After a pandemic pause, pent-up demand from American travelers has begun to fuel a recovery in Asia-Pacific destinations. Japan is especially hot.

With the reopening of top Asia-Pacific destinations in 2022 and flight schedules returning to normal, all signs point to a big bump in travel to the region this year and next. Some countries will see a slow but steady stream of travelers, while others are readying for a dramatic surge as the flood gates open up.

Tour Operators Report High Demand for Japan  

Speaking of his company’s tours and river cruises, Steve Born, chief marketing officer of the Globus family of brands, remarks, “Overall, Asia has yet to fully recover to pre-pandemic levels. While other regions are up over 2019 levels, Asia is half the volume. The exception is Japan, which is surging….Our Globus and Cosmos Japan bookings for 2023 are poised to surpass pre-pandemic levels.” 

Japan has also been a bright spot for Goway. 

“Since Japan reopened in October, we’ve seen a huge surge in demand that hasn’t slowed down,” says Brittany Banks, product manager, Asia. “February was our biggest booking month ever for Japan. Our Goway exclusive small group ‘Japan Cherry Blossom Odyssey’ sold out in only three weeks for 2023, and we already have a waitlist started for 2024 with two spring departures planned.”

Goway travelers in Hiroshima, Japan feast on okonomiyaki, a local specialty. (Randy Mink Photo)

Goway travelers in Hiroshima, Japan feast on okonomiyaki, a local specialty. (Randy Mink Photo)

Dan Sullivan Jr., chief executive officer of Collette, is bullish on Asia and all international destinations the company markets.

“Japan’s come back after recently opening up again, and so has the South Pacific, he says. “We’re getting strong demand pretty much across the board.”

Sullivan adds, “Clients, because they haven’t traveled in three years, have more money to travel and they’re doing that. They’re saying, ‘I want to go on a trip of a lifetime’ and have that bucket-list trip.”

Numbers Look Promising for Asia-Pacific Bookings

Kayak, referencing search traffic on its site, sees the Asia-Pacific region as a trending destination for 2023. It reports that searches for Ho Chi Minh City are up 769% year over year, 289% percent for Tapei City, 271% for Auckland and 201% for Singapore.

The Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) predicts that healthy increases in international visitor numbers to the region will continue each year through 2025, with annual growth rates anywhere from 71 to 104 percent.

Economic data from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) reveals that revenue from inbound travel in East and Southeast Asia soared by more than 70 percent in 2022, with further growth predicted for 2023 and 2024. According to Destination Asia, traveler numbers to Southeast Asia are forecasted to break records as early as 2023. 

Collette shares that its popular “Kingdoms of Southeast Asia” small group Explorations tour was a hit with travelers in 2022. It received the highest rating in 82% of reviews. Highlights of the 19-day swing through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam include a walking tour of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, navigating tunnels used by the Viet Cong in the Vietnam War and meeting a Vietnamese war veteran to get his perspective. Collette travelers also attend a class in Vietnamese cooking, tour Angkor Wat in Cambodia, visit a traditional Hmong hill tribe village in Laos and enjoy a farewell dinner cruise in Bangkok.

Tourism to Thailand, Maldives and Hong Kong Looks Strong

Says Goway’s Banks, “Thailand and Maldives continue to be in high demand for our globetrotters, with bookings booming. Both are in Goway’s Top 10 list of the most booked countries across all our destinations. Many clients will combine these destinations with other regions in Asia and the Middle East, especially the UAE, which has had tremendous growth at Goway.”

“Recently, Hong Kong has eased entry requirements and is slowly emerging,” Banks adds. “It was one of our most popular stopover destinations in the past and has the potential to rebound quickly.” 

The Star Ferry plies Hong Kong’s magnificent harbor. (Photo credit: Hong Kong Tourism Board)

The Star Ferry plies Hong Kong’s magnificent harbor. (Photo credit: Hong Kong Tourism Board)

Hong Kong lifted its mandatory mask rule on March 1 and has been stepping up promotions, including large-scale special events, to welcome back travelers. The Hong Kong Tourism Board has gained attention for its aggressive “Hello Hong Kong” campaign, which has involved giving away 500,000 free air tickets. Its “Hong Kong Goodies” program has handed out vouchers redeemable at shops and restaurants.

Regarding group business to Asia, Globus’ Born comments, “We are planning to restart group sales to Asia for 2024. Our 2023 group business was off to a late start, which impacted volume for the year…..All 2024 dates and prices are available now, and space can be reserved with just a single deposit. Our group benefits start at just eight guests, and we have a full-service groups division to help with making a group vision a reality.”

Born advises that now is the time for group leaders to plan Asia business in 2024. “Pent-up demand can materialize, and space might even become an issue in the coming year. An early start means early success.”

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By Randy Mink, Senior Editor

Lead photo: Kinkaku-ji Temple, Kyoto, Japan. (Randy Mink Photo)