International bookings to Southeast Asia rising as borders open

Tourists visit Maya Bay in Krabi province on Jan 3, 2022 as Thailand reopens its world-famous beach after closing it for more than three years to allow its ecosystem to recover from the impact of overtourism. (Reuters photo)

SYDNEY: International bookings for flights to Southeast Asian countries that are relaxing tight pandemic-related border controls rose sharply in January, data from online travel company Skyscanner shows, in a positive sign for the region's hard-hit airlines.

International passenger travel in the Asia-Pacific region was down 93% from pre-pandemic levels last year, leaving airlines heavily reliant on freight for revenue, and the large Chinese outbound tourism market remains closed.

However, countries like Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and Singapore are emerging from an Omicron-variant related pause and reopening to vaccinated travellers.

Return economy-class bookings to those destinations from travellers in places like Britain, the United States and Germany rose by between 19% and 300% in January relative to December, according to Skyscanner, which is owned by Trip.com Group .

"From Skyscanner's global footprint, we've seen that when restrictions do ease, travellers react and are willing adapt to new measures in order to be able to travel internationally again," Skyscanner Senior Regional Director Asia Pacific Paul Whiteway said in an emailed statement to Reuters on Thursday.

"Over the coming weeks, we will see markets react to the news, airlines announcing new schedules and building capacity to allow the return of international travel at scale," he added.

Australia on Monday said it would reopen its borders to international tourists from Feb 21, leading to a 200% rise in bookings on the first day, Skyscanner data showed, with the highest volumes coming from Britain.

Qantas Airways on Wednesday said it had seen a significant rise in inbound international searches and bookings since the border announcement. It plans to restart several international routes in the coming weeks. 

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