Vaccine a much-needed boost to Travel Industry

This week on 9 November 2020, a day after the US Election result, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that their BNT162b2 vaccine was more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19. Although the data is preliminary, the results were better than expected and sparked renewed optimism in financial markets and economic growth worldwide.

The news was a shot in the arm for the travel industry with travel operators reporting an immediate surge in enquiries and bookings for the coming year.

Skyscanner – reported an immediate spike in traffic online. Searches for holidays were up 48% compared to previous week pretty much across the board from Mediterranean beach holidays, ski trips to the Canary Islands, the Maldives and capital cities such as New York and Florida.

CV Villas – the villa specialist operates across Europe and the Caribbean, experienced a 76% increase in searches and 40% increase in bookings compared to previous week.

British Airways – saw a significant increase in people looking for flights to New York, Florida and Dubai and holidays to the Maldives, the Canary and Caribbean Islands.

Club Med – 25% spike in booking enquiries compared with the previous week. Hot destinations were the Maldives and French ski resort Val Thorens.

This huge spike reflects the pent up demand for travel by consumers. People are sitting at the sidelines waiting for the time and opportunity.

Consensus expectations for the BNT162b2 vaccine’s efficacy rate were between 60% to 70%. If the 90% efficacy rate continues to hold for the remainder of the trial, the vaccine would put be on par with the Measles Vaccine and more effective than the Flu Vaccine (around 50% effective). Furthermore Pfizer noted that among the 43,000+ people currently participating in the global trial, no serious safety concerns have been observed so far. These numbers will fluctuate as more data come in.

Meantime, Pfizer and BioNTech can apply for emergency-use authorization from the FDA after gathering two months of safety data, target goal being the end of November. With the FDA expecting a vaccine to have at least 50% efficacy, chances are good for Pfizer and BioNTech.

BNT162b2 approach is based on a technology known as Messenger Ribonucleic Acid (mRNA). The vaccine essentially instructs the body to make proteins to fight the coronavirus. It causes a protein spike that the COVID-19 virus uses to enter host cells, thus provoking an immune system response.

Thus far, no other mRNA-based therapies have been granted regulatory approval. Should Pfizer and BioNTech be successful, it will be remarkable not only in proving that the technology works, but also in terms of speed of breakthrough. Time to market of one year compares with other vaccines which have historically taken 10 or more years to reach market.

German & US Collaboration

BioNTech is a German biotech company that designed the vaccine’s architecture. However it lacked the resources to back a global clinical trial and bring the vaccine to market. That was where US pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer came in. Pfizer is responsible to scale-up manufacturing and distribution which in this case presents a unique challenge as the vaccine has to be transported and stored at extremely low temperatures. So it invested billions on shipping containers with reusable GPS temperature sensors and specialized freezers that can store vials for up to six months.

Based on current projections, Pfizer and BioNTech are on track to produce 50 million doses by year end to cover 25 million people). And another 1.3 billion doses to cover 650 million people by end 2021. With China and Russian vaccines also in the pipeline, the longer term future looks bright for travel and hospitality.

Meantime though, COVID-19 cases continue to soar globally. Suffice to say that recovery in travel may be patchy till at least end 2021.