Asia-Pacific tourism lags behind global recovery

FOR global tourism to return to the 2019 level, destinations in Asia and the Pacific (AP), including the Philippines should grow faster this year, according to an official of the Philippine Hotel Owners Association (PHOA).

Quoting a United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) report, PHOA executive director Benito Bengzon noted that the AP region has reached 65 percent of pre-pandemic levels following the reopening of several markets and destinations.

However, this recovery rate is comparatively lower than that of other destinations. The Middle East has already surpassed 2019 levels by 22 percent, while Europe, known as the world’s most visited continent, has reached 94 percent of its 2019 levels. Africa has seen a recovery of 96 percent of pre-pandemic visitors, and the Americas have reached 90 percent.

“The reason the global tourism hasn’t returned to the 2019 levels is because the AP, where the Philippines is located, hasn’t fully recovered,” said Bengzon, noting that a strong recovery of Asian markets and destinations is expected to underpin a full recovery by the end of this year.

Bengzon, a former tourism official, said the world is still awaiting the full return of Chinese travelers, a group that represents one of the biggest travel and tourism markets.

According to UNWTO, international tourism ended 2023 at 88 percent of its pre-pandemic levels, with an estimated 1.3 billion international arrivals. International tourism receipts reached US$1.4 trillion in 2023, about 93 percent of the $1.5 trillion earned by destinations in 2019.

Full recovery

For 2024, the UNWTO expects international tourism to fully recover this year, with a two percent growth above the 2019 levels. However, it noted that the growth is subject to the pace of recovery in Asia and the easing of geopolitical issues.

For the Philippines to contribute to the speedy global tourism recovery, Bengzon said it needs to address visa-free concerns from countries like China and India, among others. Regional airports should also catch up in terms of securing more flight connections, improving airport experience and promoting seamless domestic travel.

The hospitality industry, on the other hand, should also integrate smart systems and artificial intelligence for personalized service and maximize the advantage of being present in various digital platforms.

“We are getting there,” he said. “The head count is not yet there, but the revenues are quite growing faster.”

Even as the industry remains bullish for the year, Bengzon said some headwinds might slow down global tourism’s recovery such as inflation, high-interest rates, geopolitical instability, staff shortages and climate change concerns, among others.

From Jan. 1 to March 5, 2024, international tourist arrivals to the Philippines reached 1,227,815.

South Korea remains the country’s top source market for visitors with 349,956 or 28.50 percent of the total, followed by the United States of America with 195,603 or 15.93 percent, China with 85,876 (6.99 percent), Japan with 73,159 (5.96 percent), and Canada landing on the fifth spot with 50,555 (4.12 percent).

Based on data from the Visitor Sample Survey, estimated visitor receipts for January 2024 totaled US$652.26 million, or 4.84 percent higher than the $622.14 million recorded in January 2023. / KOC

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