Asia’s volatile politics in Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and Macau didn’t help when travel markets from Hong Kong to India began projecting negative travel growth in 2009.
Just as suddenly, Asia’s neon-lit bustling capitals and “blend” of diverse cultures, geography, shopping lures and exotic locales lose their attractions as the world’s financial crisis forced tourists to keep their hands in their pockets. Experts are saying long haul travelers are staying home, while regional travelers are tightening their purse-strings, with shorter budget trips.
The UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) expects a “contraction” of tourism demand in the “short to medium term.” Asia Pacific’s tourism in 2008 “deteriorated most rapidly” compared to the Americas, the Middle East, Europe and Africa, according to UNWTO.
Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) sees the hospitality industry and retailers as the first line casualties in the “tourism-reliant” business. “Budget -conscious travelers are cutting back on lengths of stay and spending could spell worse-than-expected pain.”
In a hint of optimism for the industry, John Koldowski, director of its Strategic Intelligence Center, predicts the industry will still be “above the line” over the next couple of years. “We are extremely cautious in our opinion.”
Australia saw the “collapse” of its Japanese tourism market, its third-most lucrative, when visitor numbers dropped by up to 20 percent in 2008, sparking further fears in the industry, according to figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Australian tourism saw a drop of about 14 percent in the number of visitors from South Korea, while Taiwanese visitors fell by 16 percent. Overall, there was a drop of international visitors in 2008, the first since 2003.
“The industry is bracing for mass job losses. It has affected the whole industry, with Australia’s biggest attraction Queensland, particularly Cairns, markets once reliant on the Japanese tourists hardest hit,” according to Olivia Wirth, executive director of the Tourism and Transport Forum.
It is estimated that two-thirds of Australian tourism operators would have to cut their workforce in 2009 as international visitor numbers “drop.”
“In the meantime, funding for domestic marketing campaigns should be increased to help boost the number of Australians holidaying at home.”
Meanwhile, Malaysia and Thailand, Southeast Asia’s biggest tourist destinations, are both expecting up to 9 percent drop in visitor arrivals in 2009. “This is alarming and underlines the challenges facing the industry for the coming years,” added Wirth.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) warns global airlines are facing the worst crisis in 50 years, ahead of the aviation industry seeing “carriers collapsing, revenues tumbling and hundreds of jobs at risk.”
IATA has estimated up to 400,000 airline jobs among the 32 million or so now employed around the world in air transport, travel and tourism sectors will “disappear.”