Filling in the ‘China vacuum’

SEPANG: With the huge China market yet to fully recover from the pandemic, airlines based in the country are targeting South Korean and Indian tourists, say industry leaders.

Speaking at a forum held in conjunction with the CAPA Asia Aviation Summit and Sustainability Awards 2023 here yesterday, they said the South Korean and Indian tourist markets were showing promise with an increase in arrivals.

Air Asia X chief executive officer Benyamin Ismail said both markets, which he described as “star performers”, were stepping up to fill the China vacuum.

“Arrivals have been very good. We have seen 30% to 40% and more of these (South Korean and Indian) travellers coming to Malaysia and then going on to countries like Australia as well as other markets in the region such as Thailand,” he said.

International Air Transport Association (IATA) senior principal Thomas Pellegrin said the travel radar pointed to South Korean tourists being poised to take over from Chinese travellers here.

“China is however slated to recover slowly,” he said, adding that China had begun issuing passports to its citizens from January besides relaxing inbound Covid-19 quarantine measures.

“We are still counting on some of these segments, which can include group travellers,” he said.

Scoot chief executive officer Leslie Thng said its China market was gradually improving, but the difference was that there was not as many travel groups coming in.

“The way we marketed and sold during the pre-Covid period was targeted towards groups, but groups are not coming now.

“Instead, we see many independent travellers heading into Singapore and other Asean countries.

“We need to find a way to penetrate this market,” he said.

Thng said China was on the right path of post-Covid-19 recovery, adding that the airline would continue to enhance its services.

Transport Minister Anthony Loke, who was also a panellist at the forum, said there was a need to expand beyond traditional markets like China, adding that South Korea and Turkiye were equally important.

He said there were only slightly over one million tourists coming from China presently, which he said was about a third of pre-pandemic arrivals from there.

“It is still challenging. In terms of Chinese tourist arrivals, we have not seen it reach pre-pandemic levels,” he added.

The minister said Malaysia experienced strong growth in the domestic flight sector which was restored to pre-pandemic levels.

“We are currently between 70% and 80% for passenger movement compared with before Covid-19.

“Our regional markets have recovered, with the exception of China,” he said, adding that this could be due to the slow opening of the Chinese market.

The “CAPA Think Tank: A Meeting of the Minds” forum was part of CAPA’s regional summit series and is highly regarded as an industry benchmark event across Asia offering valuable networking opportunities and unique insights.

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