UN agency data suggest Asia worst-hit by pandemic curbs – dpa international


DUBLIN — International travel has plummeted during the novel coronavirus pandemic, with nowhere worse affected than the Asia-Pacific region, according to United Nations tourism body data.

International arrivals across the region have dropped 72 per cent so far in 2020, according to the data, which was compiled for the Madrid-based World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) new Tourism Recovery Tracker.

International arrivals in the Asia-Pacific were down 99 per cent year-on-year, a standstill that came after countries imposed strict lockdowns and holiday bans aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.

China, Japan and South Korea were among the worst affected, with the UNWTO tracker showing an 83-per-cent drop in tourist arrivals across northeast Asia as most countries prohibited all but essential travel.

Southeast Asia, where countries remain largely closed to foreign tourists – and some, such as Malaysia, have effectively barred citizens from leaving – saw arrivals fall by 64 per cent.

Around 7 per cent of Malaysia’s 2019 gross domestic product (GDP) was derived from international tourism. In neighbouring Thailand, that figure usually tops 10 per cent, whereas Cambodia’s is nearer to 20.

Asian governments are now promoting internal travel in an attempt to shore up the sector, with Singapore earlier this month offering 100-dollar domestic tourism vouchers to residents and Malaysia’s national carrier cutting domestic fares by 20 per cent.

Tony Fernandes, chief executive of Air Asia, one Asia’s biggest low-cost airlines, said on Thursday that “our domestic routes like in Thailand and Malaysia, we are at about 70 per cent load capacity.”

“Business travel, intercontinental travel, first-class travel is going to take longer to rebound,” Fernandes said during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur.

After the Asia-Pacific, Europe was the second worst-hit region, UNWTO data show. A 66-per-cent overall decline in arrivals was registered – though a revival began after restrictions were eased around the continent in June.

No region has seen tourism fall by less than half, the UNWTO tracker shows, with South America registering the least-worst performance to date with a 56 per cent decline.

The UNWTO last month slammed governments for their “timid” efforts to revive tourism, citing worldwide losses estimated at 460 billion dollars – equivalent to Austria’s GDP – for the first half of 2020.

Airlines have echoed UNWTO’s criticism, with Ryanair, Europe’s biggest carrier, last week saying pandemic-related travel rules had forced it to cut capacity by 20 per cent for the second time in two months.

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