- The Washington Times - Friday, August 1, 2003

BANGKOK

International travel in the Asia-Pacific region will rise in the second half of this year, with Chinese travelers spearheading the revival of the region’s tourism, according to a new industry forecast.

Travel to the region has been devastated by SARS and the Iraq war in the past few months.

Some 6.32 million Chinese are expected to travel between July and December this year, an 18 percent increase over the same period last year, says a joint statement by the Pacific Asia Travel Association and MasterCard International released July 25.

“We are now seeing positive indications of the tourism recovery across the region over the course of the next six months,” the statement says, quoting Yuwa Hedrick-Wong of MasterCard.

He says the first half of this year saw a major decline in travel because of severe acute respiratory syndrome cases in China, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan. When SARS hit, the travel industry already was reeling from the Iraq war.

The improvement in the second half will mean that “businesses in a number of key markets have a chance to offset some of their first-half losses,” he says.

The travel forecast is contained in the new MasterIndex of Travel, a six-monthly forecast for Asia-Pacific markets: Australia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand.

About 60 percent of international tourist arrivals in Southeast Asia come from these 12 places, which also contribute 77 percent of international arrivals to Northeast Asia.

The industry is also attempting to lure Americans back to the region with steep discounts. Various Hong Kong packages, for example, are offering two-for-one deals through the summer on airfare, hotel, dinner and shopping bargains. Many of the promotions are sponsored by the Hong Kong Tourism Board, which has launched a “Hong Kong Welcomes You” campaign. Tourism already is picking up there, with 725,000 visitors recorded in June and 760,000 recorded in the first 20 days of July alone.

The MasterIndex of Travel says that besides China, eight other countries including Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia are expected to record year-on-year growth in outbound travel.

The Japanese are expected to be the top travelers in the region with 8.1 million of them leaving their shores in the next six months. However, this represents a growth of just 0.8 percent compared to the six-month period last year, the statement says.

Fewer people will travel out of South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore in the remaining part of the year, which “will impact the region’s rate of recovery,” it says.

About 2.79 million South Koreans will travel out, a decline of 7.5 percent; 2.67 million from Hong Kong will visit other countries, a decline of 6.5 percent; and 4.65 million Singaporeans will travel out, a decline of 3.6 percent, it predicts.

More information on two-for-one Hong Kong packages is available at hkhotdeals.com.

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