Related News

Home » Business » Consumer

Asia braces for tough tourism year

ACROSS Asia, hotels, airlines and tourism operators are bracing for another tough year as the financial crisis sees long-haul visitors remain at home, and regional travelers tighten purse-strings with shorter, budget trips.

"There'll definitely be a drop in business, fewer tourists is a reality," said Laurence Lai, the owner of photo galleries located in two of Hong Kong's busiest tourist hotspots, including the Star Ferry pier, selling iconic images of the former British colony.

"I expect a 30-percent fall at least. I'm having to shift my strategies to confront this financial tsunami, but you just have to stand firm and face the winds," added Lai, who relies on tourists for half his sales.

Asia's blend of diverse cultures, geography, bargains and exoticism, with travel gems ranging from snowy Himalayan kingdoms to neon-lit capitals, crumbling Khmer ruins and powdery beaches - have made it one of the world's fastest growing tourism regions in recent years, along with the Middle East.

But since the downturn intensified last year, travel markets spanning Asia have suffered sharp contractions, at times worsened by political turmoil, with many projecting negative growth in 2009.

Hong Kong, now one of Asia's top tourist hubs with 29.5 million visitors last year, is predicting visitor arrivals to dip 1.6 percent in 2009, though a steeper drop of 9.2 percent is forecast for non-Chinese visitors.

Singapore's tourist arrivals, meanwhile, fell 2 percent last year with more gloom expected, while Thailand and Malaysia both expect 9-percent drops in visitors this year.

Tighter budgets bite

The UN's World Tourism Organization has described the Asia-Pacific region's performance in 2008 as having "deteriorated most rapidly," compared with the Americas, the Middle East, Europe and Africa, with tourism demand expected to be impacted further in the short to medium term.

The International Air Transport Association has warned that global airlines face their worst business crisis in 50 years with carriers facing possible collapse, revenues tumbling and hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk.

IATA'S director-general said in December that some 300,000 jobs to 400,000 jobs were at risk among some 32 million or so people now employed around the world in air transport, travel and tourism sectors.

Despite the extremely fragile situation, the Pacific Asia Travel Association expects Asia, which lured around 280 million international arrivals in 2008, to bounce back and enjoy 4 percent to 5 percent average growth over the next three years.

"We are extremely cautious in our optimism, but we still believe it'll be above the line over the next couple of years," said John Koldowski, director of the Strategic Intelligence Centre for PATA.

But Koldowski said more budget-conscious travelers cutting back on lengths of stay and spending, could spell worse-than-expected pain for tourism-reliant businesses such as retailers, catering and hotels.

"While we're saying the (arrivals) numbers may still show some growth, we're very conscious of the fact that people are changing their habits and you can't expect the same amount of revenue out there," Koldowski added.

Hotel occupancy rates in the Asia Pacific region fell to 66.7 percent last November, versus 76.4 percent for the same period a year before, according to STR Global.

The UNWTO says it expects the decline in trip duration and spending to be "more pronounced" than the fall in arrivals.

James Standen, an American tourist is an example of this.

Snapping shots of Hong Kong's cityscape with his wife on Victoria Peak, he said the tanking United States economy hadn't put them off their 10-day trip to Asia, but they delayed coming till after the New Year to save on airfares.

"The economy hasn't really bitten us ... but it cost about half as much by coming later."

Political risk

Political instability and shifting government policies have also exacerbated the strain on the tourism sector in countries such as Sri Lanka, India and Thailand.

The week-long siege of Bangkok's airports tarnished Thailand's reputation as a tourist haven, and caused around a million foreign visitors to cancel or go elsewhere. The country's central bank recently forecast tourist arrivals could fall 9 percent this year to 12.8 million, the worst year since 2005 after the tsunami disaster.

In India, 179 people, including scores of tourists, were killed in November's Mumbai attacks, when gunmen targeted luxury hotels and other popular tourist spots in India's financial capital.

The gloom has since spread to places such as Goa, one of the country's top tourist draws where visitor arrivals plunged 25 percent during the peak season, according to officials in the tourism industry.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend