INTERNATIONAL REPORT—Even though major economies across the Asia-Pacific (APAC) started negotiating travel bubble pacts with their key source countries to revive the tourism sector, recovery to pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels may take time even after all restrictions are withdrawn, said data and analytics company GlobalData.
International tourist arrivals in the APAC region declined by more than 75% in the first eight months of 2020. Hong Kong reported a loss of more than 90% international visitors in the same period, followed by Japan, South Korea, Macau with more than 80%, and Singapore and Thailand by 79% and 75%, respectively. China, where COVID-19 was first reported, reported the highest reduction in inbound visitors of 87% in Q1 2020.
“The sharp decline in tourist arrivals is reflected in the hotel occupancy data, too,” said Aditi Dutta Chowdhury, economic research analyst, GlobalData. “Occupancy rate in Thailand’s hotel sector fell sharply to 28% during the first eight months of 2020 compared to 72% in the same period in the previous year. Singapore and Hong Kong also reported 23% and 50% declines, respectively.”
Countries have started establishing green/fast lanes and travel corridors since May. Thailand has already set up travel corridors with its neighboring countries to welcome international visitors along with the approval of special tourist visas for long-staying visitors. Hong Kong and Singapore are working to set up a travel bubble without quarantine restrictions, subject to pre-departure negative COVID-19 tests. Similarly, South Korea and Taiwan are cautiously reopening borders for foreign tourist arrivals.
Major Asian countries are taking initiatives to form travel bubbles with cities from Mainland China to encourage the travel without restrictions as China is the major tourism source market.
Japan is likely to reopen its border for international tourists in April 2021 before the rescheduled Olympics start on July 23, while creating travel corridors with its key trading partners to facilitate business tourists in 2020.
Japan expects to spend $34.6 million to enhance information to travelers and promote tourism destinations. Malaysia delayed 2020 tax by six months for the tourism sector. Hong Kong launched several support packages of $217 million (as of Oct. 9) to the tourism sector.
Chowdhury concluded: “At a time when tourists’ confidence levels are at the lowest, robust safety and hygiene protocols along with the adoption of contactless technologies are the need of the hour for the recovery of the travel and tourism sector. In addition, countries in the region are being cautious in reopening their borders so that they do not have to withhold the easing of tourist restrictions in the face of second wave of infection being witnessed across Europe. As a result, recovery to pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels may take time.”