On Friday, the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) released some preliminary figures on the tourism sector’s performance in the Asia-Pacific region in 2009.
The organisation’s estimates indicate that the number of international visitors to the region fell by around 3 per cent year-on-year in 2009. The good news though, is that the drop in international arrivals was not as bad as the industry feared; more so if you look at the 6 per cent decline in international arrivals to Asia-Pacific in the first half of last year. These numbers are also in sync with the figures released by the UNWTO several weeks ago.
PATA also says that the only sub-region in Asia-Pacific to chalk-up full year gains in 2009 was Southeast Asia. And from this sub-region, countries that drew more international arrivals last year included Myanmar (+26 per cent), Malaysia (+7 per cent), Indonesia (+1 per cent) and Cambodia (+2 per cent).
For India, though, there doesn’t appear to be much to cheer about. PATA says: “South Asia recorded a three per cent decline in visitor arrivals in 2009, driven by a similar three per cent fall in arrivals to India.” India’s Tourism Ministry also indicates that international arrivals dropped to 5.11 million in 2009, down from 5.28 million in 2008; a drop of approximately 3.3 per cent. Of course, these are preliminary numbers and not the final ones, which could be very different!
What is encouraging for India though, is that there was a pretty sharp rise in foreign tourist arrivals in December 2009; 21 per cent over December 2008. Foreign tourist arrival numbers for January and February this year also seem pretty healthy when compared to last year.
Despite this, I wonder if it isn’t a trifle premature to talk about India’s tourism industry being back on track as the country’s Tourism Minister did on Saturday. I’m also not too sure if there’s any real substance in the Minister’s statement that visas on arrival for citizens of Singapore, Finland, New Zealand, Luxembourg and Japan are going to boost arrivals this year — none of these countries is a major source market for India, at least in terms of numbers. On the contrary, figures from India’s Tourism Ministry itself show that these countries together accounted for less than 10 per cent of international arrivals in 2008; while the UK alone accounted for 14.7 per cent of international arrivals in the same year!
Meanwhile, Kerala Tourism has been uncharacteristically quiet on its numbers for the last year. In almost a decade of writing on tourism, I’ve generally found Kerala Tourism to be quite candid about sharing its tourist numbers, with detailed statistics from 2003 onwards available on its Web site. It’s another matter, of course, that there have been questions about the reliability of some of these numbers.
Kerala Tourism has, however, so far not published the figures for 2009. There was this report in The Hindu announcing that Kerala had registered a 17 per cent growth in tourist arrivals in 2009. It appears that this is a consolidated figure calculated by considering both foreign and domestic tourist arrivals.
The report is based on a comment made by Kerala’s Tourism Minister at an event in Kochi. The Minister also appears to have added that the 17 per cent year-on-year growth in arrivals in 2009 is due to an increase in the arrival of domestic tourists in Kerala.
However, there has so far been no mention of just how many foreign and domestic tourists visited Kerala last year. Which makes me wonder whether foreign tourist arrivals to Kerala entered negative territory in 2009. If there indeed was a dip in international tourist arrivals last year, it will be the second such drop in almost a decade — in 2001 there was a marginal 0.53 per cent fall in foreign tourist arrivals to the State.
So I am quite looking forward to the ‘official’ numbers from Kerala Tourism. What I am also interested in seeing is just where domestic tourism fits into the picture in the months ahead. For while it is clear that domestic tourism is growing, what is not yet clear is its impact on revenues. For instance, does revenue generated by an increase in domestic tourist arrivals balance possible revenue drops from a fall in foreign tourist arrivals. And this applies to India as much as it does to Kerala. Finding concrete answers will require more number crunching, I guess.