While Southeast Asia’s tourism sector had a strong year in 2023, Malaysia led the region with the highest number of foreign tourist arrivals, with 26 million reported for the first 11 months of the year. Thailand was close behind at 24.6 million. Vietnam, with 12.6 million foreign tourists, was still only at 70% of pre-pandemic levels. In terms of full recovery from 2019, Cambodia was at 92.48%. The easiest way to explain the results for 2023 in Southeast Asia is to just point at China. Those countries heavily dependent on Chinese visitation had an up and down year with a slow first half and a better second half. The anticipation of Chinese tourists returning to the region is high with airlines preparing to restore and increase flight connections in 2024.
Vietnam’s National Authority of Tourism outlined ambitious goals for 2024, aiming to match the pre-pandemic levels of tourism. Vietnam’s track record with meeting expectations, in terms of tourism, resorts and casinos, is not very good. South Korea, mainland China and Taiwan were said to be the top contributors to tourism numbers in Vietnam in 2023. Challenges such as inflation, economic downturns and unforeseen geopolitical events remain concerns for the industry.
The Philippines Department of Tourism said they welcomed more than five million international tourist arrivals in 2023, recording more than PHP480 billion in international tourism receipts. That is above their target of 4.8 million with South Korea retaining its top spot, with the Philippines getting 26.41% of international visitors from there. The United States was a distant second at 16.57%. The international tourism receipts of PHP482.54 billion beat pre-pandemic levels of PHP482.15 billion in 2019. That was with only 66% of 2019 levels for international visitor arrivals.
The New Year’s Day holiday brought in 14.479 million tourists to Guangdong Province between December 30th and January 1st. That is actually up 8.5% from that same period in 2019. Tourism revenue reached 8.9 billion yuan, up 12.1% from that period in 2019. Macau welcomed a total of 399,100 visitor arrivals during the three days of New Year’s holiday. The 175,000 that visited on New Year’s Eve was a new post-pandemic high. The average daily visitor arrival figure of 133,000 during the period was 10% higher than in 2019.
Thailand and China have agreed to permanently waive visa requirements for their citizens from March. The decision is aimed at enhancing bilateral relations and tourism. While others may try to do the same, for now Thailand is positioned as a central player in the region’s economic and cultural exchange. The visa waiver program trial introduced in December was an initial success with over 22,000 Chinese tourists entering in the first two days. Then came the mall shooting in October which was a setback.
Channel News Asia reported budget accommodations in Singapore now exceeds pre-pandemic levels by 7.3%. The Singapore Tourism Board said there were 123 licensed economy-tiered accommodation operations in March 2020 with just 110 operations when the borders reopened in April 2022. By November of 2023 that rose to 132. The STB said they expect 2024 to see the budget accommodation sector get more competitive as operators jostle for a slice of the tourism pie.
Dusit Hotels and Resorts announced the soft opening of Dusit Princess Phatthalung, the 15th Dusit-branded property in Thailand and its first in the far south of the country. The hotel includes 132 guestrooms and suites spanning up to 79 square meters. Dusit hopes the ‘resort in the city’ themed four star hotel raises the bar for leisure and business stays in Phatthalung, just a one hour drive from Trang Airport. The resort includes various food and beverage choices and meeting and event options including a ballroom accommodating up to 300 guests. Other amenities include a large, sculptured swimming pool with adjoining children’s pool, and open spaces for Yoga and Muay Thai classes, nature inspired activities and regular events showcasing the handiwork of local artisans.
Regal Hotels International Holdings Ltd is partnering with the Ministry of Investment of Saudi Arabia to build about 100 hotels around the world worth US$5 billion with an emphasis on the Middle East. Poman Lo, Vice Chairman and Managing Director of Regal, said they will have about 30 hotels in Saudi Arabia. Given the deepening ties with Saudi Arabia and China, Lo believes Hong Kong can play a super connector role. Regal plans to build the hotels under the iclub brand, targeting entrepreneurs. It will take until 2035 to complete the construction of all the hotels with Saudi Arabia’s investment ministry helping to secure funds for the projects. Regal said they are open to accepting capital from investors in mainland China and Hong Kong, Japan, Southeast Asia and China. Regal has 19 hotels with the majority in Hong Kong.
Pacific Eagle Real Estate, controlled by Indonesian pulp and paper billionaire Sukanto Tanoto, has bought a Shanghai luxury hotel from cash-strapped Chinese developer Dalian Wanda Group. Real estate website Mingtiandi reported Pacific Eagle could have paid as much as 1.7 billion yuan (US$240 million) for the Wanda Reign on the Bund, a 193 room luxury hotel in Shanghai’s historic Bund waterfront district. Wanda reported spent 3.4 billion yuan to build what they called a 7-star hotel.
Club Med announced the official opening of Club Med Kiroro Grand, nestled in the heart of Hokkaido’s Kiroro region in Japan. The area is known for their extended 160 day winter and is part of Club Med’s commitment to Hokkaido ski destination where they have been present since 1986 with its first Mountain Resort, Club Med Kiroro. The new resort includes 266 guestrooms, director access to 23 diverse ski courses, and Club Med’s first traditional Japanese Onsen as well as the Club Med Spa. There are four distinctive restaurants and a vibrant main bar.
H World Group said Jihong He will step down as its Finance Chief and will serve as its Chief Strategy Officer. Jun Zou, Executive Vice President of the company, has been appointed as CFO.
Olivier Lim has taken over as the new Chairman of the Singapore Tourism Board. This follows Chaly Mah Chee Kheong stepping down. Lim is also currently Chairman of PropertyGuru Group and Starhub and is Lead Independent Director of DBS Group Holdings and DBS Bank.