travel, asia, industry

This week, we explore the findings of the recently released Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA)’s Asia Pacific Visitor Forecast 2021-2023 report, which identifies three scenarios of growth and recovery for international visitor arrivals (IVAs) to and across Asia.

While it is comforting to see that 2021/2022 may be the last we see of shrinking IVA numbers, all three scenarios don’t expect to see a full recovery to that of 2019 IVA numbers by 2023, which goes to show the expected continued impact of the pandemic on the economy and people’s willingness to travel.

When will travel power up? [Infographic]

PATA chief executive officer Mario Hardy said he expects growth in IVAs within the Asia Pacific will remain difficult in 2021 and noted that recovery this year and subsequent years will be steered by the arrival and management of the traditional flu season.

He also noted the difficulty in forecasting international travel given the very unpredictable course of global travel lockdowns.

Dr. Hardy concluded by reminding the travel sector that “domestic travel will in many cases, fill some of the void left by the loss of foreign arrivals and that as much care and attention to those travelers need to be given as to those from overseas. Furthermore, for both types of visitor, perhaps the future will depend more on length of stay and visitor satisfaction, than on a generic and simple headcount of arrivals. Metrics that track such indicators will possibly become a new standard for determining tourism potential and performance in what is likely to continue being a volatile world.”

We spoke with Gary Bowerman, Director of Check-In Asia who largely agreed with Hardy’s sentiments.

“This is an extremely difficult time for travel forecasting. COVID-19 continues to be highly volatile, and there are many dynamic economic, political, and public health variables up ahead… Whichever way you look at it, the deep, ugly u-bend on the graph is a visual reminder of the challenging journey ahead.”

Giving further insights into the data presented by PATA, we also spoke to Dr. Wolfgang Arlt of the Chinese Outbound Tourism Institute (COTRI). However, he felt the forecasts were too conservative.

“Of course we all learned to be careful about predicting the future,” noted Wolfgang. ”
“However, assuming that for the next couple of years we will be alert enough to prevent the next virus to develop into a pandemic, I think that the PATA estimates are too conservative, underestimating the penned-up demand of potential travelers as well as the level of discounts offered by companies (airlines, hotel groups, etc.) and destinations desperate to get back into the business.”

Wolfgang said he expects IVAs to reach 2019 levels by 2022 or 2023 at the latest.

The Professor also went on to explain that solely focusing on the number of arrivals shouldn’t be the only way of measuring the future health of the travel industry.
“In almost all discussions in 2020, it was agreed that back to the old “normal” of over-tourism, pollution, and a decrease in quality of experience for both visitors and hosts was not what we want. So any discussion which does not go beyond arrivals does not make sense when talking about the future.”
From a gaming point of view, Bowerman said it was worth noting China’s recent policy which prioritized the nurturing of Macau’s economy back to health.
“That is a crucial development. Regarding other gaming destinations, I think we will have to wait and see how airlines rebuild their route frequencies. Singapore is likely to scale back up fairly quickly once vaccines are rolled out, but other locations in the region may take time to rebuild flight supply and demand in the initial period.”
Wolfgang said ultimately, the void left by international visitors may not be filled by domestic tourists, particularly in jurisdictions catering to international gambling VIPs.
“Domestic tourism can fill the void in some countries, but for many Asian destinations, there are simply not enough affluent citizens existing. Furthermore, for international business, education, and VFR trips (not to mention gambling away from home) domestic travel is not an option,” added Wolfgang.
Wolfgang said that governments (particularly China) will need to strike a balance between safety and freedom for their citizens.
“From a virologists point of view, if we would all stay at home, each person in a separate room, 24/7, that would be the best to prevent any contagious disease to spread – but the economies and societies would crash and no government in the world could enforce that.”