Sustained Demand as Asian Travel Market shrugs off Fuel Surcharges in First Half 2006

Travel News Asia Wednesday, 16 August 2006

Abacus mid-year snapshot of the Asian travel industry shows sustained demand across the region even as rising fuel bills increased real costs for travellers.

The first half of 2006 has been a real test for the travel market, and the continuing growth shows we have come through with flying colours. Were seeing an active and vibrant market with relatively inflexible demand even though airlines have been forced to pass on rising fuel costs to the traveller, said Abacus International President and CEO, Don Birch.

The rise of India and China, supported by a build up of latent demand in hotspots such as Vietnam and Indonesia and the impact of low cost carriers (LCCs) are all making their impact felt in the emerging picture, Mr Birch added.

Leadership position

The Asian region is consolidating its position as one of the most dynamic regional travel markets in the world, driven by some of the highest rates of economic growth.

IATA figures for the six months to June 2006 show an overall 6.2% growth in revenue passenger kilometres (RPK) for Asia Pacific over the corresponding six months from 2005. This placed the region third fastest grower after the exceptional performance of the Middle East (17.3%) and Africa (7.6%).

Even more significantly, Asia Pacific is the most profitable region for the global airline industry with IATA projecting 2006 net profits of positive US$1.7 billion against a backdrop of an overall global airline industry loss of US$3 billion for the year.

The region had relatively high and improving passenger load factors achieving a 73.8% passenger load factor on the back of RPK growing at approximately twice the rate of new capacity.

India was a prime mover during the period (with a marked increase in domestic travel), while other growth players China Vietnam and Indonesia provided underlying confidence to the market, although Thailand and Malaysia experienced some turbulence.

India on the move

Abacus statistics show that in travel terms, India is making some progress towards fulfilling its Incredible India marketing moniker, with new classes of leisure and domestic traveller adding to the nations existing strengths in corporate travel.

While Indias total market for domestic travel grew by a remarkable 24% YTD June 2006, Abacus itself grew domestic booking numbers by more than three times that rate over the period.

Domestic traffic is poised to keep growing at 25% per annum from 2005 to 2010. India will also add five million additional passengers every year and the market size will grow to 50 million by 2010 according to CAPA (Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation).

Economic reforms, annual growth rates of 7+% and unprecedented growth in the software and back-office service sectors have created a new, younger and wealthier middle class which will eventually be larger than the entire population of the United States as the 45% of Indians under the age of 20, said Mr Birch. 

14 bilateral agreements signed by India during 2005 under its Open Skies policy are beginning to translate into more foreign airlines routing into India and previously purely domestic carriers being permitted to fly abroad - generating more seats and driving competitive fares despite increased fuel charges. 

A recent report by InterVISTAS on the economic impact of Air Service Liberalisation found typical traffic growth of 12 - 35% subsequent to liberalisation and a number of situations resulting in 50% plus growth providing some idea of the potential unleashed by these changes in India, Don Birch said.

On paper, India has some very promising developments in airport infrastructure with Bangalore and Hyderabad in line for new international airports. As many as 30 smaller airports will be re-positioned as international airports (e.g. Nagpur, Gaya) eventually creating more exit and entry points for travellers depending on the ability to drive through these changes which the jury is still out on, he added.

The industry serving this market is getting more sophisticated with travel portals such as, and starting to impact on the traditional travel agents. Portals such as these now make up more than 5% of Abacus business in this market, up from a practically nil just a year ago.

We expect rapid growth in Indias online travel market with more than 100 million internet users expected by 2007/8 and IAMA (Internet and Mobile Association of India) projecting travel and related services to account for more than 55per cent of all online purchases, Mr Birch said.

The Low Cost Carrier (LCC) category is very dynamic in India, with three existing low-cost operators helping to maintain the momentum of traffic growth and develop new destinations while a further five start up operations are lined up for 2006.

It is projected that LCCs will increase their market share to 30-35% in 2006 and will likely to push the bounds further with Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation projecting that this category will capture 60-70% of the Indian market by 2010.

Other sectors of the travel market are well poised to capitalise on the increase in air travel with HVS International reporting 40,000 hotel rooms currently under planning or construction to enter the Indian market by 2009.

In other developments in this region, Abacus recorded more than 50% growth in FIT bookings for the neighbouring Pakistan market, making it the star market in South Asia for YTD June 2006.

Chinas charge

Latest Abacus figures show a compound average growth rate of 37% over 2003 to 2006, including 12% YTD growth in May 2006 consistent with the 12% growth rate for the total Global Distribution System (GDS) market in China over this period.

China total departures 1999-2004 (in 000s)

Source: 1999-2003 from National Tourism Association, WTO, 2004 from Euromonitor

There has been a marked increase in the proportion of private outbound travellers from just 39% in 1993 to 80% in 2004, and a corresponding decline in the proportion of business travellers as the Chinese Government has greatly widened the number of countries with Approved Destination Status (ADS) for organised Chinese tourist groups. As part of this relaxation of Chinese Government rules about private travel traveller can now sponsor themselves.

The impacts of these moves are shown in the performance of the China to Philippines market which increased by 245% in fourth quarter 2005 (PATA), a nearly 25% increase in the number of travellers through Beijing Airport in the year to April 2006 (Beijing Capital International Airport Company) and projected 14% annual growth for Chinas Aviation market over the next five years (Globalysis Ltd).

In China there are close to180 million urban households, with per capita disposable income growing by 9.6% growth from 2003 to 2004 alone (National Bureau of Statistics). We are seeing the emergence of the no-child household by choice and a new generation of Chinese on the east coast with more time and money to focus on the 4cs of career, condominium, car and club membership with considerable positive upside for travel. 

China GDP continues to grow in the range of 8-10% with a continued huge inflow of Foreign Direct Investment (FDIs); a growing made-in-China advantage. positive WTO Commitments, further liberalisations and more developed legal and financial frameworks in the pipeline.  Reflecting these positive factors, international inbound arrivals were up 1.8% off a massive base of 28.2 million in 2005 in YTD May 2006 figures from PATA.

Hong Kong

Abacus achieved CAGR of 15% over 2003 to 2006, with marginal growth in YTD May 2006 while the total GDS market in Hong Kong grew at 8% over this period.

South Korea

Abacus achieved CAGR of 37% over 2003 to 2006, including 42% YTD total booking growth in May 2006 ahead of a 33% growth rate for the total GDS market in Korea over this period.


Abacus achieved CAGR of 15% over 2003 to 2006, with 6.5% growth in booking numbers YTD May 2006 while the total GDS market in Taiwan grew at 5% over this period.


Abacus achieved nearly 9% growth in FIT bookings in this market, although the overall market grew even faster than this, especially on the performance of Pacific Airlines the fastest growing domestic carrier as this market grew to more than 1.5 million in-bound arrivals (+12%) YTD May 2006 (PATA). Developments in this market are consistent with a long term trend towards more interest-based rather than destination-based travel in the region with Vietnam offering many opportunities for unique activities such as cultural/heritage and adventure tourism. The World Travel and Tourism Council is projecting sustained travel demand growth of 7.5% a year over the next decade.


WTTC figures point to Indonesia being a major growth force in the tourism and travel industry for the year ahead with the local travel and tourism economys current 7.3 million jobs expected to increase to nearly 10 million by 2016 and a steady 5-6% per annum growth across a broad range of travel indicators over the coming decade.


LCCs such as Jetstar Asia and AirAsia are making strong inroads against traditional carriers as PATA recorded a YTD May 2006 growth rate of nearly 19% for inbound international travel for this market.


In many respects Singapore is the archetype of the travel market of the future, characterised by high internet penetration, willingness of consumers to make purchases online, low cost carriers stimulating purchases online and travel agents adopting online strategies. Reflecting this Abacus itself is focusing on online strategies, assisting and encouraging travel agents to invest in technologies and online stores. The advent of the integrated resorts will further spur inbound traffic into Singapore which PATA figures show to have grown by 14.6% YTD May 2006.

Several markets were impacted by political factors during the first half of 2006


With strong customer segments including workers, seamen, students, soldiers, Group, Leisure, Corporate/Business and Government travellers Malaysia boasts a very strong domestic booking segment of about 11 million segments while the international booking segment generated about 5 million segments.

The tourism industry in Malaysia has been emerging rapidly, and is now the second highest income generator for Malaysia. i.e. RM30 billion with about RM170 million allocated to the tourism Industry by Government of Malaysia to stimulate travel.

Both inbound and outbound Tourism were setback by almost 30% because of high airfares due to fuel surcharges imposed since 2005, together with admin charges and airport taxes. Consumers are reluctant to travel overseas with a poor response to first quarter travel fairs such as MATTA and MATF (MH Fair). To stimulate travel the Ministry of Tourism is also conducting aggressive marketing campaign outside Malaysia for 2007.

LCCs have definitely stimulated travel for the lower income group. Six million people have already travelled on Air Asia since it started operation four years ago and the LCC aircraft fleet will increase gradually to 100 aircraft from current fleet of 30 aircrafts.

The Malaysian Government rationalised routes effective 1 August 2006 allowing Air Asia to focus on domestic operations while the national carrier Malaysia Airlines (MAS) concentrates on international routes. This is likely to see a major cut in the number of domestic routes flown although we note the teething problems apparent in the agreement between the parties. Air Asia in particular is doing various promotion campaigns in local newspaper and TVs by offering airfare as low as RM9.99 per sector to boost load factors.

The government continues to build good infrastructure such as airport, road and highways and private sectors building more five star hotels, etc. Overall, Malaysias Tourism industry will continue to grow by about 5-10% annually in-spite of rising airfares for both international/domestic.


While Abacus Thailand booking numbers were up 5% for YTD June 2006 the countrys uncertain political climate is hampering the travel markets previously strong recovery from the effects of Tsunami. Abacus estimates the total market will shrink by up to 30% due to political uncertainty. A curtailment of spending by the caretaker Government is affecting the travel industry both directly, via constraints on government officials travelling, and indirectly via the curtailment of major infrastructure projects and spending generally, suppressing economic activity.

With the next general election set for October 25 there are still fears this may be postponed due to ongoing constitutional issues. This is gravely detrimental to the travel industry as a whole as people cannot plan or are in no mood to plan for holidays this year-end.

The prolonged terrorist attacks in the deep south will continue to hurt the inbound market. Hadyai and others are not optimistic about the inbounds this year.

A recent increase in bird flu reports has caused concern to locals and foreigners alike with some erosion of trust of the Governments positions on this issue.

Although, the Thai people are adjusting to the increasing fuel costs, as in other markets, it has certainly dampened the spirit and the willingness to spend. Surcharges on airtickets are increasing, offsetting the benefits of the lower fares offered.

Other countries to be affected by political instability and perceived safety risks in 2006 include Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and the Philippines.

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