Asia-Pacific Travelers Return in 2023, With Different Tastes

By Michelle Jamrisko, Bloomberg

Travelers are set to come out in fuller force across the Asia-Pacific region this year, though still-high inflation and structural hurdles likely will leave the critical industry still far from pre-Covid levels.

Tourist arrivals across the region should reach about half of their 2019 levels, with a full recovery to pre-pandemic norms pushed back to 2025 or 2026, according to Oxford Economics estimates. That’s a reality check on optimism riding high as outfits like celebrate a strong start to 2023, with January the best month for travel reservations since May.

“Globally, we’re registering a very significant recovery from the depths of Covid but in APAC still, it’s behind that curve,” James Lambert, director of economic consulting for Oxford Economics Asia, said during an industry round-table discussion hosted Monday by in Singapore.

The Asia-Pacific Traveler Looks Different in 2023

Travel firm mulls what survey data means for region

Traveler PreferenceSurvey Statistics
Budget-conscious64% looking for one or two longer vacations rather than several short breaks
Culture shock57% want to go somewhere with completely different culture/language; 29% want to buy a one-way ticket and play by ear
Meditation, wellness53% are looking for mind/mindfulness/wellness getaways
Nostalgia54% have family reunion multi-generational trips at top of the agenda
Off the grid57% want this style of vacation to get away from reality; 64% want to use vacation to learn survival skills
Virtual reality56% would more likely visit somewhere they wouldn’t have otherwise considered, after virtual visit
Work-free 67% want their trips to be completely work-free this year but 63% believe this will allow them to be more productive at work


Note: August 2022 online survey of 24,179 respondents from 32 countries/territories who planned to travel for business or leisure in next 12-24 months. More than 500 in each of Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore; more than 1,000 each from Australia, UK, US

“The global inflationary environment is a risk in terms of how much people are willing to spend” and for Asia-Pacific economies, there’s still an outsized dependence on Chinese tourists who have been slow to return amid visa processing backlogs and still-crimped flight capacity, he said.

Inflation that’s still running hot worldwide means tighter household budgets. Together with supply-side issues such as under-performing flight capacity, lower hotel and airport manpower, they make for somewhat measured expectations of the industry in 2023. 

Tourism typically contributes to about 10% of global economic growth and about twice that in normal times for regional economies like Thailand. 

Chinese tourists who made up about a quarter of the region’s tourist arrivals pre-pandemic might also remain a bit hesitant this year to travel to mask-free destinations, said Lambert.

For Rajit Sukumaran, managing director of Southeast Asia and Korea for IHG Hotels & Resorts, the “pleasant surprise” of China’s reopening at the end of last year has yet to translate to a big surge in arrivals throughout the region, though places like Bali and parts of Vietnam are poised to see greater numbers soon. This year is a good time for hospitality firms to focus on developing in-house talent and catering more to changing customer interests, he said.

Recent survey data, indeed, point to travelers wanting different things out of their trips than before the Covid era. That in part speaks to traveler preferences for more personalized experiences and for discovering new places they hadn’t considered before, according to Laura Houldsworth, managing director for Asia-Pacific for The company conducted an online survey in August of 24,179 respondents from 32 countries and territories.

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