Asia is due to recover rapidly in 2023 after having kept borders closed for almost three years. The dismantling of the “Zero Covid Policy” in China at the end of 2022 will facilitate a rapid return of Chinese outbound travellers to the rest of the continent.
Like in the rest of the world, Asia Pacific has experienced a recovery in its tourism figures last year. However, it was not as strong as in other continents, a fact due to the late reopening of borders in many countries in the region. However, “revenge travel” impulses should boost arrivals in 2023, turning both continents into the world’s fastest growing tourism regions.
According to preliminary data from UNWTO, while tourism recovery in the world reached 63% of pre-pandemic levels in 2022, Asia and the Pacific remained far behind: the rate of recovery reached only 23%, due to stronger pandemic-related restrictions with a total of 84.4 million international arrivals last year compared to 359.6 million in 2019. While Asia used to generate 25% of the world’s international tourists in 2019, its market share reached only 9% in 2022.
Deeping into regional tourism movements, Northeast Asia, which used to be the heavyweight of tourism prior to Covid, slumped last year behind Southeast Asia and South Asia. Northeast Asia (mainly China PR, Japan and South Korea) recorded 17.7 million international tourist arrivals, down 89.6% to 2019. Japan and China remained closed to most travellers with only South Korea opening its borders in late summer 2022.
South Asia generated last year 25.5 million and was the best performing Asian region, stimulated by India. Total figures in 2022 for the Indian subcontinent was only 24.4% below 2019 results. Southeast Asia was however the most dynamic market on the continent last year with countries such as Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam to reopen earlier in the year. They were then followed by Indonesia and Malaysia. Southeast Asia welcomed last year 34.9 million international travellers with Thailand representing a third of all arrivals. Meanwhile, arrivals were still 75% below figures of 2019 due to the absence of China’s outbound.
The Pacific was also slow to recover although Australia was the first country to reopen its borders in late February 2022 to vaccinated travellers followed by Tahiti in March. New Zealand kept its borders tight until July 2022 while Fiji lifted all restrictions only last December. In total, the Pacific welcomed 6.2 million international travellers, down 64.4% over 2019.
China outbound is back in business
The lifting of travel conditions for Chinese travellers in January is bringing renewed hopes for countries across Asia and the Pacific. According to a research of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University done in partnership with the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), Chinese outbound travel to Asia-Pacific will reach close to 2019 levels. This would translate into 61.8 million Chinese travellers at the end of 2023, and exceed 2019 levels in 2024. The research identified Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, Thailand and South Korea as the top five beneficiaries of Chinese outbound travel until 2025.