ASIA and the Pacific governments should address barriers to ease of travel in order to boost the recovery of international tourism, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said.

The region needs “to work together to bring in more visitors from within and outside the region by adopting bilateral and regional agreements, and offering improved infrastructure and better skills,” it said in a blog post on Thursday.

The ADB said that the region’s tourism recovery is lagging due to its “cautious stance on reopening borders and more restrictive travel policies.”

“The flow of tourists into the region was only about 10.3% of the pre-pandemic figure of 343 million in 2019, despite bullish year-on-year growth during the first eight months of 2022,” it added.

The pace of tourism recovery has also been uneven in the region. Central Asia and South Asia are both at 33% of pre-pandemic tourism levels, followed by Southeast Asia at 12%, and the Pacific at 28%. 

“This is likely to change in 2023 as more destinations reopen, particularly in the People’s Republic of China, a major driver of outbound tourism, which opened its international borders for tourist activities in January 2023,” it added.

However, the bank said that the full recovery of international tourism by 2024 “remains uncertain.”

It said risks to recovery including the looming global economic slowdown, rising inflation, and geopolitical pressures.

“The brisk recovery of tourism rests on countries’ ability to make it easier to enter and leave countries, which entails stronger global and regional cooperation,” it said.

It cited the Philippines, which recently renewed its tourism cooperation deals with Brunei and Thailand, and is drafting a new tourism cooperation agreement with Malaysia to revive arrivals, which had declined by 10.2% between 2015 and 2019.

“Tourism-dependent economies must strengthen cooperation with countries outside the region. To counter the damage during COVID-19, caused by heavy reliance of Asian economies on East Asian members as their predominant source market. Countries should build partnerships with new source markets such as the US, the UK, and Europe, by working on common tourism standards,” it added.

The ADB also recommended improving transport systems across the region.

“For example, Central Asia’s nascent tourism sector stands to benefit from improved infrastructure being built across the region. Meanwhile, tourism arrivals to India, Bhutan, and Nepal are expected to benefit from the introduction of ‘regional travel circuits’ that package multiple destinations using different types of transportation,” it added.

There is also a need to address the tourism industry’s human capital challenges, including increasing youth and female employment, welcoming temporary migrant workers, enhancing skills, and establishing mutual recognition of tourism professionals. 

“These measures, along with harnessing digital technology, will raise competitiveness, increase transparency, and open the sector up to help more people in host countries,” it said.

“As the tourism recovery gains traction, countries in Asia and the Pacific must capitalize on the opportunities it brings. That includes learning from the pandemic and building a more resilient tourism sector for future crises,” it added. — Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson