Fiji in, Hong Kong out: Asian tourism seen struggling until 2024

Fiji, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Maldives top index of destinations best placed to revive pandemic-battered tourism.

Empty beach with two vacant lounge chairs
Tourism in the Asia Pacific is still recovering from the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic [File: Lim Huey Teng/Reuters]

Fiji, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Maldives are in the strongest position to revive their pandemic-battered tourism industries among Asia Pacific destinations, while Hong Kong has the worst prospects due to its restrictive border policies, a new report says.

Singapore, Australia, Bangladesh, New Zealand, Nepal and Cambodia also rank among the top 10 destinations best placed for a tourism recovery, according to the Travel-ready index 2022 released by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

The EIU said the top performers in the index have all eased visa and entry restrictions since 2021 or earlier.

“A combination of broader and more effective vaccination coverage and greater reliance on tourism have lent themselves to less restrictive travel policies,” the EIU said in its report released on Wednesday.

After Hong Kong, Brunei, Bhutan, Taiwan, Samoa, Vanuatu, Japan, China and Laos rank as the destinations with the least favourable conditions for tourism, according to the index.

Northeast Asian economies, which are less reliant on tourism, have been slower to reopen, the report said, predicting China and its territories of Hong Kong and Macau would stick with their strict “dynamic zero COVID” policies at least for 2022.

“While Macau benefits from a bilateral arrangement in which mainland‐ Chinese tourists can visit that territory without quarantine, Hong Kong — a global trade and financial hub — will suffer as it loses connectivity to the world,” the EIU said.

Thailand, India, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Vietnam, Mongolia and South Korea were ranked mid-table for tourism conditions.

The index measures the favorability of conditions for tourism based on the importance of tourism to the economy, local vaccination coverage, ease of travel, and the convenience of returning home.

Slow reopening

Gary Bowerman, director of Kuala Lumpur-based travel and tourism research firm Check-in Asia, said the report shows that the Asia Pacific remains far behind Europe and North America when it comes to restarting travel.

“Asia is starting its tourism reopening much later than the rest of the world,” Bowerman told Al Jazeera. “If you look at Europe and North America, even during the pandemic, they opened and closed during the summer seasons, so in 2020 and 2021, Europe was open for travel.”

The EIU said tourism in the region, with the exception of Fiji and the Maldives, would likely not recover to pre-pandemic levels until at least 2024, largely as a result of China’s restrictive border policies. Among the 28 economies in the index, 13 relied on China as their top source of visitors before the pandemic.

Other risks to the recovery highlighted by the think tank include new coronavirus variants, higher oil prices and soaring inflation.

“Most countries are pretty much starting again almost from scratch, after two years, and rebuilding everything in the tourism industry is very difficult after two years of being closed down, particularly with the airlines,” Bowerman said.

“The airlines are the big factor here because they’ve taken huge hits over the past two years and they are being very cautious about how they put back flights into their system because they’ve got balance sheets that are really struggling. They’ve also got jet fuel prices which are incredibly volatile right now and the Ukraine-Russia war is not helping.”

Source: Al Jazeera