Inspiration, the new transaction

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T0913BOOKINGEXPLORERS_C_HR [Credit: Booking.com]
A still from a Booking.com video about its Booking Explorers campaign, which features travelers in the Asia-Pacific region.
Yeoh Siew Hoon
Yeoh Siew Hoon

When all you can do is talk about it, inspiration is the new transaction.

What is it they say about those who do, do and those who can't, talk about it?  

It seems these days, my friends in Asia, who have been as travel-deprived as I have been the past 18 months, and I talk more about travel than we do about food, and if you know Asia, you know how bad this is.

Unlike the English, we don't talk about the weather much because that can be quite limiting in a place like Singapore. It's either hot or wet. We've been warned that over the next two weeks it will be very wet because of some change in the ocean temperature, so we are glad to know we are still connected to the world in some way. Because in past months, I've felt like we're living in some sort of suspended bubble, detached from planet Earth's gravity.

This week, in a company Zoom call, I felt I was watching a science fiction movie when I heard my North American colleagues talk about flying here and driving there, and visiting this and that and how it felt like Covid never happened. 

On social media posts, I see my friends in Europe posting pictures of their holidays in Portugal, Greece, Croatia and talk about "as if it never happened."

Yet the mass media continues to bombard us with news that "it's still happening, and it's getting worse" while on social media, we're getting the opposite picture -- somewhere in between lies the truth, I suspect. 

Here across Asia, we're wondering if we will ever get to "as if it never happened." We're still living our lives with all sorts of restrictions -- government-mandated -- and in Singapore, even at 80% fully vaccinated, there are only two countries I can travel to without quarantine both ways: Germany and Brunei. 

Even these Vaccinated Travel Lanes come with such conditions that my initial enthusiasm -- searching for flights, planning roadtrips and reunions with friends -- evaporated when I read the fine print. 

However, if I were running the tourism board in Germany right now, I'd be mounting a full-scale inspiration attack on residents in Singapore and telling us about food, wine and nature (in that order, please). That might just get most of us over the 18-month hardened hump of inertia. I also believe that some are holding out in case other Vaccinated Travel Lanes open up.

Inspiration used to be the domain of traditional travel brands like Intrepid or Abercrombie & Kent or the Japan Travel Bureau, but it seems to me that in the absence of transactions, even the online travel world is turning to inspiration to sell the idea of travel, unlike before when they saw their only task was to sell it as easily as possible in a click or two. 

Besides, in those early days of online travel, there was no money to be made in inspiration, only transactions. I recall at a WiT -- Web in Travel conference early on we ran a debate on "Transaction versus Inspiration" and the Transaction team won hands-down because, well, that's how it was in those innocent days when you could actually travel.

Even Booking.com, that mean machine of transactions, has launched its Booking Explorers campaign, "unveiling a series of powerful stories by leading personalities in Asia Pacific to reignite travel inspiration once more."

Suddenly, explorers and adventurers are back in the limelight, sharing their tales to whet our appetite for the day that will eventually come.

I was most fascinated by Arnie Weissmann's Aug. 16 cover story, "At the junction of exploration and tourism," for which he flew to Portugal to attend an Explorers Summit. The first explorer mentioned in the report, Richard Garriott de Cayeux, paid $30 million to Space Adventures to be launched on a Russian Soyuz rocket to the International Space Station. To get to that point, he "had an operation to remove a lobe on his liver that was blocked and allowed NASA to map the nucleus of every cell in his eye to see if any changes would occur in space (he had previously had laser corrective eye surgery, which NASA believed might disqualify him for space flight)."

At this stage, I'd maybe give my right arm for a trip across the border to Penang, my hometown. That's about 300 miles away from where I am right now. 

I asked Arnie what it was like to hear explorers talk about travel. "Everyone was so interesting. No matter who I sat next to on a bus or at a meal, I just soaked it all in," he said.

See, even the most hardened of travelers now want nothing more than to talk about travel or listen to it these days. 

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