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CORONAVIRUS

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Indian Pharma Needs to Reinforce Supply Chain Capabilities

COVID-19 has emphasized the importance of strong healthcare and pharmaceutical ecosystem for India. Constant demand for drugs and the expectation to deliver them in time put a lot of pressure on pharma supply chains, highlighting several challenges and shortcomings. At the same time, the Indian pharma sector seems to have benefited from the situation as well, as the pandemic unlocked new avenues of growth. To seize new opportunities, the Indian pharma sector should now focus on increasing manufacturing capacity, invest in R&D capabilities, develop world-class infrastructure, and strengthen its supply chain network.

Challenging times for the Indian pharma sector

With coronavirus wreaking havoc, the Indian pharmaceutical sector was shaken and the pandemic inflicted several challenges on the industry.

The key challenge faced by pharmaceutical companies has been the shortage of key raw materials for manufacturing drugs. India imports 60% of APIs (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients) and DIs (Drug Intermediates) and nearly 70% of this demand is met by Chinese companies (as of July 2020). This reliance to import cheaper raw materials from countries such as China is a result of lack of tax incentives, high cost of utilities, and low import duties in India.

India’s dependence on China has affected the supply of essential APIs. The recent pandemic has magnified this problem, and in order to meet the increasing demand, Indian pharma manufacturers need to strengthen their supply chain strategies by working with multiple API suppliers, both domestic as well as international.

Another concern has been the increased raw materials and logistics cost. Between January and June 2020, the production costs at the Chinese suppliers increased due to the implementation of safety and hygiene measures thus increasing the overall cost of APIs and other materials imported by India by an average of 25%. Logistics prices also went up during the same period, with the cost of shipping a container from China to India increasing to an average of US$ 1,250 up from US$ 750. Additionally, air freight charges also went up from US$ 2/kg to US$ 5-6/kg.

Furthermore, restrictions on movement of products and other goods also posed a problem for pharma supply chain. Even though the sector was exempted from these restrictions, delays in the delivery of drugs were registered. These delays have been largely contributed to by the complexity of various processes and their elements (from raw material procurement to procuring casing and other packaging material – all of which come from different locations to the final assembly point, and their delivery can be exposed to delays at each stage). While logistics companies tried to make product deliveries on time, they were restrained by limited workforce and movement restrictions (that required clearance at every step).

Moreover, due to panic buying, scarcity of OTC and generic drugs was also observed.

Government’s push to make India self-reliant

The government has undertaken steps to strengthen the pharma sector and announced several schemes and policies to boost domestic pharma manufacturing.

To reduce import dependence in APIs and boost domestic manufacturing, the government approved a US$ 971.6 million (INR 69.4 billion) Production Linked Incentive (PLI) Scheme in March 2020 to promote domestic manufacturing of APIs and KSMs (Key Starting Materials)/DIs. Under the scheme, financial incentives ranging from 5% to 20% of incremental sales will be given to selected manufacturers of 41 critical bulk drugs (of the identified 53 APIs for which the country is heavily dependent on imports). This includes aid for fermentation-based products from FY2023–2024 to FY2028–2029 and for chemical-synthesis-based products from FY2022–2023 to FY2027–2028. It is expected that the scheme will result in incremental sales of US$ 649.6 million (INR 464 billion) and generate a large number of employment opportunities.

Moreover, in November 2020, a new PLI Scheme (referred to as PLI 2.0) for the promotion of domestic manufacturing of pharmaceutical products was announced, wherein US$ 210 million (INR 150 billion) were allotted for pharma goods manufacturers based on their Global Manufacturing Revenue (GMR). Financial incentives ranging from 3% to 10% of incremental sales will be given to manufacturers (classified under Group A – having GMR of pharmaceutical goods of at least US$ 700 million (INR 50 billion), Group B – having GMR between US$ 70 million (INR 5 billion) and US$ 700 million (INR 50 billion), and Group C – having GMR less than US$ 70 million (INR 5 billion). The objective of the scheme is to promote production of high-value products, increase the value addition in exports, and improve the availability of a wider range of affordable medicines for local consumers. The initiative is likely to create 100,000 (20,000 direct and 80,000 indirect) jobs while generating total incremental sales of US$ 41,160 million (INR 2,940 billion) and total incremental exports of US$ 27,440 million (INR 1,960 billion) during six years from FY2022-2023 to FY2027-2028.

Another scheme named Promotion of Bulk Drug Parks was announced by the government in March 2020 to attain self-reliance. Under the plan, funds worth US$ 420 million (INR 30 billion) were allotted for setting up three bulk drug parks between 2020 and 2025. This initiative aims at reducing the manufacturing cost as well as the dependency on importing bulk drugs from other countries. Financial assistance will be given to selected bulk drug parks to the extent of 70% of the project cost of common infrastructure facilities (for north-eastern regions and states in the mountainous areas, the assistance will be 90%). The aid per bulk Drug Park will be limited to US$ 140 million (INR 10 billion).

Furthermore, to end reliance on China, Indian pharma companies are also taking steps to strengthen their operations and manufacturing capabilities with regard to pharmaceutical ingredients. For instance, Cipla Ltd. (Mumbai-based pharmaceutical company) launched the “API re-imagination” program in 2020 to expand its manufacturing capacity by using the government incentive schemes.

The announcement of the above schemes is a show of intent by the government towards building a self-sufficient pharma sector in India. It will be interesting to see how much pharma players stand to gain from these potentially game-changing initiatives. However, only time will tell if these policies are good enough for the industry stakeholders or will these schemes not be plentiful enough to truly help the manufacturers.

Indian Pharma Needs to Reinforce Supply Chain Capabilities by EOS Intelligence

Investment in API and intermediaries’ sub-sectors on the rise

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Indian pharmaceutical companies (that deal particularly with manufacturing of APIs, vaccine-related products, and bulk pharma chemicals) have been attracting huge investment from private equity firms. This is happening mainly because of two reasons. Firstly, the occurrence of the second wave of COVID-19 in India has increased the demand for medicines (including demand for self-care, nutritional, and preventive pharma products to boost immunity), and secondly, pharma companies across North America and Europe are shifting their manufacturing sites from China to India (to reduce dependency on a single source). Indian companies received an investment worth US$ 1.5 billion from private equity firms during the FY2020-2021 (since the coronavirus outbreak) and the investment is expected to reach US$ 3-4 billion in the FY2021-2022.

Some of the major deals that happened in this space included Carlyle Group (US-based private equity firm) buying 20% stake in Piramal Pharma (Mumbai-based pharma company) for US$ 490 million in June 2020 and 74% stake in SeQuent Scientific (India-based pharmaceutical company) for US$ 210 million in May 2020. Further, KKR & Co. (US-based global investment company) purchased a 54% controlling stake in J.B. Chemicals & Pharmaceuticals Ltd. (Mumbai-based pharmaceutical company) for nearly US$ 410 million in July 2020. Another example is Advent International (US-based private equity firm) acquiring stakes in RA Chem Pharma (Hyderabad-based pharmaceutical company) for US$ 128 million in July 2020.

From a capital perspective, COVID-19 acted as an investment accelerant that will keep the market open for opportunistic deals for many years to come. In the current scenario, investment firms are re-evaluating the pharma landscape and looking to invest in innovative ideas and products that help them grow. It is highly likely that in the coming months, if the right opportunity strikes, the investment firms will not deter from going ahead with novel deal structures. This could include arrangements such as both parties sharing equal risk and rewards, a for-profit partnership wherein the investor specifically focuses on enhancing the digital-marketing capabilities of the pharma company (rather than sticking to just acquiring a certain share or merge with an existing company) and being open to taking more risk, if needed.

Partnerships expected to increase

The pandemic has led pharma companies to rethink their operational and business strategies. For long-term sustainability, players are analyzing their market position and partnering with other industry stakeholders for better market penetration and value creation for their customers.

In November 2020, Indian Immunologicals Ltd. (Hyderabad-based vaccine company) announced that the company would invest US$ 10.5 million (INR 0.75 billion) in a new viral antigen manufacturing plant based in Telangana that would cater to the need for vaccines for diseases such as dengue, zika, varicella, and COVID-19 (in April 2021, the company announced a research collaboration agreement with the Griffith University, Australia to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus).

Furthermore, Jubilant Life Sciences Ltd. (Noida-based pharma company) entered into a non-exclusive licensing agreement with Gilead Sciences (US-based biopharmaceutical company) granting it the right to register, manufacture, and sell Remdesivir (Gilead Sciences’ drug currently used as a potential therapy for Covid-19) in India (along with other 126 countries).

In February 2021, to scale up the biopharma ecosystem, the state government of Telangana partnered with Cytiva (earlier GE Healthcare Life Sciences) to open a new Fast Trak lab in Hyderabad. This facility will enable the biopharma companies in the region to improve and increase production efficiency, reduce operational costs, and make products available in the market quicker.

Future ripe for new opportunities

The pandemic has opened a stream of opportunities for India’s pharma sector which are expected to drive the growth of the sector in the long term.

China’s supply disruption and increased raw material costs have forced global pharma companies to reduce dependence on China. As an alternative, the companies either set up new API manufacturing plants (which is time-consuming) or turn to existing European or US drug manufacturers to help them meet their requirements. However, both options are capitally draining and there is a need for finding a cost-efficient solution. This presents a huge opportunity for the Indian API sector which is also a key earnings growth driver for pharma manufacturers.

India is among the leading global producers of cost-effective generic medicines. Now there is a need to diversify the product offerings by focusing on complex generics and biosimilars. With the guidance of the United States Food & Drug Administration (USFDA) in identifying the most appropriate methodology for developing complex generic drugs, Indian pharma companies such as Dr. Reddy’s, Zydus, Glenmark, Aurobindo, Torrent, Lupin, Cipla, Sun, and Cadila are working on their product pipeline of complex generics. Currently, the space has limited competition and offers higher margins (in comparison to generic drugs) thus presenting a lucrative opportunity for Indian players to explore and grow.

Similarly, biosimilars (referred to as similar biologics in India) is another area where Indian companies have not been faring too well in international markets mainly due to the non-alignment of Indian regulatory guidelines with the guidelines in other markets (mainly in Europe and USA). The government had already revised the guidelines of similar biologics (done in 2016, which provided an efficient regulatory pathway for manufacturing processes assuring safety and efficacy with quality as per cGMP (Current Good Manufacturing Practice regulations enforced by the FDA)) and introduced industry-institute initiatives (such as ‘National Bio-Pharma Mission’, launched in 2017 to accelerate biopharmaceutical development, including biosimilars, among others) to improve the situation. But now with the intensified need for improved healthcare system and more effective medicines, COVID has presented Indian companies with an opportunity to shape their biosimilar landscape.

India holds a strong position as a key destination for outsourcing research activities. While it has been a preferred location for global pharma companies to set R&D plants for a number of years now, becoming an outsourcing hub for pharma research is another growth area that is yet to be explored to its full potential.

EOS Perspective

Currently, the Indian pharma industry is at an interesting crossroad wherein the industry responded to the unprecedented situation with agility and persistence. The pandemic presented several opportunities and challenges for the industry and unsurprisingly, had a positive impact on the sector. The pandemic acted as a catalyst for change and investment for the pharma sector, which also responded to the challenges by adjusting to the new normal that furthered new opportunities.

In the past few months, COVID-19 has led the government to reassess the country’s pharmaceutical manufacturing capabilities and led them to take steps to make India self-sufficient. As an immediate measure, the country has been reviewing its business policies (for the ease of doing business and to attract more investment) and pharma companies recalibrating their business models, and some success has been achieved. The government should also be mindful that, in the long run, success will only be achieved when industry stakeholders are presented with a business environment (in the form of incentives, tax-subsidies, low rate of interest on bank loans, utilities such as electricity and water at discounted rates, and transparent business policies, etc.) that is conducive for growth.

Moving forward, the Indian pharma companies need to be adaptive and flexible. While the sector has been resilient to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, companies need to focus on risk management as well. Moreover, with continuous capital flowing into the sector, there is an opportunity for firms to not just broaden their scope of innovation but also to invest in critical therapeutic areas.

To emerge as a winner post pandemic, the Indian pharma industry needs to focus on its strengths and propel full steam in the direction of opportunities presented by COVID-19.

*All currency conversions as on 20th May, 2021, 1 INR = 0.014 US$

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Industry Game for Diversifying Monetization Pathways

Currently, gaming industry is believed to be bigger than any other popular entertainment mediums such as films and music. IDC estimated that global gaming revenue reached US$180 billion in 2020. Another research firm, Newzoo, indicated that global gaming industry generated US$159.3 billion in revenue in 2020. On the other hand, the global film industry surpassed US$100 billion in revenue for the first time in 2019 according to the Motion Picture Association. And, as per MIDiA Research (a firm specializing in digital content research), global recorded music industry generated US$23 billion in 2020.

Gaming industry has been on a continuous growth trajectory

Gaming industry has enjoyed a steady growth in the past few years with increasing its reach by each year. As per Newzoo’s analysis, the number of gamers increased from 2 billion in 2015 to 2.7 billion in 2020, indicating annual growth rate of over 6%.

Industry Game for Diversifying Monetization Pathways by EOS Intelligence

Games are generally played through mobile devices, personal computers, or gaming consoles. In 2020, 2.5 billion were playing games on mobile devices (including games played via smartphones and tablets), 1.3 billion on personal computers, and 0.8 billion using consoles. Mobile gaming was the largest revenue segment in 2020, accounting for nearly half of the total gaming industry revenue, followed by gaming on consoles and PC which represented 28% and 23% of the market share, respectively. These estimates are from Newzoo Global Games Market Report 2020 which was based on a survey of 62,500 people from 30 countries (representing more than 90% of the global games industry revenue) conducted between February and March 2020.

Gaming on smartphones generated US$63.6 billion in annual revenue in 2020, recording 13.3% growth over previous year. Increasing number of smartphone users and improving internet connectivity are driving growth in this category. Gaming on tablets generated US$13.7 billion, indicating a moderate growth of 2.7% over previous year.

Mobile gaming has seen unprecedented growth due to coronavirus outbreak. According to Sensor Tower, a research firm providing insights on mobile app ecosystem, global downloads of mobile games from Google Play and iOS App Store totaled 28.5 billion in the first half of 2020, an increase by 42.5% as compared with the same period in 2019.

Newzoo’s analysis concluded that console gaming generated US$45.2 billion in 2020, representing 6.8% growth compared with 2019. While there was an increased demand for gaming consoles amidst coronavirus outbreak as more people turned to games due to stay-at-home restrictions, the manufacturing and distribution of gaming console providers were affected because of global supply chain disruptions, and as a result, the increase in demand for gaming consoles could not be met. For instance, Sony sold 118,085 PlayStation 5 consoles within four days of its launch in November 2020, but this figure was approximately one-third of the volume of PlayStation 4 sold over its launch weekend in November 2013. PlayStation 5 consoles were in high demand and were sold out within minutes after being made available in retail outlets. In October 2020, Sony’s Chief Financial Officer indicated that the company was not in capacity to fulfil pre-orders for PlayStation 5 consoles because of supply chain bottlenecks created by coronavirus outbreak.

PC games, including browser-based as well as downloaded versions, clocked US$36.9 billion in annual revenues in 2020, representing 4.8% year-on-year growth. Though PC games market is not declining, it shows the smallest growth compared with other categories, mainly because there is more deflection towards mobile gaming which is comparatively more convenient and less expensive.

Further, the number of gamers worldwide is expected to cross over 3 billion mark in 2023 contributing nearly US$200 billion in annual revenue for the global gaming industry.

Gaming Market Breakdown by Region
Asia Pacific North America Other Regions

Asia Pacific represents the largest gaming market with a total of US$84.3 billion in annual revenues in 2020.

China, Japan, and Korea are among the top five revenue generating countries worldwide. In 2020, China’s gaming industry raked in about US$41 million in annual revenues, while gaming industry in Japan and Korea recorded annual revenue of US$18.7 million and US$6.6 million, respectively.

North America represents the second largest gaming market which generated about US$45 million in annual revenue in 2020.

The USA, the second largest gaming market worldwide by revenue, accounted for majority of the share of the North America gaming market, with about US$37 million in annual revenues in 2020.

Europe was the third largest gaming market with revenue of US$32.9 billion for 2020, followed by Latin America in the fourth place, with revenue of US$6.8 billion.

MENA represented the smallest region in terms of revenue with US$6.2 billion.

With rising popularity and wider reach, gaming industry looks to unravel multiple monetization strategies

Historically, gaming used to be an entertainment medium for a niche segment, mainly gaming enthusiasts and children or teenagers. At the time, ‘game-as-a-product’ was a go-to monetization strategy for most game developers, where gamers paid one time to purchase the physical or digital copy of the game.

Today, however, gaming attracts a much wider audience, enticing people from every age group. Business strategy has also evolved from upfront-based revenue model to ongoing-based revenue model where game developers seek monetization avenues from various transactions during the lifetime of a game. For instance, retail sales of Ubisoft (a French gaming company) were 98% of total sales revenues in 2010, and in 2019, this was less than one-third of the total revenue. Gaming companies today are increasingly looking to diversify their monetization avenues beyond upfront retail sales.

The most widely used monetization strategies nowadays include:

In-game purchases

In-game purchases refer to virtual items such as new features, functionality, upgrades, aesthetic elements, or content that gamers can buy to enhance their gaming experience. Newzoo estimated that in-game purchases accounted for nearly three-fourth of the global gaming revenue in 2020.

While in-game purchase seems to be a good monetization strategy, it also involves high cost to acquire paying users. Based on analysis of 992 apps between September 2018 and August 2019, Liftoff (a mobile app marketing firm) found that game developers spend an average of US$86.61 to acquire a user who will make in-app purchase. Moreover, the median average revenue per paying user for free-to-play games was estimated at US$6. However, there was high variance in the amount spent by the gamers and a small set of gamers, who were grossly engaged in games, expectedly spent US$35 to US$70 per day, thus creating high returns for the game developers.

In-game ads

In-game ads is a widely used monetization strategy, especially for free-to-play games. According to a report released in June 2020 by Omdia (a UK-based technology research firm), worldwide game developers earned revenue of US$42.3 billion in 2019 through in-game ads. Based on analysis of top 1,000 games by downloads by App Annie (app analytics company), 89% of them used in-game ads as one of the revenue streams.

As per a 2019 survey of 284 game developers conducted by deltaDNA (a consultancy firm for gaming industry), 94% of the free-to-play mobile games carried in-game ads. Rewarded ads are most popular: 82% of game developers in the deltaDNA survey indicated that they deployed rewarded video ads, compared to interstitial video ads (57%) and banners (34%).

As per the same survey, 30% of game developers showed more than five ads per gaming session. While in-game ads seem like a lucrative monetization opportunity, there is also a risk of affecting gaming experience and thus loosing gamers’ interest. deltaDNA survey suggested that display of too many ads might result in gamer churn (30%), affect gamers’ playing experience (27%), and scare off potential gamers that might be willing to spend on in-game purchases (16%). Hence, game developers need to strike a balance and control the frequency of ads.

Subscription

Witnessing the success of subscription streaming service such as Netflix and Hulu, many game developers have started exploring subscription-based model generating regular revenue stream.

Console gaming companies have been diving into the subscription model for a few years now, for instance, Sony’s PlayStation Now offers on-demand streaming of PlayStation games for a monthly subscription of US$9.99 in the USA. Some of the leading mobile and PC game developers also offer subscription service, for example, Uplay Plus by Ubisoft and EA Play by Electronic Art (creators of world-renowned FIFA game). Subscription-based model is more suitable for large gaming companies who have multiple games under their umbrella, thus offering a wide selection range to the gamers.

Based on a survey of 13,000 people in 17 countries between May 2020 and June 2020, Simon-Kucher (a global consultancy firm) suggested that over one in three gamers opted for at least one gaming subscription. Moreover, hardcore gamers who typically dedicated more than 20 hours per week on gaming would spend US$19 to US$40 per month on gaming subscription service, and casual gamers who played fewer than five hours per week were willing to shell out US$10 to US$30 for monthly subscription.

Gaming industry ecosystem is expanding with advent of new services

As gaming is more and more perceived as mainstream entertainment, there is an increased effort to capitalize on the industry’s wider reach, thus giving birth to eSports and games streaming services. Moreover, with increased demand from gamers to reduce reliance on hardware and access their favorite games anytime anywhere, advancement of cloud gaming service is encouraged.

eSports

eSports includes games played in highly organized competitive environment. As per estimates of Valuates Reports, an India-based research firm, the global eSports market was valued at US$692 million in 2019 and it is expected to reach US$1.9 billion by 2026.

eSports demand cross-industry collaboration including key players such as eSports organizations, tournament operators, digital broadcasters, etc. eSports offer monetization opportunities through advertising and sponsorships, media rights, ticket sales, merchandise sales, as well as in-game purchases.

Game streaming services

Game streaming services allow live broadcasting of gaming sessions by players. Game streaming services have been welcomed by the community of gamers as a medium to learn, connect, and get entertained.

Gaming video content was valued at US$9.3 billion with a viewership of 1.2 billion in 2020. The content may include pre-recorded or live gaming sessions by individuals as well as live broadcasting of eSports events. Game streaming service segment has particularly seen high involvement from Tech giants. Amazon’s Twitch and Google’s YouTube Gaming are the top two players in this space with annual revenue of US$1.54 billion and US$1.46 billion, respectively, in 2019.

Cloud gaming services

Newzoo projects cloud gaming to grow from US$585 million in 2020 to US$4.8 billion in 2023. Cloud gaming ecosystem typically includes game developers, cloud gaming platforms, as well as content service providers. Google launched its cloud gaming platform ‘Stadia’ in November 2019. For a monthly subscription fee of US$10, Stadia offers access to 152 games. Microsoft launched cloud gaming platform xCloud for its Xbox user base in September 2020. China-based gaming giants Tencent and Netease started beta testing of their cloud gaming platforms in 2019.

A Deloitte survey of over 2,000 US customers conducted between December 2019 and May 2020 indicated that 23% of gaming respondents were multiplatform players, playing games via all three mediums, i.e. mobile, console, and PC. Cloud gaming services could offer good value proposition for these gamers which look for seamless play between platforms.

EOS Perspective

As mobile gaming started to gain more traction, there is an increasing demand for casual games which target mass audience. As per analysis of top 1,000 games by downloads in 2019, casual games accounted for 82% of all game downloads, and remainder were hardcore games. Casual games are for on-the-go fun, which requires less time and low skillset, while hardcore games demand high commitment from the gamers who willfully spend comparatively more time and money on gaming.

Usually, casual game developers prefer ad-supported business model. Since these games require low skills, attracting masses, they are likely to generate more revenue through in-game ads than in-game purchases. As the level of skill set required goes up, a hybrid monetization model is preferred. Beyond that, the main monetization method is in-game purchases, especially for role-playing and strategy games which demand gamer’s higher engagement.

The role of gaming is evolving from a medium of entertainment to a social engagement platform. Games such as PUBG enables social interaction and networking as it allows to connect with different players and chat with people in the game. As per Sensor Tower, PUBG was the highest-grossing mobile game globally in 2020, earning US$2.6 billion in annual revenues. Rising popularity of such games shows how the gaming culture is transforming and pushing game developers to design games allowing players to socialize within the virtual environment.

‘Cross-play’ is another interesting trend which is likely to be the way forward for gaming industry. In September 2018, Fortnite became the first game to allow cross-play between mobile, PC, and all major consoles (Microsoft XBOX, Nintendo Switch, and Sony PlayStation). Between March 2020 and June 2020 more than 60% of Fortnite players paired up with a player from another platform to cross-play. The average monthly revenue-per-user who cross-played Fortnite was 365% higher than non-cross-players.

Multiplayer gaming is becoming a cultural phenomenon, and thus, the industry needs to focus on offering easy on-demand access and development of platform agnostic games.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

COVID-19 Outbreak Boosts the Use of Telehealth Services

Telehealth is one of the few sectors that have benefited from the coronavirus outbreak. Telehealth services have been around since 1950s, however, they were perceived as a nice-to-have alternative to conventional delivery of healthcare services and thus largely underutilized. COVID-19 pandemic has proved to be a game changer for the industry. Since social distancing became a necessary measure to curb the risk of COVID-19 transmission, telehealth emerged as a viable option to offer uninterrupted healthcare without physical contact. Towards the end of 2020, Deloitte predicted that virtual consultations would account for 5% of total visits to doctor in the world in 2021, up from 1% in 2019. To put this into perspective, in 2019, doctor’s visits in OECD-36 countries totaled 8.5 billion, worth approximately US$500 billion. 5% of this would result in about 400 million teleconsultations and over US$25 billion in value (if doctors earn the same for teleconsultations as for in-person visits).

Telehealth services uptake during the pandemic varied by region

While the adoption of telehealth services has increased across the globe, the growth rate varied by region depending upon factors such as technology and infrastructure, consumer awareness and willingness, government regulations, insurance policies, etc.

In the USA, world’s largest telehealth market which accounted for 40% of the global share in 2019, the growth over the years was steady but incremental mainly because of regulatory constraints and stringent insurance policies.

In response to the pandemic, the US government health insurance plans (Medicare, Medicaid, etc.) as well as private insurers expanded their coverage for telehealth services. As a result, telehealth accounted for 43.5% of all US Medicare primary care visits in April 2020, compared with just 0.1% before the pandemic. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that the number of telehealth visits increased by 154% during the last week of March 2020, compared with the same period in 2019, primarily due to policy changes and public health guidance on telehealth during the pandemic. Considering unprecedented rise in demand for telehealth services during the times of pandemic, in April 2020, Forrester (a research and consulting firm) revised their estimation for virtual general medical care visits in the USA from 36 million to 200 million for the year 2020.

UK and France have been the dominating countries in the European telehealth market. Telehealth services’ growth momentum due to COVID-19 pandemic in these countries is likely to continue because of conducive environmental factors such as established ecosystem, favorable regulatory framework, reimbursement policies, and consumer readiness. UK’s National Health Service revealed that 48% of GP consultations in May 2020 were carried out remotely over the telephone, compared with 14% in February of the same year. Teleconsultations in France increased from 40,000 in February 2020 to 611,000 in March 2020.

Growth of telehealth market in Switzerland, Germany, and Austria has been comparatively slow as these countries have more decentralized healthcare systems in contrast to UK or France. For instance, McKinsey’s survey of over 1,000 consumers from Germany, conducted in November 2020, showed that only 2% respondents started or increased usage of telehealth services since COVID-19 outbreak.

In countries such as Greece and Czech Republic, telehealth platforms were launched for the first time during the pandemic. Ireland had telehealth platforms before COVID-19, but the adoption of the telehealth services even after pandemic remains moderate because of lack of favorable regulatory framework.

COVID-19 Outbreak Boosts the Use of Telehealth Services

China and India are among the fastest growing telehealth markets in Asia. The number of telehealth providers in China increased from less than 150 to nearly 600 between late 2019 and early 2020. Telehealth platforms in India are witnessing increased interest from both patients as well as doctors. India’s leading health-tech firm, Practo, reported that 50 million people opted for teleconsultations through its platform between March 2020 and May 2020, representing 500% growth in teleconsultations during this time. 1mg Technologies, another telehealth service provider in India, indicated that between March 2020 and July 2020 nearly 10,000 doctors showed interest in signing up with the platform to offer teleconsultations. The company had only 150 doctors onboard until March 2020.

Japan, which is one of the largest healthcare markets, lagged in remote healthcare services because of stringent legislative policies. Remote consultations were allowed only for recurring patients and for limited number of ailments. Following the spike in COVID-19 cases, Japan temporarily eased restrictions on telehealth by allowing doctors to conduct first-time consultation online. Japan health ministry indicated that about 15% or 16,100 Japanese medical institutions (excluding dentists), offered telehealth services by July 2020. This shows phenomenal growth as in July 2018 only 970 of such Japanese healthcare institutions offered telehealth services.

In South Korea, telehealth was banned before COVID-19. This ban was lifted temporarily during the pandemic, but the long-term growth of telehealth in South Korea will depend on how the regulatory framework is shaped in the post-COVID era.

Vietnam also joined the telehealth upsurge as the country’s first telehealth app (developed by the Vietnamese multinational telecommunications company, Viettel) was launched amidst corona virus outbreak in April 2020.

Industry stakeholders seek to capitalize on telehealth boom

Healthcare providers have turned to telehealth to compensate for cancelled in-person consultations due to COVID-19 outbreak. This has encouraged providers to scale up their telehealth capabilities. For instance, over 56,000 doctors in France started teleconsultations by July 2020, as compared with only a few thousands at the beginning of the year.

Healthcare providers are not the only players looking to capitalize on the increase in demand for telehealth services. Other industry participants such as insurers and pharmacies are also exploring this segment.

In the USA, leading insurers such as Cigna, United Health, Aetna, Anthem, and Humana are partnering with telehealth providers to capitalize on the spurt in virtual healthcare demand. For instance, in February 2021, Cigna announced plans to acquire MDLive, Florida-based telehealth firm serving 60 million people across the USA, with a view to bring telehealth services in-house and reduce the patient-provider accessibility gap. Pharmacy giants Walgreens and CVS also extended access to telehealth services during COVID-19 crisis. In March 2021, a US-based digital retail pharmacy NowRx expanded into telehealth to provide care for HIV patients in California.

Since telehealth primarily encompasses delivery of healthcare services through digital and telecommunications platforms, telecoms and cable operators are uniquely positioned to organically expand in to telehealth space. Telecoms have the opportunity to expand in healthcare space by delivering telehealth as a value-added service. In October 2020, CommScope, an infrastructure solutions provider for communications networks, estimated that telehealth has the potential to create US$50 billion per year revenue opportunity for internet and telecom service providers in the USA.

Moreover, leading technology firms including Amazon, Microsoft, Salesforce, Tencent, Alibaba, and Alphabet are also investing in or considering to invest in telehealth. For instance, in January 2020, Alibaba launched an online coronavirus clinic, to offer remote assistance to patients across China.

Telehealth startups are mushrooming across the world and raking in millions in investment. Mercom Capital Group indicated that, in 2020, telehealth attracted nearly US$4.3 billion in venture funding. This represents 139% year-on-year increase compared to US$1.8 billion in 2019 implying that COVID-19 outbreak was the key driver behind the increased investment in telehealth.

Since everyone is trying to grab a piece of the growing telehealth market cake, this has led to flurry of M&A deals. Mercom Capital Group recorded 23 M&A transactions in telehealth space in 2020, up from 14 transactions in 2019.

EOS Perspective

COVID-19 outbreak worked as a catalyst resulting in dramatic increase in telehealth services utilization; whether this growth will continue in the long term, remains a question. This growth of telehealth market is primarily demand-driven. Thus, to sustain the growth momentum it would be imperative to overcome the challenges faced by the industry before the pandemic.

Ambiguous and often changing regulatory framework remains one of the biggest hindrances to telehealth. In order to tackle the spread of coronavirus, many countries temporarily relaxed their regulations for telehealth. However, it remains unknown whether countries will pull back the relaxations once the pandemic is over. Moreover, telehealth opens up doors for cross-border provision of healthcare services. This calls for development for a universal law for telehealth which is acceptable worldwide.

Further, the market will also largely depend on how the reimbursement policies evolve in the future. Historically, in many countries, reimbursement for teleconsultations has been lower than for in-person consultations. During the pandemic, the reimbursement amount was leveled in order to encourage adoption of telehealth. This proved to be a strong incentive driving the surge in telehealth. Post the pandemic, if the policies are changed again offering lower reimbursement for teleconsultations as compared with in-person visits, this could impact the growth momentum.

Data security and privacy concerns have long been debated as some of the biggest barriers for telehealth worldwide. Development of more secure platforms using technologies such as blockchain, AI, and Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) networks could potentially address these issues in future. Further applications of blockchain are being explored to improve operational transparency, increase protection of health records, and detect fraud related to patients’ insurance claims as well as physician credentials.

It is believed that the risk of misdiagnosis increases with telehealth as compared to in-person visits. This risk can be significantly reduced by integration of remote patient monitoring technologies with teleconsultations. IoT-enabled remote care monitoring technologies have been evolving by leaps and bounds. Teleconsultations carried out in conjunction with data collated from smart wearable devices can potentially help to cut down misdiagnoses.

Telehealth has become the new normal amidst coronavirus outbreak. While the telehealth market growth in the next 2-3 years could be attributed to pandemic crisis, the future will depend on how the regulatory framework will shape up and whether the industry will be able to tackle the challenges related to the technology implementation.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

COVID-19 Unmasks Global Supply Chains’ Reliance on China. Is There a Way Out?

Dubbed as the factory to the world, China is an integral part of the supply chain of a host of products and brands. From manufacturers of simple products such as toys to complex good such as automobiles, all are dependent on China for either end products or components. However, China’s ongoing trade war with the USA and the COVID pandemic have made several brands question their supply chain dependence on this country, especially in some industries such as pharmaceuticals. Moreover, aggressive investment incentives offered by countries such as India and Japan have further cajoled companies to reassess their global supply chains and reconsider their dependence on China. However, with years of investment in the supply chain ecosystem, a shift such as this seems easier said than done.

China emerged as the manufacturing hub of the world in the 1990’s and hasn’t looked back since. Owing to vast availability of land and labor, technological advancements, and overall low cost of production, China became synonymous to manufacturing. Over the past decade, increasing labor and utility costs, and growing competition from neighboring low-cost countries such as India, Vietnam, Thailand, etc., have resulted in some companies shifting out from China. However, so far this has been limited to a few low-skilled labor intensive industries such as apparel.

The year 2020 has changed this drastically. The COVID pandemic along with the ongoing trade war between the USA and China made companies realize and question their dependency on China. In the beginning of last year, COVD-19 brought China to a halt, which in turn impacted the supply chain for all companies producing in China. Moreover, several pharmaceutical companies also realized that they are highly dependent on China for few basic medicines and medical supplies and equipment, which were in a considerable shortage throughout 2020. This pushed several companies across sectors such as pharmaceuticals, automobiles, and electronic goods, to reconsider their global supply chains to ensure reduced dependence on any one region, especially China.

Currently, several companies such as Apple, Google, and Microsoft are looking to shift their production from China to other South Asian countries, such as Vietnam and Thailand.

Some of the companies looking to reduce dependence on China:

Apple

In November 2020, Apple, along with its supplier Foxconn, expressed plans to shift assembly of some iPad and MacBook to Vietnam from China. The facility is expected to come online in the first half of 2021. Moreover, Apple is also considering shifting production of some of its Air Pods to Vietnam as well. In addition, it has invested US$1 billion in setting up a plant in Tamil Nadu, India to assemble iPhones that are to be sold in India. Apple and Foxconn are consciously trying to reduce their reliance on China due to the ongoing USA-China trade war.

Samsung

In July 2020, Samsung announced plans to shift most of its computer monitor manufacturing plants from China to Vietnam. The move is its response to hedge the supply chain disruptions it faced due to factories being shut in China during the early phase of the pandemic. In addition, in December 2020, the company shared its plans to shift its mobile and IT display plants from China to India. Samsung plans to invest about US$660 million (INR 48 billion) to set up the new facility in Uttar Pradesh (India).

Hasbro

Hasbro has been moving its production out of China into Mexico, India and Vietnam over the past year. It aimed to have only 50% of its products to be coming out of China by the end of 2020 and only 33% of its production to remain in China by the end of 2023. In 2019, about 66% of its toys were produced in China, while in 2012, 90% of its toys were manufactured in the country. The key reason behind the consistent switch is the souring trade relations between the USA and China.

Hyundai

During the past year, Hyundai Motors has been looking at developing India into its global sourcing hub instead of China in order to reduce its over-reliance on the latter. It has been encouraging its vendors, such as Continental, Aptiv, and Bosch, to ramp up production in India so as to move their supply chain away from China. It plans to source its auto parts from India (instead of China) for its existing factories in India, South America, Eastern Europe as well as planned facility in Indonesia.

Google

Google is looking to manufacture its new low-cost smartphone, Pixel4A, and its flagship smartphone, Pixel5A in Vietnam instead of China. In addition, in 2020, it also planned to shift production of its smart home products to Thailand. This move has been a part of an ongoing effort to reduce reliance on China, which in fact gained momentum post supply chain disruptions faced due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Microsoft

In early 2020, Microsoft expressed plans to shift the production base of its Surface range of notebooks and desktops into Vietnam. While the initial volume being produced in Vietnam is expected to be low, the company intends to ramp it up steadily to shift volumes away from China.

Steve Madden

In 2019, Steve Madden expressed plans to shift parts of its production out of China in 2020, given growing trade-based tensions between the USA and China. However, due to the COVID pandemic, it could not make planned changes to its supply chain. In October 2020, it again expressed plans to start shifting part of its production away from China by spring 2021. It plans to procure raw materials from Mexico, Cambodia, Brazil, and Vietnam to reduce reliance on China.

Iris Ohyama

The Japanese consumer goods player expressed plans to open a factory in northeastern Japan to diversify its manufacturing base, which is based primarily in China. The company made this move on the back of increasing labor cost in China, rising import tariffs to the USA, along with the supply disruptions it faced for procuring masks for the Japanese market. In 2020, it also set up a mask factory in the USA. In addition, the company plans to open additional plants in the USA and France for plastic containers and small electrical goods to cater to the local demand in these markets.

Nations using this opportunity to promote domestic production

In August 2020, about 24 electronic goods companies, including Samsung and Apple, have shown interest in moving out of China and into India. These companies together have pledged to invest about US$1.5 billion to setup mobile phone factories in the country in order to diversify their supply chains. This move is a result of the Indian government offering incentives to companies looking to shift their production facilities to India.

In April 2020, the Indian government announced a production linked incentive (PLI) scheme to attract companies looking to move out of China and set up large scale manufacturing units in the electronics space. Under the scheme, the government is offering an incentive of 4-6% on incremental sales (over base year FY 2019-20) of goods manufactured in India. The scheme, which is applicable for five years, plans to give an incentive worth US$6 billion (INR 409.51 billion) over the time frame of the scheme.

In November 2020, the Indian government subsequently expanded the scheme to other sectors such as pharma, auto, textiles, and food processing. In addition, it is expected to provide a production-linked incentive of US$950 million (INR 70 billion) to domestic drug manufacturers in order to push domestic manufacturing and reduce dependence on Chinese imports. Apart from incentives, India is developing a land pool of about 461,589 hectares to offer to companies looking to move out of China. The identified land, which is spread across Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh, makes it easy for companies looking to set shop in India, as acquiring land has been one of the biggest challenges when it came to setting up production units in India.

On similar lines, the Japanese government is providing incentives to companies to shift their production lines out of China and to Japan. In May 2020, Japan announced an initiative to set up a US$2.2 billion stimulus package to encourage Japanese companies to shift production out of China. About JNY 220 billion (~US$2 billion) of the stimulus will be directed towards companies shifting production back to Japan, while JNY 23.5 billion (~US$200 million) will be given to companies seeking to move production to Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, and other Southeast Asian countries.

In the first round of subsidies, the Japanese government announced a list of 57 companies in July 2020, which will receive a total of US$535 million to open factories in Japan, while another 30 companies will be given subsidies to expand production in other countries such as Vietnam and Thailand. The move is a combination of Japan looking to shift manufacturing of high value-added products back to the country and the initial disruptions caused to the supply chain of Japanese automobiles and durable goods manufacturers.

Similarly, the USA, which has been at odds with China regarding trade for a couple of years now, is also encouraging its companies to limit their exposure in China and shift their production back home. In May 2020, the government proposed a US$25 billion ‘reshoring fund’ to enable manufacturers to move their production bases and complete supply chain from China preferably back to the USA and in turn reduce their reliance of China-made goods. The bill included primarily tax incentives and reshoring subsidies. However, the bill has not been passed in Congress yet and now with the leadership change in the USA, it is expected that president Biden may follow a more diplomatic strategic route with regards to China in comparison to his predecessor.

In addition to individual country efforts, in September 2020, Japan, India, and Australia together launched an initiative to achieve supply chain resilience in the Indo-Pacific region and reduce their trade dependence on China. The partnership aims at achieving regional cooperation to build a stable supply chain from the raw material to finished goods stage in 10 key sectors, namely petroleum and petrochemicals, automobiles, steel, pharmaceuticals, textiles and garments, marine products, financial services, IT services, tourism and travel services, and skill development.

Similarly, the USA is pushing to create an alliance called the ‘Economic Prosperity Network’, wherein it aims to work with Australia, India, Japan, New Zealand, Vietnam, and South Korea to restructure global supply chains to reduce dependence on China.

COVID-19 Unmasks Global Supply Chains’ Reliance on China by EOS Intelligence

Is it feasible?

While these efforts are sure to help companies move part(s) of their supply chain out of China, the extent to which it is feasible is yet to be assessed. Although the coronavirus outbreak has highlighted and exposed several supply chain vulnerabilities for companies across sectors and countries, despite government support and incentives, it will be very difficult for them to wean off their dependence on China.

Companies have spent decades building their manufacturing ecosystems, which in many cases, are highly reliant on China. These companies not only have their end products assembled or manufactured in the country, but also engage Chinese suppliers for their raw materials, who in turn use further Chinese suppliers for their inputs. Therefore, moving out of China is not a simple process and will take tremendous amount of time as well as financial resources.

While companies such as Google or Microsoft are looking to shift their assembling plants out of China, they are still dependent on China for parts. This is all the more relevant in case of high-technology products, such as automobiles and telecommunication infrastructure, where companies have made significant investments in China for their supply chain and are dependent on the nation’s manufacturing capabilities for small, intricate, but technologically advanced parts and components.

Moreover, despite significant efforts and reforms from countries such as India, Vietnam, and Thailand, they still cannot match China in terms of availability of skilled labor, infrastructure, and scale, which is required by many companies especially with regards to technologically advanced products. That being said, more companies are looking at a strategy where they are maintaining their presence in China, while also developing relatively smaller operations outside the country to have a fallback and to reduce total dependency on China. This is also dubbed as the China + 1 strategy.

Another reason going in China’s favor has been its capability to bounce back from the pandemic and resume production in a short span of time. While production had been halted in January to March 2020, it ramped up April onwards and was back to normal standards within no time. This reinforced the faith of many companies on Chinese capabilities. Therefore, as some companies are already cash-strapped due to the pandemic, they are not interested in investing in modifying their supply chains when in most cases normalcy resumed in a relatively short span of time.

EOS Perspective

Companies have been looking to diversify their supply chains and reduce dependence on China for a couple of years now, however, the trend has gained momentum post the coronavirus pandemic and growing US-China trade tensions. The onset of the COVID-19 outbreak exposed several vulnerabilities in the supply chain of global manufacturers, who realized the extent of their dependence on China. Moreover, several countries realized that they relied on China for key medicines and medical supplies, which cost them heavily during the pandemic.

Given this situation, several nations such as Japan, India, and the USA – together and individually, have started giving incentives to companies to shift production from China into their own borders. While this has resulted in several companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Sanofi, Samsung, etc., to expand their manufacturing operations out of China, it does not necessarily mean that they are moving out of China. This is primarily due to heavy investments (in terms of both time and money) that they have already made into developing their intricate supply chains as well as the inherent benefits that China provides – technologically skilled labor, sophisticated production facilities, and quick revamping of production after a calamity.

That being said, it has come into the conscience of companies to reduce their over-reliance on China and while it may not impact the scale and extent of operations in the country in the short run, it is quite likely that companies will phase out their presence (at least part of it) in China over the coming decade.

A lot depends on the level of incentives and facilities provided by other nations. While countries such as India, Vietnam, and Thailand can offer low cost production with regards to labor and utilities, they currently do not have the technological sophistication possessed and developed by China. Alternatively, while Japan and the USA are technologically advanced, without recurring incentives and tax breaks, cost of production would be much higher than that in China. Thus, until there is a worthy alternative, most companies will follow the China +1 strategy. However, with growing trade tensions between China and other nations, and ongoing efforts by other nations to encourage and support domestic production, China may risk losing its positioning as the ‘factory of the world’ in the long run.

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

EdTech’s Growth Fueled by Coronavirus

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For years, tech adoption has been relatively slower in the education sector than in many other sectors. This has considerably changed when COVID-19 hit in early 2020 and triggered the closure of educational institutions all over the world. With classroom doors closed and conventional methods of education taking a setback, e-learning gained momentum like never before. From virtual classes to tutoring and conducting meetings online to learning new skills, the pandemic propelled EdTech into the spotlight, putting it on a growth trajectory.

Changing face of EdTech market

To control the spread of coronavirus, nearly 190 countries had implemented temporary school closures by the end of March 2020, disrupting education of more than 1.5 billion students. Over the coming days, as the count of people affected by the virus multiplied hourly, all educational institutions (including schools, colleges, universities, vocational training centers, and skill development institutions) were directed to remain shut until the situation improved, driving students to shift to online learning. This sudden change away from classroom learning has led to the adoption of online learning on a large scale.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, EdTech sector was estimated to reach a value of US$ 342 billion, growing at a CAGR of 13.1% between 2019 and 2025. The forecast revisions accounting for the impact of COVID-19 pandemic predict the global EdTech market to reach US$ 404 billion, with a CAGR of 16.3% by 2025. The sudden adoption of e-learning across educational institutions as well as an increasing need for upskilling courses by working-class individuals are driving the tech embracement in the COVID-19 pandemic scenario.

Moreover, with uncertainty still looming on reopening of educational establishments, technology will need to play a critical role across all aspects of education – content generation, knowledge consumption, and assessments. This is expected to intensify the pace at which digitization happens in the education sector.

Investment at an all-time high

Over the last decade (from 2010 to mid-2020), global EdTech venture capital funding stood at US$ 36.8 billion, of which more than 50% occurred since 2018. Investment in EdTech has sky-rocketed over the last few years – the sector witnessed investment of merely US$ 0.5 billion in 2010 but reached a striking figure of US$ 7 billion in 2019, 14 times more in a span of nine years. Even during COVID-19 pandemic, companies globally attracted US$ 4.5 billion in funding between January and July 2020, which is the highest ever funding raised during a comparable period in the last decade. It is expected that the trend will follow and the investments will grow further, anticipated at US$ 87 billion over the next decade.

During the coronavirus outbreak, the demand for e-learning increased manifold accelerating the investment spree in EdTech. While the USA is home to nearly 43% of the world’s EdTech companies’ (followed by India – 10%, Brazil – 9%, UK – 8%, and China – 3%), as of 2020, the companies that received the high value funding deals during COVID-19 period were situated elsewhere.

India-based online tutoring firm Byju’s raised more than US$ 1 billion from January through September 2020 (US$ 200 million in January from Tiger Global Management, USA-based investment firm; US$ 200 million in February from General Atlantic, USA-based equity firm;  US$ 23 million in June from Bond Capital, USA-based investment firm; US$ 122 million in August from DST GLobal, Hong Kong-based investment firm; US$ 500 million in September from Silver Lake, USA-based equity firm) to become the first company in the EdTech domain to reach a valuation of US$ 10.8 billion.

The second company was China-based Yuanfudao, an online live course platform, which raised US$ 1 billion in March 2020 from Hillhouse Capital (China-based private equity firm) and Tencent Holdings (China-based technology conglomerate).

Another noteworthy deal was also scored by China-based Zuoyebang, an online education tutoring provider, which received US$ 750 million funding from FountainVest Partners (private equity firm based in Hong Kong) and Tiger Global Management.

Moreover, mergers and acquisitions are also likely to grow in the near future considering many small players will not have the necessary finances and expertise to revamp their business model to the changing market needs and are likely to merge with or acquired by larger players.

EdTech’s Growth Fueled by Coronavirus by EOS Intelligence

Increased adoption of advanced technology

Short-term rush in additional demand for EdTech solutions brought by COVID-19 is also expected to give headway to increased adoption of advanced digital technologies in the future. Solutions based on technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), and blockchain (we wrote about the role of blockchain in virtual education in our article Blockchain Scores Well in the Education Sector) are likely to gain more momentum and be integrated into core education delivery.

It is expected that by 2025 AR/VR market in EdTech will reach US$ 12.6 billion from US$ 1.8 billion in 2019, growing at a CAGR of 38.3%. AI is expected to observe CAGR of 40.29% between 2019 (from US$ 0.8 billion) and 2025 (to US$ 6.1 billion). Other technologies that will see a spike include robotics (expected to grow from US$ 1.3 billion to US$ 3.1 billion during the six-year period) and blockchain being increasingly incorporated into learning processes (expected to grow at a CAGR of 34.8% from US$ 0.1 billion to US$ 0.6 billion).

EOS Perspective

COVID-19 has proved to be a turning point for the EdTech industry and acted as a push for change that was already underway in the education sector. The pandemic downrightly disrupted the education system making online learning an essential part of the way we learn; however, it is unlikely that digital learning will become the new norm. Now, whether e-learning becomes the sole mode of education or blends with physical classes, the EdTech market has growth potential and the investment angle also looks bright.

Whilst a large number of players in EdTech sector were able to capitalize on the need for education during the pandemic, not all digital learning platform providers will stick around. In the long term, players with a clear-product concept and a well-defined monetization policy will emerge winners. They must also be thoughtful of the fact that the unforeseen growth the sector witnessed during the pandemic is only transient and once educational institutes reopen, the demand for online learning is likely to shrink (even if by a small percentage).

In terms of user adoption, EdTech companies saw significant growth by offering free access to their platforms. However, this is not a sustainable strategy that firms can adopt in the long run. Once things get back to normal and the free trials end, companies will need to attune their product pricing and come up with more affordable plans. Nevertheless, emerging on the winning side of the pandemic will not be easy for the players as they walk a very thin line in between offering innovative learning models and meeting market demands, while still being able to generate revenue and remain profitable.

Moreover, while the new users multiplied quickly, retaining them is easier said than done. Emphasis on service quality and overall delivery experience would be crucial to convert current free subscribers into paying customers.

Bearing in mind that the current momentary spike in demand for online tools is not directly proportional to increased business, EdTech companies need to revisit their business strategies to achieve long-term growth. As the competition increases, companies must tweak their commercial business model to adapt to changing customer requirements and to fulfil the need for on-demand educational lessons.

Additionally, the importance of collaborative partnerships with educational institutions (for their need of customized curriculum, creating teaching modules, and courses to train teachers) and corporates (need for upskilling employees on technical competencies) cannot be underestimated. Business models based on such partnerships are likely to open new avenues of revenue generation. This will also negate the per student acquisition cost for EdTech players.

Nevertheless, though the growth path for EdTech sector may have a few roadblocks, in the hindsight, the overall outlook towards the sector’s growth in the near future appears to be optimistic.


Read our other Perspectives on coronavirus here


 

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Blockchain: a Frontline Warrior in Battling Coronavirus Pandemic

SARS-COV-2 has brought the world to a standstill. Technology and its creative uses have been playing a pivotal role in sustaining lives during the pandemic as well as combating the crisis. One such technology that has been in the forefront of the pandemic is blockchain. From mitigating supply chain issues with medicines and protection gear to facilitating transparency in donations to effectively tracking the spread of the virus and protecting patient privacy, blockchain technology is being applied across the spectrum to contain and manage the outbreak.

The current pandemic has brought to light many inefficiencies and limitations of the existing global healthcare systems, wherein governments across the globe are grappling to control the outbreak, challenged by the lack of a unified interconnected and trusted network to share data and track cases. Blockchain has several inherent properties, such as decentralized ledger, transparency, immutability, that make it suitable for handling and managing various aspects of containing the pandemic.

Outbreak tracking

Global health authorities and governments across the globe are having a hard time gathering authentic data regarding tests and patient numbers, hospital beds, recoveries, etc. Currently, most of the data circulating is disparate, and comes from multiple sources, such as hospitals, labs, public, and media, instead of one authorized source. This is extremely damaging since this results in the creation of a great amount of inaccurate and duplicate data, which if trusted, makes the process of tracking and containment both time consuming and ineffective. This is counter-productive to the management of a disease that is as fast spreading as COVID-19.

Blockchain technology can come to play in effectively tackling this issue. Owing to its distributed and immutable nature, blockchain can provide a feasible solution for tracking the outbreak. Blockchain-based apps facilitate organizations across the globe to form a single connected network where data can be shared in real time and securely. Moreover, since data stored in blockchain is immutable, it is protected against unauthorized changes and its distributed nature ensures protection against fraudulent data (since each entry requires consensus algorithms and smart contracts). Lastly, blockchain efficiently manages high volumes of data (as in the cases of the COVID pandemic) in a real time basis, which cannot be managed using human resources.

However, in addition to these factors, the aspect that stands out the most and makes blockchain technology ideal for monitoring and managing outbreak-related information is the level of privacy it offers. People do not wish for their information to be shared publicly or be used for other purposes. Thus it is a challenge to get patients to collaborate with governments and healthcare institutions to share information regarding their condition and wellness. For instance, the Israel government recently permitted healthcare institutions to track citizens’ mobile phones to control the spread of coronavirus. This has raised concerns from human rights organizations as citizens are not comfortable with sharing their personal information.

Since blockchain uses a distributed ledger, which ensures accountability and transparency with regards to access to its stored data, the information shared through blockchain cannot be extracted or misused. Moreover, information stored in a blockchain cannot be hacked. This encourages patients to share information regarding their condition, symptoms, location, and underlying health conditions without fear of the information being misused or shared with any third-party.

Furthermore, information shared by patients in a blockchain network may not only be used for tracking the outbreak but also facilitate health centers study the disease characteristics and patterns to develop treatment and solutions.

For instance, WHO has been using a blockchain-based data streaming platform, called MiPasa, which facilitates the sharing of information amongst need-to-know organizations such as state authorities and health officials. The platform is built on top of Hyperledger Fabric and partners with IBM for blockchain and cloud platforms. The application cross-references siloed location data with health information to track and prevent the spread of the outbreak, all while protecting patient privacy.

In another example, Atlanta-based developer of blockchain-enabled healthcare applications, Acoer, developed an application called HashLog, which allows real time logging and data visualization of the spread of the infection. HashLog provides real-time updates on the spread of the disease by tracking movement of infected people to identify potential outbreaks and prevent further spread. The application uses the Hedera Hashgraph distributed ledger technology and each entry is recorded through a verified hash reference on the ledger, ensuring that the data is correct.

Donations

In addition to tracking and preventing outbreaks, blockchain also plays an important role in securing donations. From hospitals and state authorities with insufficient funds for medical supplies to economically-weaker sections of the populations losing source of income due to lockdown, the current pandemic has displaced a huge number of people across the globe. Thus in such times, donations play a critical role in sustaining livelihoods and providing healthcare supplies to the affected people. However, given fraud associated with donations in recent times, lack of trust is a common factor affecting success of donations. Several individuals want to help and donate, however, are discouraged due to fear of their money being misused.

For instance in India, the government and police warned citizens against several fake relief schemes that have been floating in the name of COVID-19 relief, some even mirroring the Prime Ministers Relief Fund. These kind of activities deter willing people from donating.

Blockchain technology can be used to effectively combat this issue. Since all transactions in blockchain are secure, transparent, and traceable, donors can track their funds and see where they are utilized. This gives confidence to donors that their funds are being used for the exact purpose that they intended.

One such example is Hangzhou-based blockchain startup Hyperchain, which built a blockchain-based donation tracking platform for supporting government and hospitals (such as Tangshan People’s Hospital, Jiayu People’s Hospital and Xiantao No. 1 People’s Hospital) in the donation process. The platform has attracted more than US$2 million in donations.

 

Blockchain a Frontline Warrior in Battling Coronavirus Pandemic by EOS Intelligence

Supply chain tracking

Blockchain technology has been deemed extremely useful in managing and tracing the supply chain in several sectors as retail (for more insights on this read our article Blockchain Paving Its Way into Retail Industry). However, given the current pandemic, the technology can also utilize similar functionalities and play a significant role in tracking of medical supplies.

Given the pace of spread of COVID-19, authorities and healthcare organizations across the globe have faced a shortage of medical supplies, such as masks, sanitizers, PPE kits, ventilators, testing equipment, as well as some medicines. This drastic increase in demand has resulted in distribution of large number of counterfeit and faulty products. Blockchain technology can play a significant role to combat this. Given the data provenance in blockchain and its immutable nature, it is possible to identify and trace back every touchpoint of the medical supplies to ensure its authenticity.

In addition to filtering counterfeit products, blockchain also helps streamline the supply chain process to ensure hospitals and doctors secure timely supplies to treat patients. Blockchain can provide real-time updates regarding demand so that medical manufacturers can adjust production levels accordingly. In addition, it can help fast-track supply chain contracts through the use of smart contracts, and facilitate faster payments, thereby improving the overall efficiency.

In February 2020, China-based AliPay, along with the Zhejiang Provincial Health Commission and the Economy and Information Technology Department, launched a blockchain-based platform to facilitate the tracking of medical supplies required for fighting SARS-COV-2. The platform has improved trust within the medical supply chain since it records and tracks the entire provenance of preventive supplies including masks, gloves, and PPE kits.

Apart from medical supply chain, blockchain can also help limit supply chain disruptions faced by several other industries due to lockdown in several parts of the world. However, companies that are using blockchain for managing their supply chain have an advantage as they have better visibility into their complete supply chain and thereby can identify points of disruption in a timely manner.

Avoiding future pandemics

Blockchain is on the front line for fighting the current pandemic, but it also has the potential to prevent future disease outbreaks. Most of current healthcare surveillance systems across the globe are outdated and lack the required timeliness and efficiency in sharing information with local as well as international health enforcement organizations. Moreover, sometimes there is a question of deliberate delay in sharing of critical information.

To this effect, blockchain-based health surveillance systems can help mitigate future outbreaks. Since they operate on a decentralized ledger, the surveillance data is transparently available to health organizations across the globe in a real-time manner, without the fear of any political disruptions. Timely knowledge of a potential outbreak is the first and most critical step in preventing a similar situation in the future.

In addition to the above mentioned applications, blockchain companies along with institutions are developing creative solutions that help reduce challenges faced by people due to COVID in their day to day living. For instance, Toronto-based blockchain company, Emerge, launched a public safety app called Civitas, which assists the citizens and local authorities across Latin America. This app matches one’s official ID to confidential medical records stored in the blockchain to identify whether the person is allowed to leave the house or not. Thus the app allows police to verify if the person has a travel permission just on the basis of their government ID and without gaining access to the person’s medical records. The app also determines the safest time and day for going out for essentials for people who are experiencing COVID-like symptoms.

Moreover, as discussed in our previous article (Blockchain Scores Well in the Education Sector) blockchain also is extremely useful in the virtual education scenario, which is now the new way of schooling for large part of students across the globe.

EOS Perspective

Blockchain technology has several inherent properties that make it ideal for helping to manage and combat the current pandemic. Its decentralized, traceable, and immutable properties make is especially desirable for managing contact tracing and outbreak tracking, which are critical in handling a pandemic efficiently. Moreover, the benefits of blockchain are further amplified when used alongside other technologies, such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and big data.

However, despite its several uses, the issue of scalability plagues blockchain adaption at a larger scale. Blockchain is still a nascent technology and lacks high-level scalability. With COVID affecting most of the world, the current blockchain companies do not have that level of scalability to provide all-encompassing global level solutions.

Furthermore, blockchain technology does not operate alone and it needs to be configured with the operating legacy system at companies and other stakeholders. However, most legacy systems are relatively old and therefore do not support blockchain technology. Updating or reconfiguring a legacy system is a tedious process (both in terms of time and money) and companies may not want to tie up resources for that at the current time.

Given these drawbacks, blockchain may not be deployed at a global-scale level during this pandemic, however, its inherent benefits have made companies, authorities, and global health organizations ponder, explore, and evaluate its potential in managing such situations in the future. While the COVID-19 pandemic has caught the world largely unprepared, organizations and companies across the globe are gearing up to ensure this history is not repeated and blockchain technology has emerged as a critical part of the solution.

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