Asia becomes hot destination for global travelers


SINGAPORE – A record one billion travellers crossed international borders in 2012, and almost a quarter of them came from Asia Pacific, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.

Besides Europe, Asia has become the destination of choice for many travelers, and experts say the region’s stable growth, rich heritage and diversity will continue to draw tourists in the coming year.

Whether it is a temple stay, a luxury cruise, skiing in the mountains, or just a walk in the park, travelers will not hesitate to spend to make the most of their Asian holidays.

Singapore-based travel agency The Travel Corporation expects 20 to 30 per cent on-year growth in the coming year. This, following the introduction of new destinations like India, Vietnam, Laos and China to its travel packages.

At between US$2,500 to US$4,000 per head, its trips do not come cheap, yet the responses have been overwhelming.

Robin Yap, president (Asia) of The Travel Corporation, said: “The price is just one aspect. But what you get in return is a very unique experience in staying, visiting a destination, and staying in a very luxurious cruise, as well as hotels.”

With Asia set to be the fastest growing travel market by 2013, a study by travel event organiser ITB Asia said travel bookings in Asia Pacific will hit US$357 billion next year. That is up 64 per cent from just four years ago.

Stable economies, rising local currencies and affordable air travel have all spawned a new breed of holiday makers in Asia, and despite a bleak outlook on global economies, experts are upbeat that tourists will continue to head East.

Aaron Hung, director of partnerships for Asia Pacific with online travel portal TripAdvisor, said: “We’ve actually been seeing more travelers searching for Asian destinations in the last year at TripAdvisor, so (there’s a) very continuous and consistent increase on interest in Asian destinations.”

TripAdvisor said it has seen over 10 million visitors in its Asian travel sites — searching mainly for information on Bangkok, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Selena Ling, head of treasury research and strategy at OCBC Bank, said: “If you look at the three biggest visitor arrival markets, essentially Indonesia, China and also Malaysia, these markets continue to see double-digit growth year-on-year in the first half of 2012 as well.

“So I suppose that is a testament on how resilient the regional markets are, and the fact that with regional growth still in a positive territory, people are still coming to Singapore to visit, to shop and to eat.”

Airlines and hotels have gained from rising tourist arrivals. IATA sees net profit for Asia Pacific carriers to reach $3.2 billion in 2013.

In Asia, French hotel chain Sofitel is zooming in on Indonesia and China, where it expects strong growth in the coming years. Just a few months ago, Sofitel opened a resort hotel in Bali and is now looking at opportunities to expand in Jakarta. Its hotel count is also growing in China, where travellers are forecast to reach 100 million.

Markland Blaiklock, senior vice president of Sofitel Asia Pacific, said: “Our biggest pipeline is actually in China. We currently have 18 hotels and we have another 11 hotels in the pipeline. We’re expecting to be around 30 hotels operating by the year 2015. And that number could go up to 40 hotels sometime around 2020.”

Sofitel currently has 28 hotels in Asia Pacific.

There is also a growing trend of intra-Asia travel, with more online travel bookings pointing to Asian tourists visiting other parts of the region.

Experts said governments should support such developments by opening up air space for regional airlines and easing visa requirements.

Mr Yap said: “We need to open up more air space for airlines to fly to, more airline lending rights, more competitive airfares. More importantly, governments need to look for visa requirements for visitors. I think governments should facilitate tourism in this aspect.”

Experts said such moves will help raise tourism dollars and prop up Asian economies.

So far, the World Travel and Tourism Council said the industry has contributed around 2.6 per cent to Asia Pacific’s GDP in 2011. But that is set to grow close to three per cent in the coming years.