Tour operators, hotels and airlines are bracing for a rocky 2009 as the global financial crisis hits long haul travel. Asia has been experiencing a travel boom with a massive range of geography from the snow-capped Himalayas to some of the best beaches in the world. But last year saw a drop in numbers. This year, negative growth is expected all round. Let's put this in context. The United Nation's World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) showed the loss of tourism business most strongly in the Asia-Pacific region as compared to the Americas, the Middle East, Europe and Africa. This is echoed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) which is warning that global airlines are facing possible collapse as revenues fall. The consequence is that between 300,000-400,000 jobs are at risk in air transport, travel and tourism sectors.
Why is the fall so bad in Asia? The answer is this is not simply an economic problem. Tourism was doing well in India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Macao until the news media began carrying stories of political and other problems. There was a major protest in Thailand that shut down Bangkok's airport for a week. As a result, more than a million tourists cancelled their bookings. In India, the terrorist attack in Mumbai was directed at the top hotels and the tourists, and the result has been a general drop in travel to all Indian destinations, even those pure tourism areas like Goa - bookings down 25%. Sri Lanka has become a war zone in the public's imagination and Macao's visitor numbers have been affected by a cutback in the number of visas issued by China. These destinations are now anxiously courting business through promotional prices. Even the best hotels in the most favored destinations are discounting. In places like Singapore and Hong Kong, room occupancy is down to around two-thirds and, to maintain their competitiveness, there are a whole range of incentives for those prepared to make longer journeys. In short, there has never been a better time to think of planning a holiday in Asia. Although there will be some security concerns - everyone wants to relax when they are on holiday - the region is once again calm and anxious to rebuild its tourist business.
With support from their governments, all the airlines carrying tourists to Asia are offering cheap air tickets. Because room occupancy rates across the region are way down, there are genuine bargains to be had for both short and long-stay holidays. If you are prepared to invest a little time in researching the market, you will be able to find amazing value. How do we know? Because the regional tourist boards are forecasting 3% growth in numbers over the next three years. The hotel and restaurant trade and the airlines are integral parts of the regional economy. Governments are dipping into their reserves to encourage more tourism. In real terms, there has never been a better chance of finding cheap air tickets than over the next six to eight months.