March 1, 2021

Pacific destinations unlikely to bounce back before 2022

More than ever, Oceania seemed like a beautiful but very distant dream in 2020.  It turned into the most isolated continent in the world as countries closed their doors to all foreign arrivals. This was particularly the case for the three major destinations in the region – Australia, New Zealand and the US Pacific islands of Hawaii and Guam.

The Pacific region was one of the least affected by the coronavirus pandemic. By mid-February, the region had only recorded slightly more than 50,000 positive cases infected by Covid-19 and close to 1,100 deaths. The quasi-total isolation of countries helped in keeping the pandemic under control. However, the strict closure of borders to international travellers claimed a major victim: tourism.

Numbers of international arrivals collapsed last year. According to the Pacific Asia Travel Association, total arrivals to the region declined from 27.81 million in 2019 to just 5.85 million last year. This figure however includes numbers for  territories incorporated into the United States as well as the US State of Hawaii. The archipelago generated close to three million international arrivals in 2019 and only 0.62 million last year.

PATA numbers translate into a drop of 79% from one year to another. These numbers are only estimates. A further lockdown at the end of 2020 probably added to tourism’s woes by further depressing arrivals. The sporadic resurgence of coronavirus cases in Australia and New Zealand prompted both countries to regularly suspend the sole international travel “bubble” in the region.

Recovery forecast from 2022

Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, Guam and Fiji islands generated the bulk of all arrivals to the region in 2019 with almost 18.5 million international arrivals. Restrictions for foreign travellers coupled with the suspension of most international flights in both Australia and New Zealand stand behind the collapse of the destination Oceania in 2020.

Scenarios are not too optimistic for 2021 as both Australia and New Zealand are likely to remain closed to most overseas travellers. PATA envisions three scenarios: in a “mild” option, international visitor arrivals in 2021 would represent 20% of 2019 numbers; in a “medium” scenario, arrivals would top 9.1% of the ones in 2021; while a “severe” scenario predicts only 3% of the total volume of 2019 arrivals.

Recovery would gain strength in 2022 with the three same scenarios forecasting a recovery to 63.9%, 43% and 25.4% respectively. 2023 should see the continent reach 2019 numbers again – in the best case scenario. PATA forecasts that total visitor arrivals would then surpass the 2019 figure by 2.4%. If travel is further hampered by restrictions, the volume of international visitor arrivals would only represent half those recorded in 2019.

Photo: Maori culture in New Zealand
© Tourism New Zealand -James Heremaia


Australia recorded 1.83 million international visitors from January to December YoY, a drop of over 80% over 2019. In December, the country recorded only 8,800 international visitors. Australia’s national carrier Qantas announced last year that it would not resume international flights before July 2021 at least.

Total arrivals to Fiji decreased last year by 83.6% to reach 147,000 international travellers as opposed to 894,000 a year earlier. Australia, New Zealand and the USA were the top inbound markets, generating 58% of all arrivals. In early February, Tourism Fiji launched “Care Fiji Commitment”, a programme featuring enhanced safety, health and hygiene protocols, as the island wants to reassure travellers that it is a safe destination to visit.