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Supercharged Demand: The resilience and rise of travel in a post-pandemic world

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Asia’s travel industry shows robust post-pandemic recovery, with air traffic nearing pre-2019 levels. Positive trends are fueled by strategic shifts towards sustainability and significant increases in tourism, promising a bright future for global travel despite potential challenges.

Bangkok, Thailand – In the ever-encouraging trajectory of post-pandemic travel resurgence, Asia emerges as a focal point. The travel industry, undeniably, propels forward with substantial momentum, as industry metrics vividly portray results on par with, if not surpassing, the pre-2019 benchmarks.

The realms of travel media echo with optimism, inundated with promising reports regarding the industry’s recovery. A noteworthy testament to this resurgence unfolds in the recent announcement by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Their declaration underscores the persistent recuperation in air travel, as January 2024 witnessed a continuation of this upward trend, bringing total traffic for the year in close alignment with pre-pandemic demand levels.

Total traffic in 2023, measured in revenue passenger kilometres (RPKs), witnessed an impressive surge of 36.9% compared to 2022. On a global scale, the full-year 2023 traffic reached a commendable 94.1% of pre-pandemic (2019) levels. December 2023 showcased a remarkable ascent, with total traffic rising by 25.3% compared to December 2022, reaching an impressive 97.5% of the December 2019 level.

Notably, Suvarnabhumi Airport reported yesterday a staggering 206% increase in passenger traffic for the 2024 Lunar CNY New Year festival, marking a substantial uptick compared to last year, as revealed by the Airports of Thailand.

Adding to the positive outlook, Agoda reported record growth in 2023, and is even more optimistic for 2024, particularly in Asia, where the platform is firmly established.

Airlines unanimously affirm the enduring strength of the post-pandemic rebound throughout 2023, with December traffic standing merely 2.5% below the 2019 level.

Mr. Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General, emphasised the positive trajectory, stating, “The recovery in travel is good news. The restoration of connectivity is powering the global economy as people travel to do business.”

However, he urged governments to adopt a strategic approach, emphasising the importance of cost-efficient infrastructure, incentivising Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) production, and implementing regulations that offer clear cost-benefit. Walsh stressed that completing the recovery should not overshadow the critical role of aviation in enhancing global prosperity and well-being.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), underscores a strategic shift towards sustainability in the industry, as highlighted recently during last month’s ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) in Vientiane. Emphasizing meaningful travel with an emphasis on high value and sustainability, Thailand’s renewed direction aligns seamlessly with ATF’s overarching theme, “Quality and Responsible Tourism – Sustaining ASEAN Future.”

In 2023, Thailand celebrated the arrival of over 28 million tourists, generating a substantial revenue of 1.2 trillion Baht. TAT sets an ambitious revenue target for 2024 at 3 trillion Baht under the best-case scenario, comprising 1.92 trillion Baht from international tourism and 1.08 trillion Baht from domestic tourism. Projections anticipate 35 million foreign arrivals and 200 million domestic trips.

Latest findings from STR and Tourism Economics accentuate robust travel fundamentals propelling hotel performances globally, reinforcing the positive narrative. Notably, the U.S. hotel industry achieved record-high average daily rates (ADR) and revenue per available room (RevPAR) in 2023. New York City, among the Top 25 Markets, experienced significant growth in 3 key performance metrics:

  • 8.8% rise in occupancy to 81.6%
  • 8.5% increase in ADR to US$301.22
  • 18.1% surge in RevPAR to US$245.77

This commendable performance further substantiates the optimistic outlook for the Travel and Tourism industry, portraying encouraging trends globally with ADR growth for the year. Coupled with expectations for increased RevPAR and occupancy driven by heightened demand in the group business sector.

This reinforces the belief that the Travel and Tourism industry is poised for supercharged results, not solely in Asia but on a global scale.

However, amidst these promising prospects, inherent risks persist. Geopolitical conflicts, such as Russia-Ukraine, Gaza, or the Iran-backed conflict by Houthi militia in Yemen, act as a force majeure disrupting the steady flow of tourism. Peace remains an essential prerequisite for the uninterrupted functioning of travel and tourism.

Beyond geopolitical concerns, challenges like aircraft and pilot shortages, fluctuating fuel prices, variable interest and foreign currency rates, and labour shortages loom as potential impediments to recovery.

In a bid to mitigate obstacles, the opening of borders with visa-free access emerges as a pivotal strategy. Noteworthy is the agreement between Thailand and China, slated to take effect on March 1, 2024, offering complete visa-free access to citizens of both nations. This strategic move aims to boost Chinese visitors and propel Thailand beyond its initial 2024 arrival targets, exceeding eight million Chinese nationals and 35 million in total arrivals. The prospect of visa-free access stands as a significant catalyst in diversifying source markets and fostering increased arrival numbers for these nations.

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Andrew J Wood was born in Yorkshire England, he is a former hotelier, Skalleague and travel writer. Andrew has 48 years of hospitality and travel experience. Educated at Batley Grammar School and a hotel graduate of Napier University, Edinburgh. Andrew started his career in London, working with various hotels. His first posting overseas was with Hilton International, in Paris, and he later arrived in Asia in 1991 on Bangkok with his appointment as Director of Marketing at the Shangri-La Hotel and has remained in Thailand ever since. Andrew has also worked with the Royal Garden Resort Group now Anantara (Vice President) and the Landmark Group of Hotels (Vice President of Sales and Marketing). Latterly he has been the General Manager at the Royal Cliff Group of Hotels in Pattaya and the Chaophya Park Hotel Bangkok & Resorts.

A past board member and Director of Skål International (SI), a former National President with SI Thailand and a two time past President of the Bangkok Club. Andrew is the former President of Skål Asia. In 2019, Andrew was awarded SKÅL’s highest award the distinction of Membre D’Honneur.

He is a regular guest lecturer at various Universities in Asia.