Asia-Pacific will lose the title of the world’s largest travel region

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(CNN) – Asia Pacific is home to some of the world’s most beloved travel destinations, from the natural beauty of Bali to the urban bustle of Singapore. These dream vacation spots, combined with the region’s business power, secured Asia Pacific the title of the world’s largest travel region for much of the past decade.

But with destinations such as China and Japan relatively slow to ease Covid entry restrictions, air travel in Asia Pacific remains low compared to the region’s pre-pandemic levels.

Where Asia-Pacific air traffic once accounted for more than a third of all global passenger travel, aviation in the region remains down 45% compared to pre-pandemic levels, according to CAPA.

Meanwhile, CAPA suggests that European air travel has recovered to about 85% of pre-pandemic levels, even accounting for the continued impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Slow recovery

Japan will fully reopen on October 11.  Pictured here: Fushimi Inari Shrine in Japan

Japan will fully reopen on October 11. Pictured here: Fushimi Inari Shrine in Japan

aaron90311/Adobe Stock

In 2019, 3.38 billion passengers passed through Asia Pacific airports. Instead, CAPA reports that current predictions from ACI Asia-Pacific, an industry organization representing the region’s airports, suggest that 1.84 billion passengers will have passed through Asia Pacific travel hubs by the end of 2022.

A key factor in this slow recovery is China’s “zero-Covid” border policy and Japan’s slow relaxation of travel restrictions, at least according to ACI Asia-Pacific and CAPA. Japan will officially reopen to tourists on October 11.

“What happens there has an outsized impact on the rest of the region,” says CAPA of China and Japan, noting that they are two of the region’s top travel markets.

CAPA reports that most travel to Asia Pacific destinations remains 50% or more below 2019 levels, with only a couple of exceptions, such as India, which is only 11% below the 2019 figure.

Domestic travel to Asia Pacific is recovering faster than international travel, CAPA notes: Domestic travel to China, for example, is down just 5.4% compared to 2019 levels.

Still, CAPA predicts that Asia Pacific will not fully return to pre-pandemic travel numbers until late 2023 or early 2024.

“Even then, recovery depends on countries opening their borders and ending persistent travel restrictions, as well as the broader economic and epidemiological situations,” the report said.

CAPA advocates “harmonisation of international travel rules” and “political commitments towards openness and freedom of movement”, as well as a continued vaccination drive, to help travel recover.

Top photo of the Great Wall of China courtesy of Powerstock/Adobe Stock

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