Mainland China re-opens, experiences endure, and business travel bounces back.
BANGKOK – New insights from the Mastercard Economics Institute reveal that consumers are taking advantage of a more traditional travel ecosystem in 2023, prioritizing leisure travel and pioneering new corridors around the world. Travel Industry Trends 2023 delivers key insights about the global state of travel, punctuated by shifting economic landscapes, persistent consumer demands, and a reopening of mainland China.
In the face of a changing economic landscape, post-pandemic preferences for experiences over things1 and a consistent demand for leisure travel shape the 2023 outlook. Initially lagging leisure travel, business travel found its footing in the latter half of 2022, especially in cultures prioritizing a return to office. With an uncertain economy providing some cross-market turbulence, mainland China’s reopening is expected to bolster growth globally with concentrated impact in Asia Pacific, according to Mastercard Economics Institute estimates.
Key findings include:
- Leisure and business travel are growing at the same pace. Driven by the long-awaited lifting of travel restrictions in Asia, global leisure travel remains robust, with flight bookings up roughly 31% in March 2023 compared to the same month in 2019.2 In the second half of 2022 into early 2023, corporate flight bookings caught up to leisure flight bookings driven by regions with a strong return to office culture.3 Global leisure and business travel are now growing at the same rate. Our insights show demand for in-person meetings, with the most significant growth in commercial travel and entertainment expenses being led by Asia Pacific and Europe up 64% and 42%, respectively, between January-March 2023.4
- Mainland China’s reopening benefits global and Asia Pacific tourism. China’s reopening following tight COVID regulations comes at a time when it will likely have a positive impact on the experience economy as pent-up demand for travel is expected to drive strong tailwinds. By March 2023, spending on experiences was notably 93% of where it was in 2019 despite minimal travel last year.6 Economies in the Asia Pacific region could be obvious beneficiaries of China’s opening, given their strong ties to international trade, tourism, and geographical proximity. Based on Mastercard Economics Institute estimates, other countries that are expected to benefit include northern Europe – Germany and France – and Brazil, which could see a boost in their exports to China as the economy recovers.
- Travelers establish new corridors. As consumers are enjoying higher incomes and returning to some level of pre-pandemic comfort, they’re also starting to venture further from home to new locations. For travelers from the Asia Pacific region, the United States and Australia remain favorite destinations for spring and summer journeys. Meanwhile, Thailand stands proudly as one of the top 10 destinations within the region, offering its unique allure and experiences, ranked by share of inbound travel across Asia Pacific. Beginning in late 2022, visitors to Hong Kong SAR started to increase, with the destination edging its way into the top 10 list and soaring to #3 in February 2023. Luxury travel experiences, such as splurging on high-end accommodation and luxury travel in places like France and Italy, will likely entice Chinese tourists emerging from a zero-Covid environment to rejoin the experience economy.
- Tourists continue to prioritize experiences. Preference for experiences over things persists, and travelers are demonstrating new demand for the unique. Potentially influenced by social media and entertainment, travelers are landing in lesser-known destinations in search of cultural immersion. As of March 2023, global spending on experiences was up 65% while spending on things is up 12% compared to 2019.8 Experience-oriented spending is surging in certain corridors where pandemic lockdowns have expired, but Chinese tourists who traditionally over-index on luxury retail compared to other tourists could provide a boost to goods spending across markets. Thailand, in particular, has emerged as a hot spot for travelers seeking to experience new cultures and destinations, as well for those looking to reconnect with the familiarity of this enchantingly mesmerizing and vibrant destination. The country has seen a significant increase in spending on experiences, up 40.5% compared to 2019, with spending on things possessions up by 24%.
“In 2023, travel came roaring back in Asia as China re-opened its borders and other markets eased the last of their pandemic-era travel restrictions,” said David Mann, Chief Economist for Asia at the Mastercard Economics Institute. “As people around the world prioritize experiences over things, the strong demand for travel is expected to last far beyond the initial ‘revenge travel’ bump. As we look ahead to the peak summer travel season, the big question is whether flight and accommodation supply can keep up with demand.”
Comprehensive Support to Travelers & Tourism Sector
Travelers want a good experience from the time they book their plane ticket to their first step on new soil, and companies that understand that are better positioned to establish longer and more valuable relationships with their consumers. This key shift in expectations has already started to change not only how companies work with their consumers, but also the way in which we travel. And though consumer behavior will continue to shift alongside the macroeconomic environment, providing more choice in how to pay (like redeeming points for bookings), and tailoring experiences, recommendations, and offers are just two strategies that keep the individual traveler at the center of engagement.
Mastercard is dedicated to helping the global tourism sector recover and welcome travelers through a range of services, from market analysis and high-frequency data insights that help make sense of changing consumer trends to marketing solutions and consumer engagement strategies that drive brand loyalty and maximize bookings.
1″Experiences” includes tourist spending at restaurants, amusement parks, casinos, nightclubs, bars and other events, while “Things” includes tourist spending at convenience store chains, apparel, cosmetics, sporting goods, jewelry, footwear, bookstores, electronics, toys and department stores. Excludes transportation and lodging spend. Represents analysis of aggregated & anonymized switched volumes (nominal US dollars unadjusted for FX) for leisure travelers while in-destination.
2 Corresponds with the number of flight bookings made by leisure travelers during reference period relative to the same time in 2019. Based on aggregated & anonymized Mastercard flight booking data provided by third party partners, sourced by Mastercard Economics Institute.
3 Corresponds with the number of commercial flight bookings made during reference period relative to the same time in 2019. Based on aggregated & anonymized Mastercard flight booking data provided by third party partners sourced by Mastercard Economics Institute.
4 Represents Mastercard Economics Institute analysis of aggregated & anonymized switched volumes (nominal US dollars unadjusted for FX) for corporate travel & entertainment expenses.
6″Experiences” includes tourist spending at restaurants, amusement parks, casinos, nightclubs, bars and other events, while “Things” includes tourist spending at convenience store chains, apparel, cosmetics, sporting goods, jewelry, footwear, bookstores, electronics, toys and department stores. Excludes transportation and lodging spend. Represents analysis of aggregated & anonymized switched volumes (nominal US dollars unadjusted for FX) for leisure travelers while in-destination.
7Analysis based on the number of inbound international flight bookings made by selected region into destination markets displayed on the chart. Based on aggregated & anonymized Mastercard flight booking data provided by third party partners sourced by Mastercard Economics Institute.
8″Experiences” includes tourists spending at restaurants, amusement recreation activities, casinos, nightclubs, bars and other events, while “Things” includes convenience store chains, apparel, cosmetics, sporting goods, jewelry, footwear, bookstores, electronics, toys and department stores. Excludes transportation and lodging spending. Represents analysis of aggregated & anonymized switched volumes (nominal US dollars unadjusted for FX) for leisure travelers while in-destination.
Tatiana is the news co-ordinator for TravelDailyNews Media Network (traveldailynews.gr, traveldailynews.com and traveldailynews.asia). Her role includes to monitor the hundrends of news sources of TravelDailyNews Media Network and skim the most important according to our strategy. She holds a Bachelor degree in Communication & Mass Media from Panteion University of Political & Social Studies of Athens and she has been editor and editor-in-chief in various economic magazines and newspapers.