Asian countries were the last in the world to scrap Covid-19 related travel restrictions, thus lagging behind with the recovery of its travel and tourism industry, especially suffering from the absence of Chinese visitors.
China finally put an end to its notorious zero-Covid policy on 8 January and the neighbouring countries immediately saw the return of demand among the Lunar New Year holiday season. The region’s rebound is not expected to take long, a recent report from Phocuswright shows. The analysis looked into Northeast Asia, specifically the South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macao regional travel markets, and shows South Korea dominated among the four, partly due to its larger use of online services.
With 53% of the total bookings made in 2021, South Korea clearly leads as a tourism destination in the region. When considering just the share of online bookings, the distinction becomes even clearer, the country having had 61% of the total online bookings made in Northeast Asia in 2021.
“While severe travel restrictions and the lack of Chinese visitors have been challenging for the region, the downturn is not expected to last. Looking forward, there is optimism regarding the return of Chinese visitors, and renewed air connectivity across Asia Pacific markets will help fuel inbound traffic from other markets as well”, Phocuswright says, predicting revenues from tourism in Northeast Asia will surpass pre-pandemic levels in 2023.
The analysis also reveals that smartphones were increasingly used for researching and booking holidays during the pandemic. Although the mobile share of online bookings peaked in 2021, the report predicts the number of reservations made via smartphones will continue to rise, “comfortably” surpassing 2019 levels this year and more than doubling the 2019 record in 2025, with $11.2 billion worth of bookings.
“The mobile travel realm is especially competitive in South Korea. Homegrown online travel brands like Good Choice, Yanolja, MyRealTrip and Tidesquare invested astutely in technology during the pandemic to capture domestic bookings and prepare for international travel to start heating up from 2021 onwards”, highlights Phocuswright.
Betting on digital platforms is part of South Korea’s plan of attracting 30 million foreign tourists by 2027. After re-opening for international travel on 1 April 2022, Korea’s Tourism Organization (KTO) unveiled in December measures, including easing travel-related restrictions, hoping to attract 30 million tourists by 2027, as borders around the world are reopening amid easing in Covid-19 policies. The tourism organization intends to achieve the number through digital tourism platform services and Korean-content storytelling tour programs, featuring cities such as Gyeongju, Jeju City, Suwon, Busan, Chuncheon and, of course, the capital Seoul.
The KTO has also announced plans to join hands with metaverse platform Zepeto in designing “Korea Travel Village World” on eight different travel themes. The KTO hopes the metaverse space will encourage young people to take a plane and travel to Korea.