The tourism industry in Southeast Asia is once again welcoming international visitors after Covid-19, with European and North American visitors partially filling the gap with Chinese and Russian visitors.
According to ForwardKeys, a travel data analytics company, accommodation bookings for international flights to Southeast Asia reached 38% of pre-pandemic levels at the end of March, a significant increase from 10% at the beginning of this year. Singapore and the Philippines led the way in the increase in bookings. Airline bookings are a future indicator and arrival figures also include locals returning to their home country.
Philippine Tourism Minister Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said: “We are the first to break through all the bureaucracy. Tourists are quite happy, because on arrival they are free to go.”
Singapore and the Philippines currently only require fully vaccinated travelers to complete a rapid Covid-19 antigen test before entering. In contrast, the more complex demands of Thailand, the most popular destination in Southeast Asia before the pandemic, has seen the country slip from the top positions in the tourism recovery.
Data from ForwardKeys shows that bookings by international visitors to Singapore and the Philippines reached 72% and 62%, respectively, compared to 2019 levels, while the rate in Thailand was just 24%.
Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi, president of the Thai Hotel Association, said: “The PCR on arrival can cost 2,000-2,500 baht ($60-$75) and can cost a lot, especially for groups, making people hesitant to travel. country has no entry requirements, people prefer to go there… less hassle.”
However, tourism recovery in Southeast Asia and Asia in general has been slower than in other regions, including Europe, which eased restrictions on visitors months ago.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicts that domestic and international traffic in the Asia-Pacific region will reach just 68% of 2019 levels this year and by 2025, a year behind the rest of the world, the pre- pandemic traffic will reach.
For example, in February, when Singapore began lifting entry restrictions, the number of visitors entering the country nearly quadrupled from a year earlier, but only 9% of arrivals in February 2020. Not to mention the number of visitors. which entered Singapore in February, including a large number of work visa holders from Malaysia and India.
Earlier this week, Thailand’s central bank governor Sethaput Suthiwartnarueput said it won’t be until 2026 for the Thai tourism industry to fully recover. In 2019, tourism accounted for about 12% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Tourism and travel in Southeast Asia, known for its white-sand beaches, historic architecture and warm climate, contributed $380.6 billion to the region’s GDP in 2019, equivalent to 11.8%, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).
The share of European and North American visitors increased sharply
The composition of international visitors to Southeast Asia has also changed. Once the largest group of foreign tourists in Asia, Chinese tourists are now confined to their homes by strict blockade orders. More than 25% of the 40 million foreign tourists who visited Thailand in 2019 were Chinese. This year, Thailand is expected to welcome 5-10 million international visitors from countries such as Malaysia and other Asian neighbors.
Japan still closes its borders to most international visitors and the number of Japanese visitors to Southeast Asia is small. Meanwhile, the impact of sanctions from the West means that a large number of Russian tourists are absent from this area.
According to ForwardKeys, in the first four months of this year, a third of international visitors to Southeast Asia were Europeans, up from 22% in 2019, while the proportion of visitors from North America has more than doubled to 21% from 9% in 2019. Visitors from other Asian countries accounted for only 24%, a sharp drop from 57% in 2019.
Rabil Lian, a guide at a leading travel agency in Singapore, said: “A lot has changed for the better in the past month. We are seeing a boom in bookings.”
Lian, 51, has been touring five groups of European tourists in the past four months and says Australia is also becoming a popular destination. In Vietnam, the number of foreign visitors almost doubled in the first quarter of this year compared to a year earlier. Vietnam lifted almost all restrictions on visitors last month, but is expected to welcome only 25% of international arrivals compared to 2019 levels.