Mastercard Economics Institute: Easing of Travel Restrictions and Pent-Up Demand Drives Resurgence of Travel in Asia Pacific in 2022

May 18, 2022 | Singapore
  • Inbound flight traffic indicates a strong rebound in Asia Pacific following the reopening of borders in a majority of markets earlier this year
  • Domestic and intra-region travel expected to pick up as the travel landscape across Asia Pacific becomes easier to navigate

After a turbulent two years, new research from the Mastercard Economics Institute reveals that for the first time since the pandemic, global leisure and business flight bookings surpassed pre-pandemic levels, while spending on cruise lines, buses and trains saw sharp improvements this year, signaling a key milestone in the global travel recovery1. Spanning 37 markets across the globe and 9 markets in Asia Pacific, the Travel 2022: Trends and Transitions report delivers critical insights about the global state of travel in a less restricted, post-vaccine chapter of the Covid-19 pandemic era. The report compares the current state of global travel to two key inflection points: the pre-pandemic levels of 2019, and trends from the period when border restrictions began to ease and international travel resumed across most geographies.

Drawing on a unique analysis of publicly available travel data2, as well as aggregated and anonymized sales activity in the Mastercard network3, the third annual travel report from the Mastercard Economics Institute dives into key elements of the traveler journey. This includes the tailwinds propelling travel recovery, consumer considerations when making travel-related purchasing decisions, and macroeconomic trends such as inflation, hybrid work, healthcare risks, and geopolitical disruptions that could influence the travel recovery.

Key findings through April 2022 for Asia Pacific include:

  • Reopening of borders puts Asia back on the tourist map: According to the Mastercard Economics Institute analysis, if flight booking trends continue at the current pace, an estimated 430 million more passengers will fly in Asia Pacific compared to last year. The travel outlook for the region is optimistic, even with markets across North Asia and mainland China yet to relax border measures, an event which will likely be felt across the entire region and the world.

  • Pent-up demand is expected to fuel the travel recovery: Following two years of little to no travel for Asia Pacific in 2022, the loosening of travel restrictions and reopening of borders has sparked a surge in demand for both inbound and outbound travel. A trend observed in markets across the region is consumers’ release of excess savings on travel. In 2022, borders opened in Australia, resulting in a sudden ability to travel. Flight bookings from Australia to Indonesia, for example, spiked nearly 200% in 2022, and flights to the U.S. more than doubled.

  • Travel spending swings towards experiences4 over things: Globally, for the majority of the year, international tourists were seen spending more on experiences rather than things when in destination. This trend was also witnessed in Asia, where Singapore recorded one of the highest international tourist spending on experiences in destination globally, with a 60% increase in spending from pre-pandemic levels through March 2022. Other markets across the region, however, revealed a more mixed picture, with low levels of inbound tourism seen in Indonesia and South Korea, whose borders opened in April 2022. This will be an important trend to watch for the rest of the year as ongoing travel restrictions across the region are gradually lifted, and Asia Pacific tourists begin to shop and spend abroad.

  • Choice of travel destinations influenced by mobility restrictions: Since the onset of the pandemic, trends reveal that people have been favoring travel destinations that are less complex to navigate amidst confusing entry and quarantine requirements, travel restrictions, and testing procedures. As such, the U.S. remained the most popular choice for Asia Pacific travelers, followed by Australia, Singapore, U.K., and Canada. In the months to come, however, this trend is likely to shift in favor of intra-regional travel as restrictions are relaxed and domestic travel picks up once again.

  • The cost of travel remains elevated across the region due to supply chain disruption and higher operating costs: Travel deficits triggered by the pandemic have expanded the operating expense burden for airlines and the broader transportation industry, resulting in higher fares for travelers in Asia Pacific compared to their global counterparts. The average airfares in Asia Pacific remain elevated – roughly 11% and 27% above 2019 levels in Australia and Singapore respectively – due to supply-side constraints such as air transportation employment, which continues to remain below pre-pandemic levels across the region.

  • Domestic spending picks up momentum across hard-hit transportation industries: With people increasingly relying on domestic modes of transportation, particularly cars, for mobility during the pandemic, the spending on auto rentals and tolls consistently exceeded 2019 levels throughout the past two years. Domestic ground travel has seen a robust demand in many Asia Pacific markets where road trips have retained their appeal. Fuel spending has steadily increased in Singapore, Hong Kong, The Philippines, and Australia, whilst public transportation and cruise lines have also firmly stepped back onto the road to recovery, after an initial slow start due to restrictions surrounding group travel.

“Despite a delayed recovery, and numerous risks such as inflation impacting discretionary spending, travelers in Asia Pacific have demonstrated a strong desire to return to travel,” said David Mann, Chief Economist, Asia Pacific and Middle East Africa of the Mastercard Economics Institute. “2022 will prove to be a significant year for the travel industry in Asia Pacific. As border restrictions relax, we have witnessed an accelerated return to travel that indicates cause for optimism, with the region poised to swiftly catch up with the rest of the world.”

Comprehensive Support to Travelers & the Tourism Sector

Mastercard delivers peace of mind, convenience and value for consumers and businesses of all sizes as they adjust to the return of travel. Whether their journey is near or far, consumer, corporate, and T&E cardholders have access to an expanding list of programs, platforms, and partnerships. Mastercard Travel & Lifestyle Services provides travel planning, offers, booking, guarantees, and 24/7 hands-on concierge support. While in destination, Priceless.com gives travelers access to once-in-a-lifetime experiences, benefits and offers like Mastercard Travel Rewards. And, for small business travelers, Mastercard Easy Savings offers discounts and purchasing power at digital business service providers, fine-dining restaurants and international retailers and hotels.

Mastercard is also dedicated to helping the global tourism sector recover and welcome travelers through a range of services, from market analysis and high-frequency data insights that help make sense of changing consumer trends to marketing solutions and consumer engagement strategies that drive brand loyalty and maximize bookings.

You can view the full Travel 2022: Trends and Transitions report here. Other reports from the Mastercard Economics Institute can be found here.  

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1Based on aggregated and anonymized Mastercard switched transactions

2Google Community Mobility Reports, IATA passenger data, and macroeconomic indicators from various national statistics reporting agencies.

3Mastercard switched transactions

4“Experiences” includes tourists spending at restaurants, amusement recreation activities, casinos, nightclubs, bars and other events, while “Things” includes convenience store chains, apparel, cosmetics, sporting goods, jewelry, footwear, bookstores, electronics, toys and department stores. Excludes transportation and lodging expenses

Disclaimer

This presentation and content are intended solely as a research tool for informational purposes and not as investment advice or recommendations for any particular action or investment and should not be relied upon, in whole or in part, as the basis for decision-making or investment purposes. This presentation and content are not guaranteed as to accuracy and are provided on an "as is" basis to authorized users, who review and use this information at their own risk. This presentation and content, including estimated economic forecasts, simulations or scenarios from the Mastercard Economics Institute, do not in any way reflect expectations for (or actual) Mastercard operational or financial performance.

Media Contacts

Ilona-Jade Errington, Mastercard
Carrie Wan, Golin
+852 2501 7976 | cwan@golin.com

About Mastercard Economics Institute

Founded in 2020, the Mastercard Economics Institute draws on unique, high-frequency and actionable economic measurement to give leaders in business and government the insights needed to make thoughtful decisions with better outcomes. ​

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