Last-minute bookings buoy APAC travel market

Teen Asian women standing with luggage or suitcase at the window watching aircraft taking off in the international airports in Thailand. Asian girl at International Airport.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shrunk flight booking lead times across the Asia-Pacific region since March 2020, with the last-minute booking trend led by India and Thailand, new data by Amadeus has shown.

According to Amadeus’ first Covid-19 Travel Insights bulletin, flight bookings across the region have been made 17 days later on average during the pandemic, compared to the same period in 2018 and 2019.

Asia-Pacific records a region-wide drop in booking lead times, led by India and Thailand: Amadeus

Indian travellers appear to be the most last-minute in the region when it comes to booking flights – making flight bookings on average only 10 days before their departure date between March-July 2020. This is followed by Thai and Singaporean travellers, who have been making bookings on average 21 and 25 days prior to departure during the pandemic.

The Amadeus bulletin also found that overall booking lead times for international and domestic flights combined have decreased during the Covid-19 pandemic across all ten of the Asia-Pacific countries that were studied, except Malaysia where there has been no noticeable change.

India, Australia, Thailand and New Zealand have seen the most significant changes in traveller behaviour, with decreases of 68 per cent, 54 per cent, 53 per cent and 51 per cent respectively in flight booking lead times compared to pre-Covid-19 levels. Even in Japan – where booking lead times have remained the longest in the region at 53 days – the booking window has contracted by 14 per cent compared to before the pandemic.

Cyril Tetaz, executive vice president, airlines, Amadeus Asia Pacific, said: “We expected that a greater number of passengers would prefer to book last-minute in light of the uncertainties and changing travel restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, and this has been borne out by our flight booking data across Asia-Pacific.

“This has significant ramifications for our industry as it looks to rebuild. For a start, airlines, hotels and tour operators now have a much shorter window of opportunity to engage travellers, and urgently need to adapt their marketing and business strategies to cater to the nuances of the last-minute market more than ever before.

“The old methods of using historical data to predict demand and income are no longer effective in the Covid-19 era, either; with so many bookings now left to the last minute, travel businesses will need to increasingly rely on reliable real-time data instead, and build flexibility into every aspect of their day-to-day operations, so that resources, systems and services can be seamlessly scaled up and down as demand fluctuates at short notice, without having any impact on the traveller’s experience.”

Amadeus’ Covid-19 Travel Insights bulletin also looked into the impact that the pandemic has had specifically on domestic flight bookings. Whilst most markets in the region followed a similar pattern of condensed lead times for domestic flights in the Covid-19 era, travellers in Malaysia and the Philippines have so far bucked this trend.

In recent months, Malaysian travellers in particular have been making domestic flight bookings much further ahead than they were typically doing before the pandemic hit – booking domestic flights, on average, 51 days ahead of their departure date between March-July 2020, compared to the country’s average booking lead time of 28 days for domestic flights prior to the Covid-19 outbreak.

According to Amadeus’ anonymised data, the same is true of Filipino travellers too, whose average booking lead time has increased by 22 per cent for domestic flights during the pandemic.

“Whilst in general we have seen the same pattern of much shorter lead times on domestic flight routes in Asia-Pacific, Malaysia and the Philippines are two important exceptions where travellers are actually booking domestic flights further ahead than they previously would have done. This could, in part, reflect particularly strong concerns from Malaysian and Filipino travellers about the safety of travel and the security of domestic bookings,” said Tetaz.

“Whatever the reason, travel companies in these markets will clearly need to go the extra mile to lure back hesitant domestic travellers, which is going to be a critical part of every country’s recovery, especially in the short-term.”

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