Asian international tourism slower than other regions

PHOTO: International tourism is slower to recover in Asia than other regions. (via Pixabay)

While tourism in Thailand is picking up, Southeast Asia has seen a much slower rate of return for international travellers than other parts of the world. Many popular holiday areas in Europe have seen a full recovery, and even record-breaking numbers in some. But Asia lags, flummoxed by the slow lifting of Covid-19 restrictions.

Thailand began reopening efforts over a year ago now, with the first full border reopening on November 1, 2021. In those days, travel was complex and expensive. There were quarantines, the Thailand Pass, and countless Covid tests. It wasn’t until just the beginning of last month that all pandemic restrictions were finally lifted.

With the initial reopening last November, officials had predicted 15 million visitors for this year. By the middle of the year, it looked unlikely that more than half of that would come. But with the final high season push in the past two months of the year, Thailand may achieve its revised goal of 10 million international visitors, 30% less than their first predictions.

And 75% fewer people than pre-pandemic international tourism figures.

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But Thailand is not alone and was one of the earliest to adopt reopening strategies after Covid. Japan has just now started to lift restrictions on international tourism to return. In October, they allowed a few dozen countries to begin visa-free travel again.

The government set a goal of bringing in five trillion yen in tourist revenue, the equivalent of about US$34.5 billion. Revised estimates predict that international tourism will reach less than half of that, 2.1 trillion yen for about US$14 billion, by the end of 2023. Analysts don’t predict a full recovery until 2025.

Even Bali, one of the top tourism destinations in the world, is seeing less than half the number of international travellers it had before Covid. August 2019 brought in 606,000 international tourists to the Indonesian island. But this past August, only 276,000 foreigners were recorded arriving.

Even tiny island nations like Palau deep in the Pacific are seeing huge drops in international tourism. One major factor for the country, like many other countries, has the lack of Chinese visitors that made up a huge percentage of Southeast Asian travellers. Palau previously had one-third of their tourism industry from Chinese nationals. This year, just 57 people have arrived from China according to the Guardian.

And with China’s continued commitment to the zero Covid policy, huge waves of Chinese tourists that had fueled economies of numerous smaller countries are unlikely to return anytime soon.

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Neill Fronde

Neill is a journalist from the United States with 10+ years broadcasting experience and national news and magazine publications. He graduated with a degree in journalism and communications from the University of California and has been living in Thailand since 2014.
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