Europe regains appetite for Asia-Pacific destinations

  • Western European markets show the strongest appetite
  • Accessible, welcoming and affordable destinations are top of mind
  • Indonesia wants Europeans to explore deeper, while Malaysia intensifies digital content and trade engagements
The top destination in Asia-Pacific for Eastern and Western Europeans in 2023 was Thailand, pictured

Interest in travel to Asia-Pacific among European travellers is building back, with Western European markets showing the strongest appetite for the region.

According to market research firm Euromonitor International, preliminary data for 2023 full-year European outbound volume shows 9.1 million trips made from Eastern Europe to Asia-Pacific and 18.7 million trips made from Western Europe to Asia-Pacific. This represents 65 per cent and 71 per cent of pre-pandemic 2019’s levels.

Top destinations in the region for Eastern Europeans in 2023 are Thailand (1.1 million), China (995,200), Indonesia (410,900), India (291,200) and Vietnam (291,100). The rest of the top 10 destinations are in Central Asia, comprising Armenia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Among Western Europeans, the top 10 destinations chart is dominated by familiar Asia-Pacific tourism hotspots. Thailand takes pole position with 3.6 million trips from Western Europe, followed by Pakistan (two million, a hefty sum that includes Pakistani diaspora), India (1.7 million), Japan (1.3 million), China (1.1 million), Indonesia (1.1 million), Singapore (one million); Vietnam (835,100), the Philippines (662.100), and the Maldives (655,600).

Euromonitor International projects trips to Asia-Pacific from both Eastern and Western Europe to further improve in 2024, with a projected 10.9 million and 24.2 million respectively.

Travel intelligence firm, ForwardKeys shares similar observations of improving  European interest in the Asia-Pacific region, although 2023 recovery was primarily driven by essential segments such as VFR, expatriate and business.

The UK is the most recovered European source market to Asia-Pacific in 2023.

Looking ahead to the first half of 2024, European origin markets that are driving the recovery to Asia-Pacific are Spain (up 14 per cent over 2019), Italy (down three per cent over 2019), Germany (down four per cent over 2019), Russia (down nine per cent over 2019), and France (down 13 per cent over 2019).

Olivier Ponti, director – intelligence and marketing at ForwardKeys acknowledged that the speed of the recovery is rather different across European markets.

“Some (European) markets are reactivating faster than others. A fine example is Spain, where we already see more bookings now compared to pre-pandemic times. Spain’s speedy outbound recovery has a lot to do with the re-establishment of air connectivity as well as aggressive marketing campaigns conducted by some Asia-Pacific destinations to attract Spanish travellers,” he detailed.

“That’s a success story because it shows that destinations can actually make a difference by investing in activities that rekindle travel demand,” he told TTG Asia.

Commenting on Asia-Pacific destinations that are most adored by European travellers, Ponti said the depreciation of the yen has played to Japan’s advantage. The destination recorded a “remarkable” 14 per cent increase compared to 2019, as travellers sought out more affordable destinations in a landscape of pricey airfares.

Other top-performing destinations, according to ForwardKeys data, include India (up 10 per cent over 2019), the Maldives (up eight per cent over 2019), Indonesia (up four per cent over 2019), and Thailand (down six per cent over 2019).

“Although China continues to lag behind (down 25 per cent over 2019), it holds real potential, especially since it has allowed visa-free entry to citizens from various European countries,” remarked Ponti.

Flight connectivity, wars to impact growth potential
While Asia remains an “extremely attractive destination for European travellers”, Ponti warned that the pace of air connectivity recovery and the consequences of war would impact Asia’s ability to further grow European arrivals this year.

“There is travel demand, but not enough airplanes to accommodate that demand while some airlines are reallocating airplanes to more profitable routes,” said Ponti, adding that destinations need to rebuild air connectivity with key source markets “so that they’re easy to reach while ensuring airfares are not being too expensive”.

He warned that high airfares would “kill demand” and cast a “limitation on growth” for international arrivals.

Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine has made the Russian airspace unavailable to many Western carriers, which meant longer flight duration, higher fuel consumption and, therefore, higher airfares, added Ponti.

Japan remains popular among European travellers due to the depreciation of the yen; the famous Shibuya crossing in Tokyo, pictured

Indonesia wants dispersion
Indonesian tourism organisations are looking to European source markets with great interest, as recent improvements in longhaul flight capacity have lifted European travel demand.

Umberto Cadamuro, chief operating officer of Pacto in Indonesia, told TTG Asia: “Despite the challenges that the European economy is facing, customers are showing a continued and strong interest in travel. When it comes to a long holiday, South-east Asia stands out in terms of quality and price when compared to other regions worldwide.”

For Pacto, bookings from the Netherlands and Italy are the strongest among longhaul markets.

Encouraged by continued growth in bookings, Cadamuro will step up marketing in Europe and open a new representative office in Spain soon.

Ricky Setiawanto, who is director of business development at Panorama Destination, said demand from Europe was growing faster than airlines could reinstate services.

Illustrating the strong level of interest in Indonesia, Ricky said one of his agents in the Netherlands reported that sales for the country ranked second to South Africa during a recent travel fair.

“We have 140 groups (coming from the Netherlands) this year, and our partner said there could be even more if more seats were available,” he said.

Besides popular Bali, Europeans are also drawn to Yogyakarta and Flores in East Nusa Tenggara, fuelled by the popularity of Komodo island, observed Cadamuro.

Leonardus Nyoman, owner and director of Flores Exotic Tour, confirms that arrivals to Labuan Bajo in Flores had increased tremendously, so much so Komodo islands have become too crowded. Fortunately, there are other Flores islands to explore, and his European clients appreciate unique cycling, photography and bird-watching tours in off-the-beaten-track areas.

Ricky hopes that promotions led by the Indonesian government could highlight destinations beyond Bali so as to disperse tourist traffic.

Malaysia taps partnerships
Online marketing and travel agency collaboration will keep Tourism Malaysia busy, as it works to achieve further growth in its key European markets this year.

The South-east Asian destination recorded over 100 per cent growth in its top performing European markets within the first 11 months of 2023. December arrival data is still pending at press time.

The top five European source markets to Malaysia are the UK, Germany, France, Netherlands and Spain.

In sharing the tourism board’s marketing plans with TTG Asia, Tourism Malaysia’s spokesperson said digital platforms would be key.

He detailed: “Social media will play an important role in attracting German-speaking and other European audiences. We will work with key opinion leaders, influencers and content creators to increase our reach and engagement. We have also embarked on interactive digital brochures and interactive maps for tourist destinations in Malaysia, in line with tourism industry trends where visual experiences and materials are key.”

Tourism Malaysia’s office in Frankfurt, in partnership with German tour operator Dertouristik, is running a 52-week e-learning programme for German-speaking outbound travel agents who are engaged in selling Malaysia or those intending to do so. It kicked off in June.

Another ongoing initiative is with German OTA to promote Malaysia through the agency’s online catalogues.

Other destination marketing activities include joint marketing support with airline partners and fam trips for selected outbound agents and media. – Additional reporting by Mimi Hudoyo and S Puvaneswary

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