Asian tourism set for rocky ride in 2009

Wed Jan 21, 2009 7:33pm EST
 
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By James Pomfret

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Across Asia -- hotels, airlines and tourism operators are bracing for another tough year as the financial crisis keeps long haul visitors at home, and regional travelers tighten purse-strings with shorter, budget trips.

"There'll definitely be a drop in business, fewer tourists is a reality," said Laurence Lai, the owner of two photo galleries at Hong Kong tourist hotspots, including the Star Ferry pier, selling iconic images of the former British colony.

"I expect a 30 percent fall at least. I'm having to shift my strategies to confront this financial tsunami, but you just have to stand firm and face the winds," added Lai, who relies on tourists for half his sales.

Asia's blend of diverse cultures, geography, bargains and exoticism, with travel gems ranging from snowy Himalayan kingdoms to neon-lit capitals, crumbling Khmer ruins and powdery beaches -- have made it one of the world's fastest growing tourism regions in recent years, along with the Middle East.

But since the downturn intensified last year, travel markets spanning Hong Kong, Thailand and India have suffered sharp contractions, at times worsened by political turmoil, with many projecting negative growth in 2009.

Hong Kong, now one of Asia's top tourist hubs with 29.5 million visitors last year, is predicting visitor arrivals to dip 1.6 percent in 2009, though a steeper drop of 9.2 percent is forecast for non-Chinese visitors.

Singapore's tourist arrivals, meanwhile, fell 2 percent last year with more gloom expected, while Thailand and Malaysia both expect 9 percent drops in visitors this year.

TIGHTER BUDGETS BITE   Continued...

 
<p>A foreign visitor takes a picture at the Peak, the most popular sightseeing spot for tourists, in Hong Kong January 20, 2009. Across Asia -- hotels, airlines and tourism operators are bracing for another tough year as the financial crisis keeps long haul visitors at home, and regional travellers tighten purse-strings with shorter, budget trips. Picture taken January 20, 2009. To match feature ASIA-TOURISM/ REUTERS/Bobby Yip</p>