Asia visitation rises 7% in January, but Japan disaster to curb growth

ASIA PACIFIC International visitor arrivals into Asia Pacific increased 7% year over year, setting new records in several markets, according to Pacific Asia Travel Association.

“The year 2011 started strongly for the travel and tourism industry in Asia and the Pacific, maintaining the arrivals growth momentum seen throughout 2010,” says Kris Lim, director of PATA’s Strategic Intelligence Centre. “South Asia and Southeast Asia continued to deliver the stronger results, while Northeast Asia and the Pacific posted comparatively slower growth. This early positive momentum, however, is obviously expected to be negatively affected by the devastating earthquake and resultant tsunami that struck Japan on March 11.”

Japan is the second largest source market for Asia Pacific, behind China, and generated some 17.5 million arrivals to the region’s destinations last year, a year of growth after declines in both 2008 and 2009. Achieving a similar level of growth now, of course, looks unlikely.

“Japan’s inbound tourism remained robust in January 2011 when international visitor arrivals grew by 12% year-on-year, however foreign arrivals to the destination for the immediate months ahead—from March to May and possibly June—are expected to be depressed,” Lim says. “Given the fact that airports in Japan, with the exception of Sendai airport, are now operating normally (albeit with some cancelled flights) and other gateway cities such as Osaka and Fukuoka where transportation is functioning normally and businesses are operating as usual, we are hopeful for some signs of a rebound or a return to some form of normalcy in the second half of the year.”

Sri Lanka (up 46%), Nepal (up 26%), Maldives (up 18%) and India (up 10%) each set new records for the month in terms of year-on-year arrivals improvements. The ICC Cricket World Cup 2011, which started in mid-February in Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka, should help maintain growth momentum for the South Asia sub-region through early April.

The Southeast Asia sub-region also reported strong gains in January, including double-digit growth in international arrivals to Cambodia (up 18%), Indonesia (up 11%), Myanmar (up 27%), Vietnam (up 22%), Philippines (up 17%), Singapore (up 16%), and Thailand (up 12%). Growth in visitor arrivals to Malaysia remained sluggish, with only a 1% increase due largely to a small decline in arrivals from Southeast Asia, a sub-region that contributes more than 70% of total visitor arrivals to Malaysia.

Northeast Asia registered a comparatively slower growth of 5.5%, although that still equals about 940,000 additional arrivals for the month. Stronger arrivals growth was reported by Hong Kong (up 22%), Taiwan (up 16%) and Japan (up 12%) and this offset subdued growth to China (up 1%), Macau (up 1%) and South Korea (up 3%).

Australia and New Zealand reported foreign inbound growth of 5% and 4%, respectively, while the Marshall Islands (up 12%), New Caledonia (up 16%) and Palau (up 35%) each saw relatively robust results. Samoa (down 2%) and Vanuatu (down 24%) recorded visitor reductions for the month.