Forecasts from the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) suggest that the number of “international visitor arrivals” in Southeast Asia could return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2023, but only in a best-case scenario.
Their findings come in the recently published Asia Pacific Visitor Forecasts 2021-2023 report which looks at three recovery scenarios from mild to severe. Each scenario compares visitor numbers to 2019.
Under the mild scenario it predicts that in 2021 Southeast Asia visitor numbers will be just 20.48% of the 2019 figure. 2022 will see the start of the recovery with numbers reaching 59.3% before reaching just over 100% in 2023.
For comparison in 2019 Thailand recorded 39.6 million foreign visitors, this dropped to 6.7 million in 2020. If the PATA figures were converted to visitor numbers we would see just over 8 million visitors in 2021, more than the 5 million currently predicted, followed by 23.48 million in 2022 and 39.9 million in 2023, just under the original target of 40 million for 2020.
Things start to look less promising in the medium scenario, probably a more realistic outcome. In this scenario 2021 is almost a write off with just 9.33% of pre-pandemic visitor numbers (equivalent to 3.39 million in Thailand). There would be a rapid increase in numbers in 2022, 40.42% (16 million in Thailand), before reaching 75.59% (29.9 million for Thailand) in 2023.
Things look a lot let rosy under the severe scenario. Here 2021 is a disaster for the tourism industry in the region with foreign visitor numbers of just 3.16% of 2019 levels (equivalent to 1.25 million in Thailand). Numbers in 2022 would only recover slowly to 23.06% (9.1 million in Thailand), before reaching 47.79% (18.92 million for Thailand) in 2023.
“Calendar year 2021 is likely to be difficult for most destinations, with almost 40% of the 39 destinations covered in these forecasts falling even further from the low point of arrival numbers in 2020, even under the mild scenario. In the case of the medium scenario, that proportion is likely to increase to 85% while under the severe scenario it could well be the case for all 39 destinations.”
“Vaccines are becoming more freely available and inoculations are proceeding rapidly, but even so, and while first results are very encouraging, their effectiveness over a wider proportion of the population has yet to be fully demonstrated. It is very likely that travellers in the future will have to carry proof of inoculation and being COVID-19 free, something that various agencies and airlines have been developing and is already trialling. Whatever the outcome, travel will never be the same again and we have no choice but to adjust and adapt to that.”Dr Mario Hardy, CEO PATA
It seems clear that one of the most significant factors will revolve around vaccines. A number of countries have made significant inroads into vaccinating parts of their population especially the older age group and those deemed most at risk. That is not the case globally however and many countries in Southeast Asia have not yet been able to start their programmes due to the availability of vaccines.
Some countries may be unwilling to allow even vaccinated travellers into their country until significant portions of their population have been vaccinated, unless vaccines can be shown to reduce the spread of the virus.
The other factor is the effectiveness of current vaccines on variants and mutations of coronavirus. Early reports suggest that the AstraZeneca vaccine may be significantly less effective in preventing mild cases of Covid-19 against the South Africa variant.
In the coming years we may see parts of the world entering lockdowns or closing borders in reaction to emerging variants and outbreaks.
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