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by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Crippled by COVID-19, Tourism Gears Up to Rebound

COVID-19 has disturbed practically every business vertical across the globe, and travel and tourism sectors were one of the first ones to fall prey to the devastating effects of the pandemic. Complete lockdowns made taking a leisure trip or planning a vacation impossible for a long time to come. Not only were people unable to travel, but also multiple businesses serving in the tourism sector closed down temporarily, with some shutting their doors for good. Recently, leisure travel started to resume, but at a snail’s pace. In many countries, businesses, local authorities, and government agencies are developing a coordinated approach to aid economic recovery of the sector. The actions and approaches taken in these uncertain times will lay the foundation for the future of the tourism sector.

The travel & tourism industry contributed US$ 8.9 trillion to the global economy in 2019. Leisure travel made up the majority of total travel & tourism revenue standing at 78.6%. The trend was expected to follow in 2020 but the coronavirus outbreak crippled the entire leisure tourism sector as travels were canceled globally for at least three months (mainly from April to June, though in many locations those cancellations have continued at least till autumn, and again at the end of the year).


Read more on the pandemic impact on business travel in our previous Perspective: Business Travel: On the Mend but Long Recovery Ahead


Travelers evolving preferences

Demand for domestic leisure travel is expected to rise as people are likely to be less inclined to travel to international destinations due to safety, hygiene, and uncertainty concerns. Unwillingness to spend on international travel in the immediate future also suggests that people are less inclined to make trips to international destinations. Self-driving trips to nearby destinations and weekend getaways are likely to increase in popularity.

In terms of traveler type, the group travel segment (irrespective of the size of the group) has always generated higher revenue for the global leisure travel market, in comparison to the solo traveler segment (in 2018, group travel segment contributed nearly 73% of revenue to the global leisure travel market). Travelers were always able to take advantage of group discounts offered by hotels, resorts, airlines, and vehicle rental companies.

It is anticipated that group travel will continue to be a common practice among travelers (both during the pandemic and post-pandemic). However, to avoid crowded places, it is highly likely in the future, travelers would need (and perhaps also desire) to travel in smaller groups. This trend is expected to continue in the distant future mainly due to the growing acceptance of social distancing norms as the new normal for sanitation and hygiene purposes globally. However, whether or not this type of travel arrangement will be monetarily favorable to various market stakeholders (in terms of discounts and margins when compared to larger group travels) and what discounted rates would consumers receive is yet to be seen.

It is highly likely in the future, travelers would need (and perhaps also desire) to travel in smaller groups. This trend is expected to continue in the distant future mainly due to the growing acceptance of social distancing norms as the new normal for sanitation and hygiene purposes globally.

Demand for private charter flights is also rising among leisure travelers. Wary of flying with regular flights, people are turning to charter planes for taking a vacation trip to safe destinations (for both short and long-distance locations). However, this trend is expected to be short-lived mainly because only upper-class travelers will be able to afford such travel and most of the demand for charter flights come from business travelers (which is also limited to need-only basis, for now at least).

Moreover, interest in trips to off the beaten path locations and niche tourism (such as adventure tourism, wellness tourism, and heritage tourism) is also expected to grow as these locations are likely to be considered safer to travel to in comparison to famous tourist locations, at least for some time in the foreseeable future.

Crippled by COVID-19, Tourism Gears Up to Rebound by EOS Intelligence

Governments to the rescue

Travel and tourism businesses have been hit hard as they had to temporarily close business operations (many small and medium-sized business players are permanently out of business) and suffered heavy revenue losses. To mitigate the impact of coronavirus (on both the travel and tourism sector and economies), many governments have offered aid packages to help the sector.

Governments globally have taken a range of measures to revive the sector in order to shield the economy and to protect employment. For instance, Italy, one of the most popular tourist destinations and also one of the worst-hit economies by the first wave of pandemic, announced a relief package to revive businesses in the travel sector. The package includes a US$ 645.7 million fund for the aviation sector, a US$ 129.1 million fund to support regions that generated lower revenue owing to lower number of people paying tourism taxes, US$ 19.3 million for tourism promotion, and subsidies worth US$ 129.1 million for museums and other cultural sites to recover lost ticket revenue for 2020, among others.

Similarly, under the Hong Kong government’s Anti-Epidemic Fund, licensed travel agents will receive a subsidy ranging from US$ 2,580 to US$ 25,803, travel agents’ staff and freelance tourist guides and tour escorts will receive a monthly subsidy of US$ 645 for six months, licensed hotels will receive a subsidy of US$ 38,705 or US$ 51,607 (depending on the size), and tour coach drivers a one-time subsidy of US$ 1,290. Additional US$ 90.3 million has been allotted to the Hong Kong tourism board for tourism promotion.

New Zealand announced that for the losses borne by travel agents for canceled travel plans by their consumers, the government will pay 7.5% of value for cash refunds or 5% of credit value to be capped at US$ 31.4 million.

In another example, the Australian government allotted a package of US$ 177.2 million for regional tourism which will include US$ 35.4 million to support businesses in regions heavily reliant on international tourism and remaining US$ 141.8 million to boost local infrastructure in regional communities, of which US$ 70.8 million will be used for tourism-related infrastructure. For regional tourism rebound, the Western Australian government has allotted US$ 10.2 million in the form of two funds – US$ 7.3 million as one-off cash grants of US$ 4,608 to up to 1600 individual small businesses and US$ 2.8 million as grants of US$ 17,723 to US$ 70,894 for tourism operators.

To revitalize tourism, some countries are assigning special reserves for campaigns as well. The UK initiated a US$ 12.9 million ‘Kick Start Tourism Package’ for the recovery and renewal of the tourism sector wherein businesses can access government grants of up to US$ 6,462 to restart operations. Similarly, Norway allocated US$ 19.9 million for rebounding the country’s internal tourism businesses while Denmark assigned US$ 7.8 million for international tourism campaigns.

Various employee training programs and digital technology management processes are also being implemented to support the sector. One such example is the Singaporean government’s move to fund up to 90% of the training course and trainers’ fee for employee upgrading and talent development through its Training Industry Professionals in Tourism fund.

With minimal to no action happening in the travel and tourism segment, all these efforts are likely to not only protect jobs but also give the necessary push to restart the businesses, albeit from ground zero, in some cases.

Tourism-dependent least developed economies in deep waters

Considering that out of the 47 least developed countries identified by United Nations, 45 consider travel and tourism of significant relevance to their economies in terms of job creation, growth prospects, and overall development, COVID-19 has a real potential to adversely affect these vulnerable countries.

In January 2020, through the ‘Visit Nepal Year 2020’ campaign, Nepal expected to attract two million visitors and generate US$ 2 billion in revenues in 2020. It should be noted that in normal circumstances, travel and tourism contributes nearly 6.7% to Nepal’s GDP. However, with the onset of the pandemic, not only was the campaign suspended but also the tourist arrivals declined drastically – 177,975 tourists visited Nepal up until August 2020, only 24% of what had arrived during the same period in 2019 (739,000 tourists arrived between January and August). Also, nearly 20,000 tour and mountaineering guides risked losing jobs due to the cancellation of all mountaineering expeditions.

In Cambodia, where travel and tourism contribute nearly 26% to the nation’s GDP, the effects of the virus have also been damaging. The country may lose up to US$ 3 billion in revenues as the inflow of international travelers was down by 52% to 1.16 million in between January and April 2020 (2.41 million visitors in 2019 during the same period). Up until May 2020, more than 45,000 jobs had been affected due to the pandemic.

Likewise, for countries such as Kiribati, Gambia, Sao Tome and Principe, Madagascar, Tanzania, Solomon Islands, Rwanda, and Comoros, travel and tourism sector forms a key contributor to their economies by contributing 18%, 17.7%, 16.2%, 11.8%, 10.7%, 10.5% 10.2%, and 10.1%, respectively, to the countries’ GDPs.

In normal scenario, majority of the travel and tourism revenue in these countries is generated by leisure travel (for most of these countries leisure segment generates >50% of the revenue) as against business travelling. The sudden onset of the pandemic prohibited the entry of travelers (for vacationing purposes) within these countries stopping cash inflow thus hampering revenue generation.

Governments in most of these countries, through relief funds and aid packages, attempt to cushion the negative impact of the virus on the sector and the livelihoods of people involved. However, they are far from being able to fully offset the devastating repercussions, considering that these economies had already been at a disadvantageous position with limited growth and development even prior to the pandemic.

EOS Perspective

Covid-19 has altered most travelers’ perspective on vacationing, a fact that is unlikely to change in the short term. It is now upon the various stakeholders operating the leisure tourism sector to ensure that travelers will have an easy and reassuring path back to the sector’s services.

In the current scenario, regions where governments have been able to contain the spread of the virus, even if to a small extent, leisure traveling is slowly resuming. However, reduction in disposable income (due to unemployment), safety concerns, and overall economic slump are causing people to plan affordable regional trips rather than international vacations.

Globally, the impact of the pandemic on leisure tourism has been detrimental to the latter’s growth, to say the least. In some regions, people are slowly keener on booking vacation trips again but the volumes are low. They are likely to remain so, at least in the near future, especially with the returning spikes in number of infections and increased travel restrictions that follow.

Safety is not the only factor holding people back from traveling. Equally important is the financial crunch, fueled by the job losses and uncertainty about the future. Travel and tourism industry stakeholders are observing this trend and trying to alter their strategies and business models, in collaboration with government agencies, to survive in these changing, challenging, and uncertain times.

Safety is not the only factor holding people back from traveling. Equally important is the financial crunch, fueled by the job losses and uncertainty about the future.

More so, partnerships among tourism industry stakeholders’, regional communities, government authorities, and private sector enterprises would also contribute to the sector’s recovery. For instance, in October 2020, Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) partnered with Google to launch Goggle’s Arts & Culture collection called ‘Tour Nigeria’ which is an online exhibition that includes videos, photographs, and commentaries highlighting the country’s scenic beauty and cultural festivals. This collaboration aims at providing online training programs to small businesses and impart digital skills training to individuals in order to support the local tourism sector. As part of the initiative, a video series named ‘Explore Nigeria’ was also launched wherein social media influencers are roped in to publicize ‘best of Nigeria’ in order to reach large number of viewers via influencers’ social media followers.

Post the lockdown, stakeholders in the travel and tourism landscape restarted their operations by evolving their product offerings (hotel stay packages with increased flexibility or airlines not flying to full capacity thus practicing social distancing), experience services (such as tours and excursions or offering upgrades at no or minimal fee), and overall business approach. However, in some regions, this re-opening was short-lived, and was paused by the second wave of pandemic (with the third one on the horizon for spring 2021).

In the foreseeable future, it would not come as a surprise if the customers can book a service provider for a leisure trip based on hygiene and sanitation rating associated with it. Businesses are therefore being promoted on the basis of adopting upgraded cleaning procedures. It is highly likely that the pandemic may push tourism councils and governing bodies to come up with a hygiene assurance standard, either on a global or national level, that all players in the travel industry might need to abide by – this could be a bit of a stretch but such an initiative, if taken, is very likely to be embraced by many travelers.

Automation, though already at the forefront of travel and tourism, is likely to pick up pace. Travelers can expect to witness increased contactless interactions such as contactless check-in or check-out and usage of mobile apps as hotel room keys, virtual reality for sight-seeing, and chatbots and robots for concierge services. Usage of contact tracking apps to monitor traveler’s health and automatic disinfectors will also increase.

Adoption of digital identity and biometric tools will drive the travel industry in the future. Consolidated technology solutions offering transparent and seamless flow of information ensuring travelers’ safety are essential. One such digital identity tool is the Known Traveler Digital Identity (KTDI) that holds the potential to offer a secure and seamless travel experience. An initiative by the World Economic Forum, KTDI not only aims at optimizing passenger processing experience but also manages risks in real-time by monitoring a traveler’s health records.

Nevertheless, while it is optimistic to think that once the vaccine is widely available, the virus will be eradicated and travel will resume as before, one thing that the pandemic has brought to the forefront is that adaptability and adjustment is the key for travel and tourism sector players to keep their businesses running.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Business Travel: On the Mend but Long Recovery Ahead

To contain the spread of coronavirus, many governments globally implemented country-wide closures resulting in discontinuation of large part of business activities. As a result, business-related travels also came to an abrupt halt as flights got cancelled and hotels temporarily shut down. Even after partial reopening, the continuing travel restrictions and the fear of contracting virus while travelling have restrained people from taking work-related trips. The shift towards working from home and conducting meetings virtually furthers the need to not travel. Thus, to revive the business travel sector, various stakeholders are devising new short and long-term strategies to minimize the impact of COVID-19 on corporate travel.

Business travel spending was expected to reach US$ 1.6 trillion in 2020. However, as per Global Business Travel Association’s estimates, due to coronavirus, the global business travel market is expected to lose US$ 820.7 billion in revenue in 2020. China, the epicenter of the pandemic, is expected to lose US$ 404.1 billion followed by Europe (US$190.5 billion) in revenue from corporate travel.


Read more on the pandemic impact on leisure travel in our next Perspective: Crippled by COVID-19, Tourism Gears Up to Rebound


Innovative travel protocols to the rescue

For the most part of 2020, tourism sector took a beating due to the multifaceted crisis presented by coronavirus. Governments globally are devising new travel practices to facilitate economic recovery for the business travel industry. This new form of international travel consists of green lanes, travel bubbles, and air bridges which essentially facilitates the reopening of international air travel between countries where the COVID-19 outbreak is under control. Furthermore, each business traveler must go through strict health screening at entry and exit points to ensure safe travel.

Governments’ globally are devising new travel practices to facilitate economic recovery for the business travel industry. This new form of international travel consists of green lanes, travel bubbles, and air bridges which essentially facilitates the reopening of international air travel between countries where the COVID-19 outbreak is under control.

The key idea behind these new travel corridors is primarily to bestow normalcy to the tourism sector with travels currently being reserved for business travelers for whom travel is a necessity rather than an option. Such planned travel movements are an effective means to give the necessary push to tourism sector, thus economically aiding the countries, even if to a small extent.

Singapore is one such country which carefully weighed its reopening options and as of late September had the following agreements in place:

  • Fast Lane Agreement with China and South Korea – enabling essential business and official travel between both countries for travelers carrying a Safe Travel Pass issued by a company or government agency of the respective country
  • Reciprocal Green Lane (RGL) with Malaysia, Brunei, and Japan – facilitating short-term essential business and official travel between both countries for up to 14 days carrying a Safe Travel Pass issued by a company or government agency of the respective country; RGL with Japan is also referred to as Business Track
  • Periodic Commuting Arrangement (PCA) Agreement with Malaysia – permitting residents of both countries holding work passes in the other country to enter that country for work
  • Air Travel Pass with Brunei and New Zealand – allowing short-term visitors (including foreigners who have remained in either of the two countries in the last consecutive 14 days prior to entry in Singapore) entry into Singapore and the travel reason may extend beyond official business

Under all agreements, all travelers entering Singapore have to abide by strict health measures such as pre-departure and post-arrival testing (to be paid by the traveler), serving stay-home notice, using the TraceTogether app (that allows for digital contact tracing by notifying the user if they have been exposed to COVID-19 through close contact with other app users), and adhering to a controlled itinerary for the first 14 days of stay (being prohibited from using public transportation).

Other than Singapore, Thailand had also planned to allow foreign business travelers from Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, and some provinces of China into the country from July as part of its business bubble travel approach. However, the discussions were delayed amid rising cases of coronavirus in East Asian countries where previously the outbreak was under control.

Business Travel: On the Mend but Long Recovery Ahead by EOS Intelligence

Hospitality players bending rules to appeal to corporate travelers

Business travel is of great importance for both airlines and hotels. Corporate travelers purchase high-value airline tickets, airport lounge access memberships, and reside in business hotels forming a major chunk of their clientele. However, hotel and airline industries have taken a major hit due to the ongoing pandemic.

Also, travelers currently show an unprecedented concern about their health and safety, and demand assurance that they can get on a plane or check into a hotel without worrying about the risk of infection. For hotels and airlines, safety has gone up their priority list, as they are developing premise-scrubbing protocols and ensure clear information about cleaning and safety procedures to their guests.

For years, hotel industry had been rigid in regard to guest’s arrival and departure timings, cancellation policies, etc. However, in the current scenario, corporate travelers’ expectations for hotels to offer flexibility have greatly increased. Thus, hotels are focusing on extending flexible services such as round the clock check-in/check-out option, accommodating refunds in case of room cancellations, and being more pliable to room upgrades (for free or at a minimum charge) so that guests can still work in case of event cancellations (or if they have to be in quarantine when traveling internationally for longer durations).

Other than offering generous discounts on flight tickets and hotel stays, airlines and hotels are highly likely to offer extra perks and bonuses such as fee waivers, extension on rewards redemption dates, bonus reward points, and upgrades, among others, as part of loyalty programs for corporate clients. Extension on expiration date of loyalty programs also make business travelers feel welcomed.

For hotels and airlines, safety has gone up their priority list, as they are developing premise-scrubbing protocols and ensure clear information about cleaning and safety procedures to their guests.

Corporates shake up travel maneuvers

Traveling priorities changed overnight during the coronavirus pandemic driving companies to reconsider their travel protocols and develop contingency plans. It is expected that 5-10% of business-related travel will be permanently eliminated as companies reduce their travel budgets and embrace virtual interactions, wherever possible, avoiding the need to travel. Moreover, companies are working on developing robust travel policies to account for safety before sanctioning any trip.

As a result of these changes, reliance on travel management companies for corporate travel is likely to increase, however, working with a trusted partner will be key to ensure travel safety. Companies will look for partners that can help them strategize travel plans, prioritize safety, and monitor spending. Round-the-clock travel support staff, flexibility to authorize last-minute itinerary changes, ability to track employee location online via an app, and expansive portfolio of hotels and travel partners to choose from in case of replacements, sudden cancellations, etc., are some of the key requirements corporates would expect their travel partners to offer. Availability of a single digital platform for travelers, agents, and company travel managers comprehending all travel-related information will make it easy to plan and track employee’s movement.

Availability of a single digital platform for travelers, agents, and company travel managers comprehending all travel-related information will make it easy to plan and track employee’s movement.

Many companies plan to resume their travel plans on a need-only basis with sales and marketing related trips being the first ones to recommence. Companies are keen to adopt a remote work location approach, wherever applicable, to limit the number of trips their employees take and to keep them safe. Additionally, including specific COVID-19-related do’s and don’ts around booking trips (via air, rail, or road), lodging, and rentals in the travel policy will prevent companies from being at litigation risk.

Business Travel On the Mend but Long Recovery Ahead by EOS Intelligence

Corporate events take a backseat

Restrain on public gatherings and travel bans hit the corporate event industry the hardest. Many events were cancelled or postponed indefinitely while many events gradually shifted to virtual platform. It is anticipated that between mid-February and mid-March 2020, the corporate event and conferences industry globally lost US$ 26.3 billion and US$ 16.5 billion in potential contracts and revenues, respectively. With the rising number of virtual events, some of which might never return to the real world, the corporate events industry is in troubled waters, at least in the foreseeable future.

As of now, the fear of contracting the virus at an event and the comfort of participating in an event remotely will continue to stifle the recovery rate for the event industry. However, in the medium term, a blended approach (in-person attendance and digital medium) may offer some respite. Organizing multi-location small gatherings, wherein small groups of people (located in a particular area or smaller region) connect online with other such groups to form a larger event could be a successful model for conducting corporate events.

EOS Perspective

Demand for business travel is most likely to elevate gradually. Domestic travel entailing client meetings and site visits are likely to resume first. Even when travelling within the country, travelers will prefer to undertake self-driven trips and same day return tours to avoid using public transport or rental vehicles and staying at hotels. International trips are likely to take much longer to rebound owing to diverse government regulations and quarantine procedures in each country. Moreover, it is highly probable that travel related to global events and conferences may never return to pre-pandemic levels.

It can also be expected that for some time, the business travel industry will revolve around the degree of flexibility and sanitation standards offered to customers. Business travel industry stakeholders will have to continuously readjust their business policies, product offerings, and day-to-day functions as situation improves (or worsens) to accommodate changing customer needs. For instance, while some hotel chains may decide to temporarily shut their properties, others may offer them for quarantine purposes for travelers visiting for longer work durations.

Similarly, it is up to the airlines to decide which routes to fly, how frequently to fly, and how much to charge (they can offer to sell premium and business-class tickets at much discounted rates to attract travelers, to at least recover some costs, if not to make profits). Modifying their offerings to appeal to business travelers (when travel is neither necessity nor priority) during these uncertain and volatile times would be of great merit for players operating in this space.

Nevertheless, the road to recovery for business travel sector is bumpy. Business travel will certainly pick momentum but the recovery is likely to be slow. However, whether the sector will reach pre-COVID revenue levels (and how many years it will take) is still debatable. This being said, stakeholders in the business travel industry who are adaptable and operate around customer expectations are the ones who have a higher chance to sail through this less damaged.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Iran’s Tourism Industry Sprouts despite US Sanctions

For several years, the US sanctions on Iran continued to have a detrimental impact on the economic growth of the country, with tourism sector being severely affected throughout the period under sanctions. The 2016 sanctions removal brought many visible changes to the development of the country, with hopes for tourism industry to benefit from the potential influx of travelers and new opportunities for the industry players.

Iran’s tourism was severely affected by the US sanctions

Iran was in a quivering state for more than 35 years owing to the never-ending political tensions with the USA post the 1979 Iranian Revolution. This led to no formal diplomatic relationships between the countries since 1980, and considerable sanctions imposed on Iran over the years. The impact of these sanctions was visible through a range of profound economic problems such as inflation, unemployment, poverty, and underdevelopment of virtually all industries in the country.

One sector that faced severe repercussions of the sanctions was Iran’s tourism industry. A negative image of the country was reinforced by the mainstream media as a flag-burning, west-hating nation, a fact that caused a major dent to Iran’s tourism industry. Adding to it, lack of resources to tackle this negative discourse had further left Iran in an international isolation over all these years. Despite being rich in culture, natural history and landscapes, a country with such an image could not persuade foreign tourists to visit.

Moreover, the US sanctions drastically affected Iran’s economy, which resulted in lack of proper resources to establish a well-equipped transportation sector, including airlines, trains, and buses, which in turn led to Iran becoming even less attractive to tourists. In addition, lack of proper hospitality infrastructure such as hotels, restaurants, roads, etc., further negatively impacted international tourists’ interest in Iran. Adding to it, the US sanctions also created greater tensions between Iran and the USA which led the US government to issue a travel advisory over all these years, which restricted its citizens to travel to Iran due to safety risks, such as getting kidnapped or arbitrary arrest and detention in the country. Thus, this resulted in almost no tourist from the western countries visiting Iran.

Iran’s tourism sector did witness a very modest growth over the years, largely thanks to pilgrimage tourism visiting the shrines and originating mostly from regional countries such as Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Turkey.

According to The World Bank data, the number of international tourists’ arrivals in Iran fluctuated, increasing from 2.7 million in 2006 to just 4.9 million visitors in 2014. Iran’s tourism industry was suffering particularly badly not only from the lack of arrivals of American tourists, but generally more affluent, well-spending tourists from western hemisphere, who were universally deterred by sanctions, poor state of the tourism infrastructure, as well as the negative image of the country created by international media.

According to official figures by Iran’s Culture Heritage Organization, during the sanctions period, tourism sector contributed around 2.0% to the country’s GDP (an average of US$7.5 billion in a year), leading to sluggish infrastructural development throughout that period. Iranian tourism sector’s hopes for change and better growth started budding when Iran signed a nuclear deal with six countries in July 2015, an event that led to the US sanctions being finally lifted.

The nuclear deal came as a ray of hope

Even before the US government removed the sanctions, the country started witnessing a slight increase in the number of foreign visitors. This was thanks to the nuclear deal signed between Iran and a group of six countries (the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – Russia, France, UK, USA, and China, plus Germany) and the EU in July 2015. The deal included Iran’s commitment to restricting its nuclear activities, agreeing to keep check on the uranium stockpile, among other agreements.

The deal immediately mellowed down Iran’s negative image and released a positive message of lowered risks associated with visiting the country. This gave a slight boost to the tourism sector with a moderate growth of 4.5% with 5.2 million foreign tourists visiting the country in 2015, the highest arrivals number till date.

Another upward push on the growth trajectory came the following year, when the US government removed sanctions from Iran in January 2016, as part of the nuclear deal. This was expected to have a major impact on tourism sector as it offered hope for much needed economic stimulation, along with investments and development in the economy, and tourism sector in particular.

Iran’s Tourism Industry Sprouts despite US Sanctions by EOS Intelligence

Post lifting of sanctions, tourism sector rejoiced with developments

The nuclear deal and removal of sanctions brought growth to the tourism sector, owing to removal of restrictions on imports of financial and transportation-related services. As a result, some European airlines, such as British Airways and Lufthansa, resumed direct flights to the country. As visa requirements were increasingly relaxed, tourists from western countries started to arrive. This in turn slowly raised the demand for accommodation leading to skyrocketing prices of hotel rooms. These changes finally generated higher income for local businesses such as hotels, restaurants, tourist guides, local transportation providers, and other players in the market. Iranians excitedly welcomed foreign tourists, including the Americans, along with the positive outlook for the sector’s growth.

The Iranian government, following the sanctions removal, initiated efforts to attract foreign investments with a clear agenda of reducing Iran’s oil dependency and boost the country’s economy, by betting on increasing revenues from tourism sector.

The initiatives included the launch of a scheme called “100 Hotels, 100 Businesses” that outlined 174 projects to be introduced to investors interested in hotel construction. This is was an ambitious scheme led by the Iranian government focusing on bringing the hotel industry of the country back on track. This scheme aimed at attracting investments for the construction of 100 hotels across 31 provinces with priority given to most popular regions such as Tehran, Kashan, or Mashhad. Also, through this scheme, the government focused on initiating joint ventures with foreign companies, benefiting both the government and foreign investors.

The government also announced other major plans for the development of tourism industry. These included creating regulations to facilitate investment, creating brands of hotels and restaurants, promoting new types of tourism such as sports, climate, and industrial tourism, developing knowledge-based human resources, creating a comprehensive system of standards, balancing inbound and outbound tourism by improving political relations, and creating a system for the protection and restoration of historical and natural sites.

The Iranian government further assured about the transfer of capital and profits overseas as per the foreign investment law of the country and full protection for the investors against any non-commercial risks such war or border conflict, confiscation or corruption, etc.

The government also started working on changing the image of the country and its tourism industry in the eyes of potential foreign visitors. One major change to this was to allow increased access to the internet, e.g. over social media, for the local players, which gave the restrained westerners a far greater insight into the country without the filters added from the mainstream media.

These efforts undertaken by the Iranian government were welcomed by several foreign investors, as they brought a sense of encouragement and stability to prospects of investing in the country.

This soon led to emergence of international hotel chains, the first being Novotel (296 rooms) and Ibis (196 rooms) hotels by the French hospitality company Accor which came to Tehran already in 2015. The company’s chief executive Mr. Bazin, at the launch of the venture, was optimistic in bringing up the chain of budget hotels such as Ibis and mid and upmarket hotels such as Novotel, Sofitel, and Pullman in 20 cities of Iran, but with no particular timeline given. Another hotel that came up in 2017 was Spanish Melia in Caspian Sea in 2017, built in partnership of Melia and its Iranian partners in Tehran, where the Iranians invested more than US$250 million while the management is taken over by Melia. The hotel includes 319 luxurious rooms, two residential towers, a sports center, and other services in an area of 18,000 square meters. Similarly, the Abu Dhabi’s Rotana Management Corporation planned to open four hotels in Iran’s major cities, Tehran and Mashhad, two in each. One of the hotels (a five-star hotel with 275 rooms and suites in Mashhad) was built within one year in 2017.

Overall, investments in the tourism sector started growing at a moderate level post the removal of US sanctions. According to World Tourism and Travel Council (WTTC) data on the capital investments in Iran’s tourism sector, 2016 witnessed an investment of US$2.75 billion contributing 3.25% of all investments in the country, as compared to the investment of US$2.63 billion in 2015. Since then, capital investments have been growing and are estimated to reach US$3.75 billion in 2028 with a share of 4.86% of all investments.

As a result of increased investments and rise in tourism sector, the GDP of the country also witnessed a slight growth. According to WTTC data, tourism industry’s share in the country’s GDP increased to 7.1% in 2015 contributing US$26.04 billion, up from 6.5% (US$24.38 billion) in 2014. However, it stabilized in the following years (6.8% in 2016, 6.4% in 2017, and 6.5% in 2018), with expected contribution to GDP of 6.52% amounting to US$35.39 billion by 2028. With developments in the tourism sector, the ministry of tourism is hoping to host nearly 20 million tourists per year by 2025.

But as the country started seeing benefits of the sanctions removal, with its improved economy thanks to rise in export and import, infrastructural developments, increase of foreign investments from 2016 to mid-2018, and boost in tourism sector and many other industries, the US government shocked the country by re-imposing sanctions in August 2018. The re-imposition was a consequence of the USA withdrawing its participation from the nuclear deal in May 2018 over political differences. This brought a blow to the Iranian economy with restrictions over imports and exports, thus again leaving Iran in economic struggle due to recession through shrinking oil exports.

EOS Perspective

The economic trembles coming from crude oil export ban led the Iranian government to increase its focus on tourism industry to offset the lost revenues. While American tourists are again restricted to travel to Iran, the country is still witnessing an increased influx of tourists from other regions, including the Middle East and Asia, a fact that cushions the impact of re-imposed sanctions.

Although a blessing in disguise for Iran, one of major reasons for the rise in tourism despite the US sanctions was the almost threefold fall of Iranian currency against US dollar which made travelling to Iran a low-cost affair for many foreign tourists, especially in comparison to other Middle Eastern destinations. This has contributed to the foreign tourists’ influx especially from the western countries – tourists with budget constraints as well as tourist arriving for medical tourism purposes. At the same time, the fall in rial value against the US dollar increased travel expenses for Iranians going overseas. This has constrained the outbound tourism, resulting in a decrease of 6.5% during 2018 (March 21- June 21 of Iranian Calendar).

The weakening of the currency was just one of the reasons that contributed to the slight growth in the Iran’s tourism sector, despite the US sanctions. The country continued to communicate its selling points and positive image to foreign audiences. Iran has been working on reinforcing its position as destination of religious pilgrimages, place with improved infrastructure, natural landscape, and cultural history. Through these messages on social media, the country seems to have attracted various sorts of tourists, from leisure travelers to artists to businessmen and more, resulting in growth of the industry.

According to deputy minister of the Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism of Iran, the number of tourists’ arrivals increased by 24% during the first seven months of 2019 (starting from March 21 as per Iranian Calendar) compared to the same period previous year. In terms of tourists’ arrivals numbers, between March 2018 to March 2019, Iran witnessed 7.8 million foreign tourists visiting the country as compared to 4.7 million tourists from March 2017 to March 2018.

Encouraged by the growth in the sector, Iranian government undertook further initiatives to ensure the inflow of foreign visitors continues (and increases). In August 2019, a functionalized center was established in Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, with a task to make decisions on reducing the negative impact of the US sanctions on tourism industry.

Following the US State Department’s warning (issued in May 2018) against travelling to Iran, citing it being an unsafe travel destination, the risk of fall of other western tourists’ arrivals increased. The Iranian government, to compensate for the fall, focused more on attracting tourists from regional countries. For instance, visa fees for Iraqi tourists (accounting for 24% of inbound tourists in 2018) were removed, while visas for Omanis were waived off.

Iran is also looking for tourists in more remote markets, especially in countries that are known to frequently stand against the USA in the international area. China is one such market which Iran is hoping to attract leisure tourism from by allowing visa-free entry of the Chinese nationals into Iran as of July 2019. Iran has an ambitious plan to increase the number of Chinese visitors from just over 50,000 in 2018 to 2 million in 2020.

Furthermore, in order to encourage foreign tourists to visit Iran, the Iranian government decided not to stamp their passports to help them avoid issues with subsequent attempts to travel to the USA. Additionally, the government is also trying to spur medical tourism by developing health tourism hubs, especially in Shiraz with a vision to increase the tourists travel for medical purposes as well.

These measures have been quite successful in promoting Iranian tourism growth, even though the American and other western visitors have (to some extent) been replaced with arrivals from the Middle Eastern and Asian countries. However, looking at the current situation of unrest, with the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in January 2020 by US military, and Iran responding to this with missile attacks on the US military troops in Iraq less than a week later, the conflict between the two countries is nowhere near its end. This political unrest, if continues, has a potential to again severely affect Iran’s tourism industry, as the country will be unable to grow the sector without reliance on western visitors. Tourists’ sentiments are tightly linked to political climate; therefore, it can be expected that only improved relations with the USA, and through this a better image, will allow Iran to truly develop its tourism industry and its economic situation in general.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Global Economy Bound to Suffer from Coronavirus Fever

Global economy has slowed down in response to coronavirus. Factories in China and many parts of Europe have been forced to halt production temporarily as some of the largest manufacturing hubs in the world battle with the virus. While the heaviest impact of the virus has been (so far) observed in China, global economy too is impacted as most industries’ global supply chains are highly dependent on China for small components and cheaper production rates.

China is considered to be the manufacturing and exporting hub of the world. Lower labor costs and advanced production capabilities make manufacturing in China attractive to international businesses. World Bank estimated China’s GDP in 2018 to be US$13.6 trillion, making it the second largest economy after the USA (US$20.58 trillion). Since 1952, China’s economy has grown 450 fold as compared with the growth rate of the USA economy. International trade and investment have been the primary reason for the economic growth of the country. This shows China’s strong position in the world and indicates that any disturbances in the country’s businesses could have a global effect.

On New Years’ Eve 2019, an outbreak of a virus known as coronavirus (COVID-19) was reported in Wuhan, China to the WHO. Coronavirus is known to cause respiratory illness that ranges from cough and cold to critical infections. As the virus spreads fast and has a relatively high mortality rate, the Chinese government responded by quarantining Wuhan city and its nearby areas on January 23, 2020. However, this did not contain the situation. In January 2020, WHO designated coronavirus a “public health emergency of international concern” (PHEIC), indicating that measures need to be taken to contain the outbreak. On March 11, 2020, WHO called coronavirus a pandemic with the outbreak spreading across about 164 countries, infecting more than 190,000 people and claiming 7,800+ lives (as of March 18, 2020).

Coronavirus threatening businesses in China and beyond

Businesses globally (and especially in China) are feeling the impact of coronavirus. Workers are stuck in their homes due to the outbreak. Factories and work places remain dormant or are running slower than usual. Also, the effects of coronavirus are spreading across the globe. Initially, all factory shutdowns happened in China, however, the ripple effects of the outbreak can now be seen in other parts of the world as well, especially Italy.

Automotive industry

Global automobile manufacturers, such as General Motors, Volkswagen, Toyota, Daimler, Renault, Honda, Hyundai, and Ford Motors, who have invested heavily in China (for instance, Ford Motor joined ventured with China’s state-owned Chongqing Changan Automobile Company, Ltd., one of China’s biggest auto manufacturers) have shut down their factories and production units in the country. According to a London-based global information provider IHS Markit, Chinese auto industry is likely to lose approximately 1.7 million units of production till March 2020, since Wuhan and the rest of Hubei province, where the outbreak originated, account for 9% of total Chinese auto production. While the factories are reopening slowly (at least outside the Wuhan city) and production is expected to ramp up again, it all depends on how well the outbreak is contained. If the situation drags on for few months, the auto manufacturers might face significant losses which in turn may result in limited supply and price hikes.

American, European, and Japanese automobile manufacturers, among others, are heavily dependent on components supplied from China. Low production of car parts and components in China are resulting in supply shortages for the automakers globally. UN estimates that China shipped close to US$35 billion worth of auto parts in 2018. Also, according to the US Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration, about US$20 billion of Chinese parts were exported to the USA alone in 2018. A large percentage of parts are used in assembly lines that are used to build cars while remaining are supplied to retail stores. Supply chain is crucial in a connected global economy.

Coronavirus outbreak poses a risk to the global automotive supply chain.

South Korea’s Hyundai held off operations at its Ulsan complex in Korea due to lack of parts that were supposed to be imported from China. The plant manufactures 1.4 million vehicles annually and the shutdown has cost approximately US$500 million within just five days of shutting down. However, Hyundai is not the only such case. Nissan’s plant in Kyushu, Japan adjusted its production due to shortage of Chinese parts. French automaker Renault also suspended its production at a plant in Busan, South Korea due to similar reasons. Fiat Chrysler predicts the company’s European plant could be at risk of shutting down due to lack of supply of Chinese parts.

However, very recently, automobile factories in China have started reopening as the virus is slowly getting contained in the region. While Volkswagen has slowly started producing in all its locations in China, Nissan has managed to restart three of its five plants in the country.

That being said, auto factories are facing shutdowns across the world as coronavirus becomes a pandemic. Ford Chrysler has temporarily shut down four of its plants in Italy as the country becomes the second largest affected nation after China.

Automobile supply chains are highly integrated and complex, and require significant investments as well as a long term commitment from automobile manufacturers. A sudden shift in suppliers is not easy. The virus is spreading uncontrollably across Europe now and if France and Germany are forced to follow Italy’s footsteps of shutting down factories to contain its spread, this will spell doom for the auto sector as the two countries are home to some of the biggest automobile manufacturers in the world.

Technology industry

China is the largest manufacturer of phones, television sets, and computers. Much of the consumer technologies from smartphones to LED televisions are manufactured in China. One of the important sectors in the technology industry is smartphones.

The outbreak of coronavirus is bad news for the technology sector, especially at the verge of the 5G technology roll-out. Consumers were eagerly waiting for smartphone launches supporting 5G but with the outbreak, the demand for smartphones has seen a decline. According to the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology, overall smartphone shipments in China fell 37% year over year in January 2020.

Foxconn, which is a China-based manufacturing partner of Apple, has iPhone assembling plants in Zhengzhou and Shenzhen. These plants, which make up a large part for the Apple’s global iPhone assembly line, are currently facing a shortage of workers that will ultimately affect the production levels of iPhone in these factories. According to Reuters, only 10% of workers resumed work after the Lunar New Year holiday in China. As per TrendForce, a Taiwanese technology forecasting firm, Apple’s iPhone production is expected to drop by 10% in the first quarter of 2020.

Moreover, Apple closed down all its retail stores and corporate offices in the first week of February 2020 in China in response to the outbreak. On March 13, 2020, it reopened all of its stores in China as the outbreak seems to be under control. However, while Apple seems to recover from the outbreak in China, it is equally affected by store shutdowns in other parts of the world (especially Europe). On March 11, Apple announced that all stores in Italy will be closed until further notice. Italy has been hit by the virus hard after China. The Italian government imposed a nationwide lockdown on the first week of March 2020.

On the other hand other multinational smartphone giants such as LG, Sony Mobile, Oppo, Motorola, Nokia, and many others have delayed their smartphone launches in the first quarter of 2020 due to the outbreak.

The coronavirus outbreak is more likely to be a disaster for smartphone manufacturers relying on China.

Other sectors such as LCD panels for TVs, laptops, and computer monitors are mostly manufactured in China. According to IHS Markit, there are five LCD factories located in the city of Wuhan and the capacity at these factories is likely to be affected due to the quarantine placed by the Chinese government. This is likely to force Chinese manufacturers to raise prices to deal with the shortage.

According to Upload VR, an American virtual reality-focused technology and media company, Facebook has stopped taking new orders for the standalone VR headset and also said the coronavirus will impact production of its Oculus Quest headset.

Shipping industry

In addition to these sectors, the new coronavirus has also hit shipping industry hard. All shipping segments from container lines to oil tanks have been affected by trade restrictions and factory shutdowns in China and other countries. Shipyards have been deserted and vessels are idle awaiting services since the outbreak.

According to a February 2020 survey conducted by Shanghai International Shipping Institute, a Beijing based think-tank, capacity utilization at major Chinese ports has been 20%-50% lower than normal and one-third of the storage facilities were more than 90% full since goods are not moving out. Terminal operations have also been slow since the outbreak in China. The outbreak is costing container shipping lines US$350 million per week, as per Sea-Intelligence, a Danish maritime data specialist.

According to Sea-Intelligence, by February 2020, 21 sailings between China and America and 10 sailings in the Asia-Europe trade loop had been cancelled since the outbreak. In terms of containers, these cancellations encompass 198,500 containers for the China-America route and 151,500 boxes for the Asia-Europe route.

Moreover, shutting down of factories in China has resulted in a manufacturing slowdown, which in turn is expected to impact the Asian shipping markets. European and American trade is also getting affected as the virus spreads to those continents. US retailers depend heavily on imports from China but the outbreak has caused the shipping volumes to diminish over the first quarter.

The USA is already in the middle of a trade war with China that has put a dent in the imports from China. National Retail Federation (world’s largest retail trade association) and Hackett Associates (US based consultancy and research firm) projects imported container volumes at US seaports is likely to be down by 9.5% in March 2020 from 2019. The outbreak is heavily impacting the supply chains globally and if factory shutdowns continue the impact is more likely to be grave.


Read our other Perspectives on US-China tensions: Sino-US Trade War to Cause Ripple Effect of Implications in Auto Industry and Decoding the USA-China 5G War


Other businesses

In addition to the auto, technology, and shipping industries, other sectors are also feeling the heat from the outbreak. Under Armour, an American sports clothing and accessories manufacturer, estimated that its revenues are likely to decline by US$50-60 million in 2020 owing to the outbreak.

Disney’s theme parks in California, Shanghai, Tokyo, and Hong Kong have been shut down due to the outbreak and this is expected to reduce its operating income by more than US$175 million by second quarter 2020.

Further, IMAX, a Canadian film company, has postponed the release of five films in January 2020, due to the outbreak.

Several fast food chains have been temporarily shut down across China and Italy, however, most of them have opened or are in the process of reopening in China as the outbreak is slowly coming under control there. While the global fast food and retail players have limited exposure in China, they are suffering huge losses in Europe, especially Italy. The restaurant sector is severely impacted there, where all restaurants, fast food chains, and bars have been shut down temporarily till April 3 in an attempt to contain the outbreak.

Another significantly affected industry is the American semiconductor industry as it is heavily connected to the Chinese market. Intel’s (a US-based semiconductor company) Chinese customers account for approximately US$20 billion in revenue in 2019. Another American multinational semiconductor and telecommunications equipment company, Qualcomm draws approximately 47% of its revenue from China sales annually. The outbreak is making its way through various industries and global manufacturers could now see how much they have become dependent on China. Although the virus seems to be getting under control as days pass, the businesses are not yet fully operational. Losses could ramp up if the virus is not contained soon.

Global Economy Bound to Suffer from Coronavirus Fever by EOS Intelligence

 

Housebound consumers dealing with coronavirus

Since the virus outbreak, people across many countries are increasingly housebound. Road traffic in China, Italy, Iran, and other severely affected countries has been minimized and public places have been isolated. People are scared to go out and mostly remain at home. This has led local businesses such as shopping malls, restaurants, cinemas, and department stores to witness a considerable slowdown, while in some countries being forced to shut down.

TV viewing and mobile internet consumption on various apps have increased after the outbreak. According to QuestMobile, a research and consultancy firm, daily time spent with mobile internet rose from 6.1 hours in early January 2020 to 6.8 hours during Lunar New Year (February 2020).

While retail outlets and other businesses are slower, people have turned to ordering products online. JD.com, a Chinese online retailer, reported that its online grocery sales grew 215% (year on year) to 15,000 tons between late January and early February 2020. Further, DingTalk, a communication platform developed by Alibaba in 2014, was recorded as the most downloaded app in China in early February 2020.

EOS Perspective

International businesses depend heavily on Chinese factories to make their products, from auto parts to computer and smartphone accessories. The country has emerged as an important part in the global supply chain, manufacturing components required by companies globally. The coronavirus outbreak has shaken the Chinese economy and global supply chains, which in turn has hurt the global economy, the extent of which is to be seen in the months to come. Oxford Economics, a global forecasting and analysis firm, projected China’s economic growth to slip down to 5.6% in 2020 from 6.1% in 2019, which might in turn reduce the global economic growth by 0.2% to an annual rate of 2.3%.

A similar kind of outbreak was seen in China in late 2002 and 2003, with SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus. China was just coming out of recession in 2003 and joined the World Trade Organization, attaining entrance to global markets with its low cost labor and production of cheaper goods. The Chinese market was at its infancy at that time. As per 2004 estimates by economists Jong-Wha Lee and Warwick J. McKibbin, SARS had cost the global economy a total of about US$40 billion. After SARS, China suffered several months of economic retrenchment.

The impact of coronavirus on Chinese as well as global economy seems to be much higher than the impact of SARS, since COVID-19 has spread globally, while China has also grown to be the hub for manufacturing parts for almost every industry since the SARS outbreak. In 2003, China accounted for only 4% of the global GDP, whereas in 2020, its share in the global GDP is close to 17%.

Currently, the key challenge for businesses would be to deal with and recover from the outbreak. On the one hand, they need to protect their workers safety and abide by their respective governments’ regulations, and on other hand they need to safeguard their operations under a strained supply chain and shrunken demand.

In the current landscape, many businesses in China have reopened operations but the outbreak is rapidly spreading to other parts of the world (especially Europe and the USA), where it is impacting several business as well as everyday lives. The best thing for manufacturing companies in this scenario is to re-evaluate their inventory levels vs revised demand levels (which may differ from industry to industry), and consider a short-term re-strategizing of their global supply chains to ensure that raw materials/components or their alternates are available and accessible – bearing in mind their existing production capability with less workers and customer needs during this pandemic period.

With the rapid spread of the virus, it seems that the outbreak is likely to cause considerable damage to the global economy (both in terms of production levels as well as psychological reaction on stock markets), at least in the short term, i.e. next 6 months. However, many experts believe that the situation should soon start coming under control at a global level. For instance, some experts at Goldman Sachs, one of the world’s largest financial services companies, believe that while this pandemic will bring the lowest growth rate of the global GDP in the last 30 years (expected at 2% in 2020), it does not pose any systematic risks to the world’s financial system (as was the case during the 2008 economic crisis).

Having said that, it is difficult to estimate what real impact the coronavirus will have on the global economy yet, and if opinions such as Goldman Sachs’ are just a way to downplay the situation to keep the investors calm. It is more likely to depend on how long the virus continues to spread and linger and how effectively do governments around the world are able to contain it.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Tax Cuts – Enough to Make India a Global Manufacturing Hub?

India has recently announced an unprecedented reduction in its corporate tax rates. Not only is this a respite for domestic and existing foreign companies, but it is also expected to boost India’s position as a preferred investment destination for international companies looking to diversify their manufacturing footprint. Amidst the ongoing trade war between China and the USA, many companies, such as Apple, are looking to relocate a chunk of their manufacturing facilities away from China as part of a de-risk strategy. This presents the perfect opportunity for India to swoop in and encourage manufacturers to set base there instead of other Asian countries. However, tax reduction alone may not be enough to score these investments as the government needs to provide additional incentives apart from improving logistics and infrastructure, as well as land and labor laws in the country.

For the past three decades, India had one of the highest corporate tax rates in the South Asian region standing at 30% (effective rate of about 35% including surcharge and cess), making it one of the biggest sore points for investors looking at setting up a shop here.

However, September 2019 brought an unprecedented move, as the Indian government slashed the corporate tax rate to 22% from the existing 30%. Moreover, new manufacturing units established after 1 October 2019, are eligible for even lower tax rate of 15% (down from 25%) if they make fresh manufacturing investments by 2023.

The effective tax rate in these cases (subject to the condition that companies do not claim benefits for incentives or concessions) will be 25.75% (in case of 22% tax rate) and 17.01% (in case of 15% tax rate). These companies will also be exempt from minimum alternate tax (MAT). The tax cuts in effect are believed to have improved India’s competitiveness among investment destinations in the region.

The tax cuts in effect are believed to have improved India’s competitiveness among investment destinations in the region.

To put this into perspective, India’s new tax rate is lower than the rate in China (25%), Korea (25%), Bangladesh (25%), Malaysia (24%), Japan (23.2%), however still a little higher than that of Vietnam (20%), Thailand (20%), Taiwan (20%), Cambodia (20%), and Singapore (17%). However, for new companies/MNCs looking to set up a unit in India, the country offers the most competitive rates in the region.

This tax break by India is also well-timed to exploit the degrading US-China relationship, which is resulting in several US-based companies, such as Apple, Google, Dell, etc., to look for manufacturing alternatives outside of China. Currently, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Thailand have been the prime beneficiaries of the trade war, with the three countries attracting about 80% of the 56 companies that have relocated from China during April 2018 to August 2019. However, India’s recently introduced tax cuts may act as a major stimuli for companies (that are looking to partly move out of China or are already in the process of doing it) to consider India for their investments.

While the tax reform stands across all industries, India is looking to boost investment in the labor-intensive electronics manufacturing sector including smart phones, televisions, etc. To achieve this, the government recently scrapped import tax on open cell TV panels, which are used to make television displays. In addition to large brands such as Apple, India is also targeting component and contract manufacturers for such companies (such as Wistron, Pegatron, and Foxconn) to shift their business from China and set a shop in India.

India's Tax Cuts Not Enough by EOS Intelligence

Is a tax break enough?

While this is a big step by the Indian government to attract foreign investments in the manufacturing space, many feel that this alone is not enough to make India the preferred alternative to its neighbors. Companies looking to relocate their manufacturing facilities also consider factors such as infrastructure (including warehousing cost and set-up), connectivity (encompassing transportation facilities and logistical support), and manpower (such as availability of skilled manpower and training costs) along with overall ease of doing business, which covers the extent of red tape, complexity of policies, and transparency of procedures.

The Indian government has to work towards improving the logistical infrastructure, skilled labor availability, and cumbersome land-acquisition process, among many other aspects. As per the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2019, India ranks 70 (out of 141 countries) in terms of infrastructure. While India heavily depends on road transportation, it needs to invest in and develop modern rail and water transportation and connectivity if it wishes to compete with China (rank 36).

India also ranks poorly with regards to skilled workforce and labor market, ranking 107 and 103 on the indices, respectively. To put this in perspective, Indonesia ranks 65 with regards to skilled workforce and 85 for labor market, and Vietnam ranks 93 for skilled workforce and 83 for labor market. Other than this, India also struggles with complex land acquisition laws and procedures, and must look into streamlining both to position itself an attractive investment destination.

Apart from this, the government also needs to provide additional incentives for investments in sectors that are its key priorities, such as tech and electronics manufacturing for export. As per industry experts, electronics manufacturing in India carries 8-10% higher costs in comparison with other Asian countries. Thus the government must provide other incentives such as easy and cheaper credit, export incentives, and infrastructural support, to steer companies into India (instead of countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand).

Several experts and industry players suggest that the government should provide the electronics manufacturing industry incentives for exports that are similar to those under the ‘Merchandise Exports from India Scheme’, which provides several benefits including tax credits to exporters.

In August 2019, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) proposed incentives to boost electronics manufacturing in India. These include a 4-6% subsidy on interest rates on loans for new investment, waiver of collateral for loans taken to set up machinery, and the renewal of the electronics manufacturing cluster (EMC). EMC creates an ecosystem for main company and its suppliers to operate in a given area (the previous EMC scheme ended in 2018).

Apart from this, industry players are also seeking an extension of another scheme, Modified Special Incentive Package Scheme (MSIPS), which also ended in 2018. MSIPS provided a subsidy of about 25% on capital investment.

EOS Perspective

India’s tax break came at an extremely opportune time, with several MNCs having expressed their plans to branch out of China (for at least 20% of their existing manufacturing facilities). From imposing some of the highest corporate taxes, India has now become one of the most tax-friendly markets, especially for new investments.

This is likely to put India in the forefront for consideration, however, it is probably not enough. The government needs to work on several other facilitating factors, especially infrastructure, land laws, and availability of skilled labor, which are more favorable in other Asian countries.

Moreover, the appeal of some countries, such as Vietnam and Thailand, seems to remain high, as several of them introduced a ‘single point of contact’ facilities for investors. Under these facilities, in various forms, investors are provided with investment-related services and information at a single location, and/or are provided with single point of contact within each ministry and agency they have to deal with. This makes the access to information and investment procedures much easier for foreign investors, and increases the perception of transparency of the whole process. India on the other hand struggles with bureaucracy, fragmented agency landscape, and red tape. Despite initiating a single window policy, multinational representatives need to visit multiple offices and meet several officials (also in many cases offer bribes) to get an approval of their proposals and subsequently get the required permits. Bureaucratic and procedural delays, as well as poor work culture remain to be considerable deterrents for foreign investors.

India struggles with bureaucracy, fragmented agency landscape, and red tape. Bureaucratic and procedural delays, as well as poor work culture remain to be considerable deterrents for foreign investors.

Also in 2018, India only managed a mere 0.6% of its GDP from manufacturing FDI, indicating a low confidence level among foreign companies to make medium to long-term commitments in India. However, large part of the reason for this were also the high tax rates. Therefore, the recent tax reduction is a major step in the right direction, while the government still has some distance to bring India to replace China in the position of manufacturing giant of Asia, especially in the electronics sector.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Coworking Shakes Up Traditional Office Space Rental

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Touted as the future of real estate rental, the coworking model is rapidly taking over the traditional office space rental. In less than a decade, there has been a sudden rise in the number of operators offering space-as-a-service. Driven by more and more people looking to work flexible hours, while still having access to space and services offered in a traditional office setting, coworking space market has experienced a steady growth. Coworking space operators have come up with new ideas to explore secondary sources of revenue generation rather than just relying on offering memberships. While the ideas are successful and earn profits for the business operators, the road ahead is not all rosy.

Coworking space is growing

Globally, the number of coworking spaces are forecast to cross the 30,000 mark by 2022, more than double from a little more above 14,000 spaces in 2017. It is expected that in 2019 alone, approximately 1,700 new spaces will open worldwide with more than 40% of these sites coming up in the USA. In terms of members who use coworking spaces, between 2017 and 2022, the number is expected to increase nearly three times, from 1.74 million to 5.1 million.

A decade ago, when the concept of coworking space was still new to many, the demand for such spaces was limited, as it came mainly from freelancers. However, with the upsurge in entrepreneurial excursions, growing instances of corporate employees working from remote locations, and proliferation of other independent professionals, coworking spaces started to offer not only a place to work but also a platform for the users to grow and exchange ideas.

Enhanced work flexibility, emphasis on work-life balance, and better networking opportunities are some of the key factors that drive the coworking market growth. Easy availability of these spaces at cost-effective prices also contributes to the soaring demand.

Future of coworking spaces is promising

According to the 2018 Global Coworking Survey* conducted by coworking magazine Deskmag, 42% of all coworking spaces reported being profitable. Larger coworking spaces occupied by more than 200 tenants are reported to be nearly twice more profitable than coworking spaces used by 50 or fewer occupants.

Between 2014 and 2018, the number of coworking spaces housing more than 200 members increased 2.5 times, while spaces that rent out more than 200 desks have increased six times.

Coworking spaces operators have robust expansion plans. One out of four is planning to expand their current location by adding more desks. Every third player plans to expand operations by opening new spaces. In comparison to the existing size, operators plan to expand their area by an average of 70% in the future.

Coworking space operators are capitalizing on members’ needs

Memberships and space rentals

The primary revenue stream for any coworking space is providing services at a fee. This includes, but is not limited to, renting out desks (open or flexible), renting out space (conference halls and meeting rooms), virtual offices, private cabins, etc.

Coworking space operators are currently offering fixed and tier-based (one day pass or monthly pass) memberships to tenants. Apart from these, the operators’ revenue stream comes from membership packages for using particular spaces such as conference halls and meeting rooms for fixed duration charged per head and from virtual memberships granting the users access to a virtual address and mailbox.

Promotional events and pop-up set ups

Coworking space operators are using common working areas for promotional activities, marketing campaigns, or other pop-up shops over the weekend when tenants are not utilizing the space for their work.

They rent out space to exhibition organizers who set up booths for showcasing and marketing their products or utilize the space for arranging pop-up retail for small-scale entrepreneurs such as artists, jewelry suppliers, toy sellers, and others. For instance, WeWork often organizes external events where it invites non-member hosts (not having a WeWork space membership) to conduct events in their premises, for which it signs an external event agreement.

Coworking space operators charge the hosts (both member or non-member) for such events in multiple ways – fixed price a day or price per square meter of the area occupied in addition to charging a percentage of commission for the sales made by the stall or pop-up shop.

Ancillary services

Rather than just offering a place to work, coworking spaces are also offering additional amenities to members such as nursery, gym, or pet daycare facility. Cuckooz Nest, a based in London 36-desk coworking space, offers onsite childcare service for children up to two years of age at a chargeable fee while employing certified nannies. In October 2018, The Wing, a women-focused coworking space, announced that it would start offering on-site childcare across all its current and upcoming locations – the service will be staffed by certified babysitters at an extra cost.

Similarly, Work & Woof, a coworking space based in Austin, Texas, offers free pet daycare with each membership starting from US$30 a day. WeWork also has a pet friendly policy wherein members can bring their pets to work, though they are permitted only in private offices or be leashed in common areas. These add-on services act as diversified revenue streams for the space operators.

Coworking Shakes Up Traditional Office Space Rental by EOS Intelligence

Challenging times ahead

Even though the future of coworking space looks positive, the players operating in the coworking space market do face some challenges and threats.

Pure-play coworking space operators face competition from hotels doubling as coworking spaces while offering a place to stay. For instance, Dubai-based Hotel Tryp by Wyndham offers hotel guests and walk-ins easy access to its coworking space called ‘Nest’ at a fee charged hourly, daily, or monthly, depending on the length of the guest’s stay.

Another hotel, Hotel Schani Wien in Austria, has transformed its lobby into a small space of 12 desks for coworking purposes; while in-house guests can utilize the space for free, others can choose a coworking pass (priced at € 90 for 10 days or € 150 for 30 days) or rent a coworking desk for €190 a month.

Another mixed-use infrastructure development that could hurt the coworking space players are unused or empty shops in shopping malls. According to a survey conducted in 2018 by Jones Lang LaSalle IP, a Chicago-based commercial real estate services firm, it is estimated that coworking space in retail properties will grow at a rate of 25% annually by 2023. The need to generate revenue from vacant spaces has forced retail landlords to find new ways to fill the space with alternative tenants; offering this space for coworking purposes seems to be a feasible option.

The concepts of hotel or retail coworking are unlikely to become the next big thing in the near future. However, with individuals exploring easily accessible work spaces, it would be interesting to see how these ideas unfold and how they affect the players in the coworking space.

EOS Perspective

Since its inception over a decade ago, coworking space has grown from an idea to a full-fledged industry reshaping the entire work landscape. Coworking space has had a striking and multi-dimensional impact on the commercial real estate industry.

Coworking space has reformed the commercial real estate industry for good. Players are remodeling and utilizing old abandoned buildings, warehouses, and factories to set up new premises. In 2013, Amity Packing Co., a 40-year-old meatpacking facility (with an area of 83,000 square feet) based in Chicago, was acquired by WeWork (along with other partners) and was renovated into a mixed-use commercial building with 77% of the space being used as office space.

The impact of coworking has not been all positive for the real estate developers (who play in the traditional office space development) since they are losing out to developers inclined to the concept of coworking. Such players should modify their real estate portfolio to fit both traditional and coworking users, since the demand for traditional office space is not extinct, but only diminished.

For real estate agents, the increasing number of coworking spaces does not paint a rosy picture either. As tenant and space provider deal with each other directly, the role of middlemen will gradually cease to exist. However, not all is bad as agents can sign commission deals with coworking spaces for recommending new members. Brokers also see advantage in making connections with start-ups or businesses in their incubation stage at these places, hoping to benefit while they expand and search for new premises or coworking space.

Nonetheless, unlike developers and agents, real estate landlords seem to benefit from the coworking space. Their flow of revenue is constant – when the premises are occupied by multiple independent tenants in a coworking space, steady income is guaranteed. Coworking also eliminates issues such as losing money during phases of vacant property (in case the tenant moves or closes operations) and pulling out money from own pocket (such as agent fee to look for new tenants or operational costs of the facility while it lies vacant, which in traditional rentals can stretch over longer periods of time).

Banks and financial institutions also seem to be optimistic about the coworking concept. Banks consider coworking spaces to be a low risk investment because of multiple and diversified income coming from many tenants. Single-occupant office spaces are dependent on the success of the business – in case the business fails, the banks are stuck with limited options to recover the investment. In case of coworking spaces, the premises will never go empty all at once.

Coworking spaces are agile and are likely to prosper as they adapt to the changing needs of the users, who demand flexibility at work. Other than offering flexible office space, unrestricted work hours, and a place to connect with like-minded people, coworking spaces have transformed the way many people work. It is clear that the future belongs to coworking spaces provided the space keeps evolving and upgrading to meet the ever-changing demands of the occupants.

*All results indicated for 2018 represent year ending 31st Dec, 2017. (n=1980, including coworking spaces (operators or staff members), coworking members, planned/future coworking spaces, former coworking members, and people who have never worked in a coworking space).

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Commentary: Thomas Cook’s Demise – An Eye Opener for Tourism Sector?

There are few people who would not recognize Thomas Cook, as the company carved its name as a premier travel company in the UK as well as globally. Its name became synonymous with travel for many customers, as reminiscent from its slogan of “Don’t just book it, Thomas Cook it”. Unable to strike a deal to refinance its burgeoning debt, Thomas Cook, UK’s oldest package tour company, shut down operations this Monday, facing compulsory liquidation, and sending passengers as well as the tourism sector into panic. While the announcement may come as a shock, warning signs of the company’s jeopardized existence have surfaced several times over the past decade.

Thomas Cook has been in the news for large part of this year, as the company reported a record pre-tax loss of GBP1.5 billion, with the auditor raising concerns about Cook’s ability to manage a recovery. The company has been trying to secure funding of GBP900 million from banks and the Shanghai-based conglomerate Fosun, while also offloading parts of its packaged tours and airlines business.

However, an inability to secure an additional GBP200 million funding as working capital to cover cost of operations for winter season, which is traditionally characterized by low demand, meant that the company failed to secure its near future. As a result, Thomas Cook entered compulsory liquidation, fate it would have faced earlier, had it not funded its operations through accrued debt over the years, which eventually led to the company’s collapse.

Thomas Cook’s debt problem

It is not the first time that Thomas Cook has to run for its life, with serious doubts rising about the company’s existence already in 2011. At that point, Thomas Cook managed to survive by securing some expensive credit facilities, as well as restructuring and cost-cutting. However, all this came at a cost. High interest paid on these credit facilities left a heavy burden on cash flows.

The company showed signs of recovery in the following years, even posting a pre-tax profit in 2015 and bringing net debt to more acceptable levels. However, due to market conditions and other contributing social and economic factors, the company’s tour operator business displayed a particularly weak performance, suffering massive losses in 2018. These losses resulted in the company struggling to maintain working capital, as well as witnessing net debt increasing close to GBP350 million by end of 2018, with the trend continuing in 2019.

Other contributing factors

While debt remained the largest problem, other factors contributed to Thomas Cook’s demise. Proliferation and growth of budget airlines and hotel offerings such as Airbnb had already increased competition for Thomas Cook, impacting the company’s bottom line, as customers were shifting to these low-cost options.

Demand was also impacted by the 2018 heatwave in Europe, with customers from UK and Northern Europe preferring to stay at home instead of travelling to other warmer European countries, such as Spain and France, which are key contributors to Thomas Cook’s business. Total demand has also been impacted by the lack of clarity around Brexit, with customers delaying their travel decisions under the growing economic uncertainty.

Impact on the tourism sector

The collapse of a major player such as Thomas Cook is expected to impact the tourism sector, albeit primarily in the short term. Thomas Cook had developed relationships with hotels and businesses in key destinations, which are dependent on the company’s customers for majority of their revenue during peak seasons. Thomas Cook’s collapse will negatively impact these players, at least in the short term. In the long term, however, business is expected to return to normal as these companies will develop new relationships.

While customers may look to Thomas Cook’s competitors for their travel needs in the short term, limited capacities (or partnerships) are likely to make the competitors unable to take up this additional demand unless they are paid a premium for it.

EOS Perspective

The collapse of Thomas Cook highlights the challenge that traditional tour operators face in the current tourism market. Customers are shifting from traditional packaged tours to offers that allow them to decide their own destinations, and make bookings through lower-cost online service providers. Traditional players, which generate most of their revenue through offline sales channels, have been put under pressure to evolve their business model, to adopt an online channel that offers more convenience and flexibility to their customers.

Emergence of innovative travel platforms, such as Airbnb, has also put pressure on the bottom lines of these traditional players, impacting their ability to invest in new business opportunities without accumulating debt. Thomas Cook is not the only one impacted. Recently, SOTC (formerly known as Kuoni) has also been in the news for its negative debt position.

Thomas Cook’s case, however, comes as an eye-opener for the tourism industry players, clearly showing that they cannot continue to take on excessive debt. More conservative approaches and cost management need to be considered to build a profitable, and more importantly, sustainable business.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Europe Fights Back to Curb China’s Dominance

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Given the swiftness of China’s economic development in the past three decades, transitioning from an impoverished and insular country to one of the formidable economic powers of the world, it has taken some time for Europe to accept China’s growing power and influence. Not only does China sit on largest currency reserves worldwide, but it has also become a significant provider of foreign investments, including in EU nations. This has recently strengthened China’s influence over the EU, which has created a sense of caution amidst European policymakers.

How is Europe benefiting from China’s growing investments?

Europe-bound Chinese investments were six times higher than Chinese investments in the USA – in H1 2018, Chinese investments in Europe stood at US$ 12 billion as compared to US$ 2 billion in the USA. For some of the economically struggling EU countries, Chinese investments are critical for developing and upgrading infrastructure, including energy plants, railways, motorways, and airports.

China’s Belt and Road initiative, under which cross-border infrastructure will be developed, will reduce transportation costs across Europe and China, creating an opportunity to facilitate trade expansion, regional integration, and attract foreign investments.

Besides infrastructure development, the investments are likely to create job opportunities and enhance economic competitiveness across Europe.

Then why is China’s growing influence alarming Europe?

Europe now sees a range of threats that China’s rising dominance in the region could bring along. Recently, the European Commission labelled China as economic competitor seeking technological leadership and systemic rival encouraging alternative models of governance. Europe realizes that China pursuits to shape globalization to suit its own interests.

The EU is deeply concerned regarding China exercising divide and rule tactics to strengthen its relationship with individual member countries that are susceptible to pressure, which could eventually harm the European cohesion. Recently, Italy signed the Belt and Road initiative, a landmark move against the counsel of western European nations, such as France and Germany, thus, raising questions on cohesion of EU countries.

The other concern is China’s rising influence over key governments of EU nations, thus, empowering itself with political leverage across the continent. China has already yielded political returns by wearying EU unity, particularly, when it is related to European policy on international law and human rights. In 2017, Hungary broke EU’s consensus by refusing to sign letter on human right violation against China. During the same year, Greece blocked an EU statement, which condemned China’s human rights record, at the UN human rights council.

Besides politics, China has also spread wings across key sectors of economy such as infrastructure, high-end manufacturing (including critical segments such as electronics, semiconductors, automotive, etc.), and consumer services, among others – growing dominance of China across these sectors is another cause of worry for the EU.

Europe also condemns China’s discrimination against foreign businesses, rendering limited market access to European firms and employing a non-transparent bidding processes. European firms operating in China face several trade and investment barriers such as joint venture obligations and discriminatory technical requirements that entail forced data localization and technology transfers. On the other, European markets have been open to foreign investments leading to massive Chinese FDI. However, lack of reciprocity harms European interest and could lead to unfulfilled EU-China trade ties.

The EU also criticizes China’s Belt and Road project for its lack of respect for labor, environment, and human rights standards. Other concerns include non-transparent procurement procedures with majority of contracts being awarded to Chinese companies without issuing public tenders, meagre use of domestic labor and limited contractor participation from host country, and use of construction materials from China – all of which undermine Europe’s interests.

Europe Fights Back to Curb China’s Dominance

How is Europe responding to China’s actions?

Europe is adopting strategies to limit China’s influence and reach across Europe and beyond, in African and Pacific countries.

Development of EU-Asia Connectivity Strategy

The EU’s new initiative, EU-Asia Connectivity Strategy, is an implicit response to China’s Belt and Road initiative, signifying a crucial first step to promoting European priorities and interests in terms of connectivity. The initiative aims to improve connectivity between Europe and Asia through transport, digital, and energy networks, and simultaneously promote environmental and labor standards.

The EU’s initiative emphasizes sustainability, respect for labor rights, and not creating political or financial dependencies for the countries.

Robust FDI screening process

European nations have been increasingly alarmed due to state-owned Chinese companies acquiring too much control of critical technologies and sensitive infrastructure in the continent, while China shields its own economy.

For the same reason, EU parliament is developing an EU-level screening tool to vet foreign investments on grounds of security to protect strategic sectors and Europe’s interests. The regulation will protect key sectors such as energy, transport, communication, data, space, technology, and finance.

While the EU still remains open to FDI, the regulation will protect its essential interests. Nonetheless, stringent investment screening procedures are likely to limit foreign investments in the continent, particularly from China.

Tackling security threat posed by China

In March 2019, the EU Parliament passed resolution asking European institutions and member countries to take action on security threats arising from China’s rapidly rising technological presence in the continent.

The resolution is likely to impact the ongoing debate of whether to eliminate China’s Huawei Technologies from building European 5G networks. The EU is concerned that the Chinese 5G equipment could be used to access unauthorized data or sabotage critical infrastructure and communication systems in the continent.

To minimize dependence on Chinese technology firms (such as Huawei Technologies), EU countries would need to diversify procurement from different vendors or introduce multi-phase procurement processes.

EU countries expanding footprint to counter China’s reach

Since 2011, China has invested US$ 1.3 billion in concessionary loans and gifts across the Pacific region, and has established its supremacy by becoming the second largest donor. China has been trying to build its influence, as the Pacific is bestowed with vast expanse of resource-rich ocean and the regional countries have voting rights at international forums such as the United Nations.

To counter China’s reach and ambitions across the Pacific countries, European nations such as the UK and France plan to open new embassies, increase staffing levels, and engage with leaders in the region. The UK plans to open new high commissions in Vanuatu, Tonga, and Samoa by the end of May 2019 and France is looking to meet and engage with Pacific leaders during the year.

Investment in Africa to limit China’s influence

As a strategy to curb China’s growing influence, the EU plans to deepen ties with Africa by boosting investment, creating jobs, and strengthening economic relations. The plan is to create 10 million jobs in Africa over the next five years. Europe is also aiming to establish free trade agreement between the two continents.

In recent times, China has been blamed of neo-colonial approach towards Africa, which is aimed at emptying the continent of its raw mineral in exchange for inexpensive loans, extensive but inferior infrastructure, among others. Europe aims to curb such influence by attempting to do business ethically. 

EOS Perspective

Unnerved by flurry of Chinese investments in the continent, the EU is looking to regain its control over matters. Europe has adopted a defensive approach against China’s initiatives, reflected through measures taken to protect critical sectors using investment screening system. The EU understands the downsides of enormous Chinese investments/loans, which may seem hugely enticing in the beginning, but could saddle vulnerable countries in debt they cannot repay – for example, a Chinese-built highway in Montenegro is likely to increase the country’s debt to about 80% of its GDP.

Currently, the key issue is the fact that Europe is standing divided on the right strategy to respond to bolder and ambitious China. While countries such as Germany, France, and UK have grown skeptical of China and are revolting against it, Italy, Hungary, Portugal, Greece, among others, are generally China-friendly. Europe has certainly become stern and tougher on China, but cannot pursue its interests without standing united.

The current situation does not demand Europe opposing China outright, but rather ensuring fair business conditions and equal market access through dialogue and cooperation with China.

Nonetheless, the EU has been quite slow to wake up to the various challenges that excessively ambitious China brings to the table. However, if Europe is able to become united now, there is still a chance to build a decent Sino-European partnership that serves interests of both parties.

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