Travel TrendsPent-up travel demand is rising, so is the competition among destinations.

Europe vs. Asia: who's winning the travel popularity contest?

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Travel confidence in Europe and the US had improved on the back of vaccination programmes, while the sentiment towards Asia, while remaining largely positive, had been eroded by concerns over fresh outbreaks and new Covid-19 variants.
Travel confidence in Europe and the US had improved on the back of vaccination programmes, while the sentiment towards Asia, while remaining largely positive, had been eroded by concerns over fresh outbreaks and new Covid-19 variants. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Image Source

After almost a year and a half of pandemic-induced lockdown cycles and travel restrictions in large swaths over the globe, studies unanimously show that people are raring to travel again.

But as national borders in Asia Pacific (APAC) remain closed and Europe gears up for reopening to tourists beyond the continent, experts predict stiff competition among the two traditionally popular international leisure destinations going into 2022.

“The demand [to travel] has never been so high,” says Olivier Henry-Biabaud, CEO of TCI Research, whose recent study measured traveller sentiment towards destinations as well as the reputation of countries in the context of travel and tourism, based on social conversations online. “As soon as people want to travel, as soon as it will be possible again, they will.”

Speaking at a recent webinar organised by PATA on May 18, Henry-Biabaud explained that travel planning and decision-making could boil down to which countries are open to international tourists, and which destinations are trusted and viewed favourably by travellers, as reflected in the sentiment index.

The group’s research showed that early in the year, new Covid-19 variants, including one coming out of the UK, had caused concerns among international travellers, as reflected in a dip in sentiment towards Europe as a destination.

But by April, confidence in Europe and the US, both of which had implemented vaccination programmes, had restored. Meanwhile, the sentiment towards Asia, while remaining largely positive, had been eroded by concerns over fresh outbreaks and new Covid-19 variants.

Ultimately, where international travellers choose to go will all depend on which countries are open to visitors and which destinations offer straightforward, clear and stable entry and exit rules. “They want to make sure that if they go, they will be able to come back and not quarantine and that rules are not going to change,” said Henry-Biabaud.

In this regard, Europe may prove to be more competitive than APAC as a whole — where recovery is expected to be uneven, depending on how each country contains the virus and implements vaccination programmes, among other factors — including among Asian markets.

“When we asked Chinese [tourists] where they want to travel this year, we have Europe still very top of mind,” says Henry-Biabaud. “As soon as ‘sanitary passports’ to Europe are made available to Chinese tourists, it is possible that they would choose Europe over some places in Asia simply because of the clarity of travel rules.”

Concerns about Covid-19 still dominate a third of online conversations about Asia, still, interest in APAC remains high from Europe and in the US, thanks mainly to a reputation for beautiful beaches and affordability of travel, particularly in some Asian island destinations.

These could translate to a high favourability in the longer term, especially in the wake of a pandemic that has made a profound negative economic impact globally. “About half of consumers today say they are in uncertain situations in terms of spending power,” Henry-Biabaud explains.

Among the APAC countries that enjoyed a favourable e-reputation in the past six months are those well regarded for their islands and beaches, including the Maldives, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Thailand, as well as countries with a reputation for having successfully managed the Covid-19 crisis, such as Vietnam.

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