After two years with some of the toughest entry and travel restrictions in the world during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Asia-Pacific region looks set for a return to business travel. But geopolitical events as well as the unclear pandemic strategy of some countries have tinged this optimism with a cloudy veneer.
Unlike most countries in North America and Europe, the wave of the omicron variant of Covid-19 in some places in the Asia-Pacific region had still not peaked. Countries like South Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam in mid-March were still seeing record daily levels of new Covid-19 cases, several weeks after the wave peaked in the United States.
And while most experts expect the omicron experience in Asia-Pacific to generally follow the pattern set by the variant – traversing the population with an extremely high workload that recedes relatively quickly with relatively milder results – another factor has upset travel forecasts for the region. Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine has triggered sanctions and reciprocal airspace closures across Europe, prompting international carriers to cancel some Asia-Pacific services and redirect others away of Russia.
The International Air Transport Association suggested this month that ‘sanctions and airspace closures are expected to have a negative impact on travel, mainly between neighboring countries’, particularly as the cost of fuel rises. .
Still, there are many reasons to expect increased levels of international business travel to the Asia-Pacific region in 2022 and beyond. Several countries are beginning to ease travel and entry restrictions or have announced deadlines to do so, and businesses in the region, as in other regions, appear to have a level of pent-up demand for business travel. Whether the resulting volume will increase across the region or recover in particular locations first remains to be seen, but there is a significant gap in this year’s edition of BTN’s Business Travel Index.
Overall, the region’s average total business travel per diem in the fourth quarter of 2021 was very close to its level in the fourth quarter of 2020, only about $2 lower, a decrease of less than $1. %. But this constant average hides dramatic changes, especially in Japan.
The average per diem for business travel in the fourth quarter of 2021 in Tokyo, often the world’s most expensive city in previous editions of the Business Travel Index, fell 38.5% from a year-over-year, and per diems in Osaka-Kobe have fallen by almost 19%. Locations in Australia have started to recover, conversely, with Q4 2021 business travel per diems in Melbourne and Sydney up not just 14% and 27% year-over-year , but also exceeding pre-pandemic levels in the fourth quarter of 2019.
In fact, Australia also appears to be at the forefront of a business travel recovery in 2022, after the federal government in February lifted nearly two years of entry restrictions and allowed foreign visitors fully vaccinated. It’s a move that experts say will help revive demand in the region and could spur other governments in the region to similarly lift restrictions.
“Things are quite optimistic in Australia at the moment, due to all the recent changes in opening borders and easing restrictions,” said Charlene Leiss, president of the Americas for the global travel management company based in Australia. Australia Flight Center Travel Group. “We have already seen a huge increase in the corporate sector.”
Jamie Pherous, chief executive of Australian firm TMC Corporate Travel Management, said “we’re all seeing a very, very strong rebound” after Australia lifted restrictions and forecast the market to strengthen further.
“In order to benefit the local economy and commerce and everything else, [China will] you have to follow suit. Because the world seems to be opening up and learning to live with this virus, which is going from pandemic to endemic, and I don’t think any country wants to be left behind for too long.”
“We’re quite optimistic about the business travel space as we move forward, although we’re also quite cautious if governments start to change their minds again,” he said.
Once on the ground, travelers do not face severe restrictions upon arrival. “Even though we’re still in a restricted situation, we’re pretty much free to go where we want,” Vankeirsbilck said. “Restaurants are fully open.”
Domestic and regional business travel to Africa is returning at a higher rate than international travel. Heavy restrictions imposed by some of the mainland’s major grocery markets remained an obstacle to the growth of international business travel, Birochau said.
South Africa, for example, has traditionally had a lot of business travel from the UK, which started to improve once the UK removed its ‘red list’ which imposed heavy restrictions to travelers from South Africa and other African countries, he said. For Kenya, one of its biggest markets is Dubai, which had banned travel to that and other African countries until last month. Asia, and China in particular, was also a major source of international business travel to Africa.
“China is completely closed, so there is no real opportunity for growth in this market,” Birochau said.