Two years after tourism in Thailand and other Asean countries ground to a halt, travelers are slowly getting back on planes as entry and COVID-19 quarantine rules are lifted. However, some long-term hotspots will fall out of favor as the recovery is slow.
According to ForwardKeys, international airline bookings into Southeast Asia reached 38% of pre-pandemic levels by late March. At the start of the year, they were less than 10 percent of 2019 levels.
Bookings in Singapore and the Philippines increased sharply.
A rapid antigen test is the only requirement for vaccinated travelers in these countries, whereas more complicated requirements have knocked Thailand out of the top spot for travelers.
In the ForwardKeys data, Singapore and the Philippines had booked 72% and 65% of 2019 levels, respectively, while Thailand had booked just 24% of 2019 levels.
Tourists Reluctant to Travel to Thailand
According to the Thai Hotel Association, PCRs can cost as much as two thousand five hundred baht ($60 to $75) per person upon arrival, making many people reluctant to travel to Thailand.
People are more likely to go to another country if it does not have entry requirements. Arrivals are an indicator of future bookings, and locals returning home are also included in arrivals.
According to Brendan Sobie, an independent aviation analyst, Singapore, and the Philippines have large outbound markets compared to Thailand.
However, Asia is lagging behind other regions, including Europe, which eased restrictions months ago.
According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), domestic and international traffic in the Asia Pacific will reach only 68% of levels in 2019 and hit pre-pandemic levels by 2025, one year behind the rest of the world.
In February, for example, Singapore had nearly four times as many visitors as a year earlier when entry had been restricted. However, that only represented 9% of arrivals in February 2020, including an influx of work visa holders from Malaysia and India.
Chinese Tourists Trapped at Home
The governor of Thailand’s central bank predicted the country would take until 2026 to recover fully. Tourism accounted for about 12% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019.
According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, the travel and tourism industry in Southeast Asia contributed $380.6 billion to the region’s GDP in 2019 or 11.8% of the total.
In addition, the profile of international travelers to Southeast Asia has changed. Due to strict lockdowns, Chinese tourists are trapped at home, once Asia’s largest group of travelers.
China accounted for more than a quarter of the 40 million tourists who visited Thailand in 2019. It is expected that Thailand will receive between 5 million and 10 million visitors this year from countries like Malaysia and its Southeast Asian neighbors.
According to ForwardKeys, more than a third of the travelers to Southeast Asia so far this year hail from Europe. This is up from 22% last year. Furthermore, North Americans have more than doubled to 21% from 9% in 2018. So far this year, only 24% of travelers have come from Asia, compared to 57% last year.
Meanwhile, for the first quarter of this year, foreign tourists in Vietnam increased by nearly double that of a year ago.
Vietnam, which lifted nearly all its Covid-19 virus curbs only last month, expects just over a quarter of the international tourists it saw in 2019.