“The second wave is now easing, but continues to weigh on an already fragile recovery outlook for tourism and will prolong the impact on related sectors in the coming year”
The decrease in global international tourist arrivals deepened in 4Q20, after a short-lived improvement in cross-border mobility in 3Q20. Easing in border controls led by European countries was disrupted by a second wave of Covid-19 infections, triggering renewed, albeit less stringent, lockdowns globally. The second wave is now easing, but continues to weigh on an already fragile recovery outlook for tourism, and will prolong the impact on related sectors in the coming year.
International travel remains essentially on hold across APAC despite the region’s relative success in containing the coronavirus. Tourist arrivals in APAC economies fell by 84% in 2020, steeper than the 74% contraction globally, according to the World Tourism Organization.
Many APAC sovereigns have strict controls on international tourism to stem imported cases, and the restrictions were tightened in recent months. New cases flared up again in Thailand and Malaysia in late 2020, but have begun to decline modestly more recently.
Recovery Hinges on Containment, Vaccination: Fitch project a slow return in international tourism flows across APAC to begin in 2H21, but arrivals will remain well below pre-pandemic levels.
Even these modest projections depend on progress in virus containment and effective vaccine distribution. China had administered 40.5 million vaccine doses as of 9 February 2021. Rollouts are underway in Singapore, India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, and others plan to start distribution in 1Q21.
Some of APAC 's most tourism-dependent economies, such as the Maldives and Macao, have eased quarantine requirements for tourists with coronavirus test certificates, and saw a mild recovery in arrivals from 4Q20. Arrivals in the Maldives have come predominantly from Russia, India and the UK, while arrivals from China – its largest source market in 2019 – remain sluggish. If sustained, the partial tourism recovery may help the Maldives to begin reversing the collapse in its external services balances and ease its acute external financing pressures.
Domestic Tourism Gaining Traction, Led by China: Containment of the coronavirus has set the stage since 2H20 for a gradual normalization of domestic activity in parts of APAC. Domestic air travel in China, for example, has nearly recovered to pre-pandemic levels. Other countries in the region have also seen signs of recovery in domestic flights. Meanwhile, hotel occupancy rates have been picking up due to local pent-up demand for travel, although much of it has been supported by quarantine requirements of returning residents.
In the months ahead, Fitch expects more governments to try to resume international travel via two-way "travel bubbles", including those that were suspended due to the recent resurgence in the virus (i.e. Singapore-Hong Kong and Australia-New Zealand). However, a broader and more sustained resumption of international tourism flows in APAC will likely only materialize beyond 2021.