Asia Pacific travel industry “active and vibrant” in first half, says Abacus – 16/08/06

ASIA PACIFIC. Leading travel group Abacus’ mid-year snapshot of the Asian travel industry shows sustained demand across the region even as rising fuel bills increased real costs for travellers.

IATA (International Air Transport Association) figures for the six months to June 2006 show an overall +6.2% growth in revenue passenger kilometres (RPK) for Asia Pacific over the corresponding six months from 2005. This made the region the third fastest growing after the exceptional performance of the Middle East (+17.3%) and Africa (+7.6%).

Asia Pacific is the most profitable region for the global airline industry with IATA projecting 2006 net profits of US$1.7 billion against a backdrop of an overall global airline industry loss of US$3 billion for the year.

“The first half of 2006 has been a real test for the travel market, and the continuing growth shows we have come through with flying colours. We’re seeing an active and vibrant market with relatively inflexible demand even though airlines have been forced to pass on rising fuel costs to the traveller,” said Abacus International President and CEO Don Birch.

“The rise of India and China, supported by a build up of latent demand in hotspots such as Vietnam and Indonesia and the impact of low cost carriers (LCCs) are all making their impact felt in the emerging picture,” he said.

India was a prime mover during the period (with a marked increase in domestic travel), while other growth markets China, Vietnam and Indonesia provided underlying confidence to the market, although Thailand and Malaysia experienced some turbulence.

While India’s total market for domestic travel grew by +24% in the year to June 2006, Abacus reported domestic booking numbers up by more than three times that rate over the period.

Domestic traffic is poised to keep growing at +25% per annum from 2005 to 2010. India will also add five million additional passengers every year and the market size will grow to 50 million by 2010 according to CAPA (Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation).

“Economic reforms, annual growth rates of +7% and unprecedented growth in the software and back-office service sectors have created a new, younger and wealthier middle class, which will eventually be larger than the entire population of the US,” Birch said.

14 bilateral agreements signed by India during 2005 under its Open Skies policy are beginning to translate into more foreign airlines routing into India and previously purely domestic carriers being permitted to fly abroad – generating more seats and driving competitive fares despite increased fuel charges.

“A recent report by InterVISTAS on the economic impact of Air Service Liberalisation found typical traffic growth of +12-35% subsequent to liberalisation and a number of situations resulting in 50%-plus growth providing some idea of the potential unleashed by these changes in India,” Birch said.

“On paper, India has some very promising developments in airport infrastructure with Bangalore and Hyderabad in line for new international airports. As many as 30 smaller airports will be re-positioned as international airports (e.g. Nagpur, Gaya) eventually creating more exit and entry points for travellers. This depends on the ability to drive through these changes, which the jury is still out on,” he said.

The industry serving this market is getting more sophisticated with travel portals such as, and starting to impact on the traditional travel agents. Portals such as these now make up more than 5% of Abacus’ business in this market, up from a practically nil just a year ago.

“We expect rapid growth in India’s online travel market with more than 100 million internet users expected by 2007/8 and IAMA (Internet and Mobile Association of India) projecting travel and related services to account for more than 55% of all online purchases,” Birch said.

The Low Cost Carrier (LCC) category is very dynamic in India, with three existing low-cost operators helping to maintain the momentum of traffic growth and develop new destinations while a further five start up operations are lined up for 2006.

It is projected that LCCs will increase their market share to 30-35% in 2006. The Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation projects that this category will capture 60-70% of the Indian market by 2010.

Other sectors of the travel market are well poised to capitalise on the increase in air travel with HVS International reporting 40,000 hotel rooms currently under planning or construction to enter the Indian market by 2009.

In other developments in this region, Abacus recorded more than +50% growth in FIT bookings for the neighbouring Pakistan market, making it the star market in South Asia for YTD June 2006.

Latest Abacus figures show a compound average growth rate of +37% over 2003 to 2006, including +12% YTD growth in May 2006.

There has been a marked increase in the proportion of private outbound travellers, and a corresponding decline in the proportion of business travellers as the Chinese Government has greatly widened the number of countries with Approved Destination Status (ADS) for organised Chinese tourist groups. As part of this relaxation of Chinese Government rules about “private travel”, travellers can now sponsor themselves.

The impact of these moves are shown in the performance of the China to Philippines market, which increased by +245% in fourth quarter 2005 (PATA), a nearly +25% increase in the number of travellers through Beijing Airport in the year to April 2006 (Beijing Capital International Airport Company) and projected +14% annual growth for China’s aviation market over the next five years (Globalysis Ltd).

International inbound arrivals were up +1.8% off a massive base of 28.2 million in 2005 in YTD May 2006 figures from PATA.

Hong Kong
Abacus achieved compound averagre growth rates (CAGR) of +15% from 2003 to 2006, with marginal growth in YTD May 2006 while the total market in Hong Kong grew at +8% over this period.

South Korea
Abacus achieved CAGR of +37% over 2003 to 2006, including +42% YTD total booking growth in May 2006 ahead of a +33% growth rate for the total GDS market in Korea over this period.

Abacus achieved CAGR of +15% over 2003 to 2006, with +6.5% growth in booking numbers YTD May 2006 while the total GDS market in Taiwan grew at +5% over this period.

Abacus achieved nearly +9% growth in FIT bookings in this market, although the overall market grew even faster than this, especially on the performance of Pacific Airlines, the fastest growing domestic carrier. This market grew to more than 1.5 million in-bound arrivals (+12%) YTD May 2006 (PATA). Developments in this market are consistent with a long term trend towards more interest-based rather than destination-based travel in the region, said Abacus, with Vietnam offering many opportunities for unique activities such as cultural/heritage and adventure tourism. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) is projecting sustained travel demand growth of +7.5% a year over the next decade.

WTTC figures point to Indonesia being a major growth force in the tourism and travel industry for the year ahead with the local travel and tourism economy’s current 7.3 million jobs expected to increase to nearly 10 million by 2016 and a steady +5-6% per annum growth across a broad range of travel indicators over the coming decade.

LCCs such as Jetstar Asia and Air Asia are making strong inroads against traditional carriers as PATA recorded a YTD May 2006 growth rate of nearly +19% for inbound international travel for this market.

In many respects Singapore is the archetype of the travel market of the future, characterised by high internet penetration, willingness of consumers to make purchases online, low cost carriers stimulating purchases online and travel agents adopting online strategies. Reflecting this Abacus itself is focusing on online strategies, assisting and encouraging travel agents to invest in technologies and online stores. The advent of the integrated resorts will further spur inbound traffic into Singapore which PATA figures show to have grown by +14.6% YTD May 2006.

Several markets were impacted by political factors during the first half of 2006:

With strong customer segments including workers, seamen, students, soldiers, Group, Leisure, Corporate/Business and Government travellers Malaysia boasts a very strong domestic booking segment of about 11 million segments while the international booking segment generated about 5 million segments, said Abacus.

The tourism industry in Malaysia has been emerging rapidly, and is now the second highest income generator for Malaysia. i.e. RM30 billion with about RM170 million allocated to the tourism industry by Government of Malaysia to stimulate travel.

Both inbound and outbound tourism were set back by almost -30% because of high airfares due to fuel surcharges imposed since 2005, together with administrative charges and airport taxes. Consumers are reluctant to travel overseas with a poor response to first quarter travel fairs such as MATTA and MATF (MH Fair). To stimulate travel the Ministry of Tourism is also conducting aggressive marketing campaigns outside Malaysia for 2007.

LCCs have definitely stimulated travel for the lower income group, said Abacus. Six million people have already travelled on Air Asia since it started operations four years ago and the LCC aircraft fleet will increase gradually to 100 aircraft from current fleet of 30 aircraft.

The Malaysian Government rationalised routes effective 1 August 2006 allowing Air Asia to focus on domestic operations while the national carrier Malaysia Airlines (MAS) concentrates on international routes. This is likely to see a major cut in the number of domestic routes flown although there are teething problems apparent in the agreement between the parties. Air Asia in particular is doing various promotion campaigns in local newspaper and TVs by offering airfare as low as RM9.99 per sector to boost load factors.

The government continues to build good infrastructure such as airport, road and highways and private sectors building more five star hotels, etc. Overall, Malaysia’s Tourism industry will continue to grow by about +5-10% annually in-spite of rising airfares for both international/domestic.

While Abacus’ Thailand booking numbers were up +5% for YTD June 2006 the country’s uncertain political climate is hampering the travel market’s previously strong recovery from the effects of Tsunami. Abacus estimates the total market will shrink by up to -30% due to political uncertainty. A curtailment of spending by the caretaker Government is affecting the travel industry both directly, via constraints on government officials travelling, and indirectly via the curtailment of major infrastructure projects and spending generally, suppressing economic activity.

With the next general election set for October 25 there are still fears this may be postponed due to ongoing constitutional issues. This is gravely detrimental to the travel industry as a whole as people cannot plan or are in no mood to plan for holidays this year-end.

The prolonged terrorist attacks in the south, a popular holiday destination, will continue to hurt the inbound market. Phuket, Hadyai and the rest are not optimistic about the inbounds this year.

A recent increase in bird flu reports has caused concern to locals and foreigners alike with some erosion of trust of the Government’s positions on this issue.

Although the Thai people are adjusting to the increasing fuel costs, as in other markets, it has dampened the spirit and the willingness to spend. Surcharges on air tickets are increasing, offsetting the benefits of the lower fares offered.

Other countries to be affected by political instability and perceived safety risks in 2006 include Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and the Philippines.


“˜Grey’ market expected to boom in size and value over the next decade, says Abacus – 29/06/06

Abacus unveils a steady start for Asia Pacific travel – 27/03/06

Abacus gazes into crystal ball of Asia Pacific travel – 15/02/06

Another record year for Asia travel says Abacus – 07/12/05

Asia Pacific travel growth remains strong says Abacus – 16/11/05

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