure if training a class of 33 students (like this photo taken 2 years ago in Chongqing – China) remotely will work, so I hope the borders open soon”
But I can already tell the future demand patterns are going to be very difficult to forecast for the foreseeable future. Now that the test of time has proven we do not really need all those ‘face to face’ meetings halfway around the world to make a business deal, the future of ‘Business’ travel is very questionable. Airlines configure their planes (aircraft) based on their long-term forecasts of First Class, Business Class, Premium Economy and for the very lucky few, Suites. I assume many airlines are going to need to re-config their aircraft resulting in a lot more economy seats being available.
Whether manually forecasting the future or using RM systems to assist you, often the starting point is looking at the past. Speed and performance of most systems relies on limiting the amount of data held to produce these forecasts. But let me ask you, would looking last year at demand pattens in July 2020 mean anything for July 2021 or 2022? Many airlines were not even flying. Would going back 2 years help us? Would July 2019 be a good base to forecast 2021? Clearly not, because the majority of us are still significantly impacted by border closures and the flow-on effect of connecting customers.
To be honest, I don’t think there is any point in history that will accurately reflect what the new demand patterns will be in the future, but 1 thing is for sure, during peak times like school holidays, summer holidays, winter holidays, long weekends etc, people will still want to go on holidays. Where demand exceeds supply, there will be an opportunity to increase the yield.
A long weekend does not really affect a customer wanting to travel from Australia to Europe, but it may affect a customer looking for a short get away in the domestic market. But even so, many company’s have proven that working from home can also be productive, in fact I am sure many people have embraced it. Perhaps the future of working will be a combination of a few days in the office and a few days from home, which would significantly impact the surge in demand during holiday long weekends because, let’s face it, many of us are getting a long weekend every week (with reduced work hours, reduced hourly rates etc.).
I have no idea what the ‘new normal’ will be or when it will start, but for revenue management teams around the world, we know this is just a normal day in our forecasting lives. It is never easy.