INTERNATIONAL tourist arrivals in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region have surged in the seven months to July this year, but the numbers are still far from pre-pandemic levels, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

In a statement on Monday, the UNWTO said its latest World Tourism Barometer showed that arrivals in the APAC region rose by 165% during the January-to-July period this year.

“Asia and the Pacific (+165%) saw arrivals more than double in the first seven months of 2022, though they remained 86% below 2019 levels, as some borders remained closed to non-essential travel,” it said.

Further, the organization said that international tourism from January to July posted a 172% increase compared with the same period last year, which is equivalent to 57% of pre-pandemic levels.

“An estimated 474 million tourists travelled internationally over the period, compared to the 175 million in the same months of 2021. An estimated 207 million international arrivals were recorded in June and July 2022 combined, over twice the numbers seen in the same two months last year. These months represent 44% of the total arrivals recorded in the first seven months of 2022,” the UNWTO said.

According to the UNWTO, Europe and the Middle East posted 74% and 76% of 2019 levels, respectively, during the period. Other regions that recorded strong growth during the seven months include the Americas at 103% and Africa at 171%.

“Tourism continues to recover steadily, yet several challenges remain, from geopolitical to economic. The sector is bringing back hope and opportunity for people everywhere. Now is also the time to rethink tourism, where it is going and how it impacts people and planet,” UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said.

John Paolo R. Rivera, associate director at the Asian Institute of Management’s Dr. Andrew L. Tan Center for Tourism, said in a Viber message that arrivals in the APAC region were below pre-pandemic levels because it remained cautious compared with other regions.

“APAC is not as liberal as the US and Europe. APAC tourism is affected because they rely on foreign tourists,” Mr. Rivera said.

However, Mr. Rivera said that the figures do not have a “significant” effect on the Philippines due to its domestic tourism.

“The Philippines is not significantly affected because our tourism industry can flourish with domestic tourism alone accounting for 80% of tourism receipts. Foreign tourists are just [a] bonus for us,” Mr. Rivera said.

Meanwhile, the UNWTO said that its panel of tourism experts is cautiously optimistic for the rest of 2022.

“Prospects for the remainder of the year are cautiously optimistic,” it said. “Almost half of experts (47%) see positive prospects for the period September-December 2022, while 24% expect no particular change and 28% consider it could be worse.”

The UNWTO added that the experts have reversed their projection for a return of international tourism to pre-pandemic levels in the near term.

“Some 61% of experts now see a potential return of international arrivals to 2019 levels in 2024 or later while those indicating a return to pre-pandemic levels in 2023 has diminished (27%) compared to the May survey (48%),” it said.

“According to experts, the economic environment continues to be the main factor weighing on the recovery of international tourism. Rising inflation and the spike in oil prices results in higher transport and accommodation costs, while putting consumer purchasing power and savings under pressure,” it added.

For Mr. Rivera, the UNWTO’s projection may not apply to the Philippines due to its target market.

“I think they are rushing it because they believe tourism will recover as fast as it collapsed in 2020. Travel and tourism will definitely recover but at a different pace because it is transitioning into a more resilient one given the lessons learned from the pandemic,” Mr. Rivera said.

“This may not be the case in the Philippines because Filipinos are reliable target market for Philippine tourism. We keep money circulating in our country. And it’s cheaper to travel in the Philippines now given currency depreciation,” he added. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave