Is China driving Pacific Asia’s return to tourism?

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According to recent research, travel from London’s busiest airport to Pacific Asia saw a significant increase of over 50% last month compared to October 2022 with a total of 851,000 passengers departing Heathrow alone.

But where in the region are they heading?

PATA tour operator members are also reporting a similar sales boom and have shed light on which destinations specifically are in demand.

Helen Wheat, Destination Manager for Asia, Travelbag said: “Indonesia (+95% YoY), specifically Bali is doing very well as we are promoting new areas such as Canggu and Uluwatu to promote lesser known regions and offer customers something new and exciting. Destinations such as Vietnam and Japan (85%+) are growing as is New Zealand (52%+) but Australia is flat bookings wise. We have noticed Thailand sales have also slowed YOY, likely because more destinations within Asia have opened up and consumer confidence is increasing. Singapore is popular and we are in campaign with STB to promote increased length of stay to 3 nights, more than just a stopover city.”

David Kevan, Co-Founding Director of CHIC Locations said: Singapore is a very popular gateway destination both for travel to neighbouring countries as well as Australia and New Zealand, we’ve seen very high demand for Singapore Airlines both out of Heathrow and Manchester. Thailand remains the most popular selling destination with particularly strong repeat customers. It is also the main gateway for travel into Cambodia and Laos with customers and agents frequently combining all three countries for a fantastic itinerary showcasing the real scenic and cultural contrasts of the region.”

Dee Edwards, Product Manager – Tell Tale Travel said: “The biggest change for us is Sri Lanka enquiries and bookings which have gone from very few back to 2019 levels.”

Patrick Folley, PATA Member, aviation expert and Head of Aviation, UK & Ireland at Ramboll said: “The Asia Pacific market numbers for Heathrow, as the year has gone on, demonstrate significant recovery. Passenger traffic from Heathrow to  Pacific Asia in October 2023 was at 91% of October 2019 levels (the last normal year pre-covid) and for September it was 94% vs September 2019. If we look at the earlier months this year it was around 75-80% of the equivalent 2019 months. These market figures certainly indicate the market is going in the right direction, and with everything being equal we will be back to growth next year.

However, the region still lags behind other long haul markets out of Heathrow, with all long haul regions already back to true growth. Not unsurprising given how far Pacific Asia has had to recover due to the lockdowns that continued far longer than other markets.

The CAA’s airport to airport and country statistics, up to September, tell a similar story to October, with one thing standing out – the recovery of the China market. That (and to a lesser extent Hong Kong) are what are driving the improved traffic numbers for Pacific Asia. Not only are they significantly up on this time last year, and earlier this year, but in some cases they are now exceeding 2019 levels. Heathrow to China market was 8,012 passengers in September 2022 and 147,526 passengers in September 2023. That’s your Asia growth, right there.

For other Asia markets out of Heathrow, there isn’t significant change in capacity yet, but there are some positive signs such as BA putting the A380 back on Singapore next spring.

This, however, is not the whole story from a leisure perspective. Both Heathrow and CAA only record statistics to the first point of the journey – so if passengers connect through other points then it doesn’t show the ultimate end destination. And that’s important because there aren’t direct flights from Heathrow to many of the popular leisure destinations and many travellers get to those popular destinations (such as Phuket and Bali and even to the capital cities too) via the middle east with the gulf carriers. And that market is up on 2019 levels from Heathrow. Unfortunately we don’t have the data to see whether correspondingly the amount of traffic travelling to Asia via the Gulf hubs is growing strongly too. But it does mean both sets of figures (Heathrow and CAA) under-represent the true market to Asia/Pacific.”

Commenting on the figures released by Heathrow airport and insight from members, Chris Crampton, Chairman of Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), UK & Ireland concluded: “This is really encouraging as it shows we are on track to return to pre-pandemic levels in 2024. With consumer confidence increasing, ease of travel to and around Asia and a wealth of marketing and sales promotions in place I am excited to see the region continue to thrive over the winter and into 2024.”



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