In The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, a group of Western backpackers attempt to carve out a deserted, hideaway from the modern world – a utopia that ultimately unravels – on a faraway island off the coast of Thailand.
While this is the image many may hold of Asia – backpackers’ circuits, hostels, pilgrimage – numbers just released by the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) suggest that this dream is not likely to materialize.
In 2012, the Asia-Pacific region lured more international arrivals to its shores than ever before, with some estimates clocking as many as 350 million international arrivals, up 5 percent and 18 million additional visits from the year prior. Visitor numbers to the Asia-Pacific region have steadily risen for three straight years now.
Of the 40 nations included in this region, only five suffered losses, including – perhaps surprisingly – China’s 2.5 percent contraction (representing roughly 3 million arrivals). It should be noted that this “loss” is actually only a loss in terms of compatriot arrivals. Foreign arrivals also climbed for China, rising 1.6 percent.
Southeast Asia came out on top in terms of growth with gains of 9.9 percent over 2011 (an additional 8 million arrivals). ASEAN nations’ aggregated total of international inbound visitors hit a whopping 89 million, with growth numbers among tourists visiting from China exploding in Indonesia and expectations that they could come in droves to Thailand in 2013 (thanks in part to the wacky Mainland comedy Lost in Thailand), to name but a few examples. Indeed, China, which now supplies as many visitors to ASEAN countries as Europe, is a key target market for the whole of ASEAN. The same China-centric marketing push goes for Australia as well.
But perhaps the most notable gains can be seen in the massive rises in Myanmar (52 percent), Cambodia (24 percent) and Laos (22 percent). In 2012, international arrivals in Myanmar broke the 1 million mark, while the same numbers in Cambodia and Laos exceeded 3 million visitors over the same period.
Meanwhile, South Asian numbers cooled a bit (6.6 percent growth for the region) after years of double-digit growth, the Pacific region (from the Northern Marianas and Vanuatu to Hawaii, Australia and Guam) saw an overall rise of 6 percent, and Northeast Asia managed to generate an overall growth rate of 4 percent.
Ultimately, in terms of sheer volume, the big gainers were Hong Kong, Thailand, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan – each with more than 1 million additional arrivals to its shores from the previous year.
In the case of Japan, in particular, it is worth mentioning that the nation has bounced back from the disastrous dip suffered in its tourism industry after the earthquake that ravaged Honshu’s northeastern coast two years ago yesterday. In 2012, with international arrivals surging 35 percent from the year before – a clearly hopeful sign that the nation is slowly but surely bouncing back from the triple-disaster two years ago.
“Asia and the Pacific continues to add substantially to the global international arrivals count. We expect that to continue for some time yet,” PATA’s CEO Martin J. Craigs said in a statement released by the organization. “The players shift and change of course and we can expect some movement in terms of generating and receiving markets. But across the region we expect substantial gains in both the volume and the value of these movements for some time yet.”