Amadeus, Skyscanner reports show travel trends changing as COVID-19 changes global tourism

APAC travel market buoyed by last-minute bookings, led by India and Thailand

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Use this oneNew flight booking data released by Amadeus covering the Asia-Pacific region and by Skyscanner that covers global trends, showed that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant effect on flight booking lead times in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region since March 2020. The reports also showed that low-cost carriers (LCCs) have fastest route to recovery, while business travel will require innovation.

Tourist hotspots like Cambodia have suffered greatly from the shutdowns caused by COVID-19. Cambodia has lost at least US$5 billion in tourism revenue in 2020. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

According to Amadeus’ first COVID-19 Travel Insights bulletin, flight bookings across the APAC region have been made 17 days later on average during the pandemic, compared to the same period in 2018 and 2019. Indian travellers appear to be the most last-minute in the region when it comes to booking flights – making flight bookings on average only 10 days before their departure date between March-July 2020 – followed by Thai and Singaporean travellers, who have been making bookings on average 21 and 25 days prior to departure during the pandemic. The Amadeus bulletin also found that overall booking lead times for international and domestic flights combined have decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic across all 10 of the APAC countries that were studied, except Malaysia where there has been no noticeable change.

India, Australia, Thailand and New Zealand have seen the most significant changes in traveller behaviour, with decreases of 68 percent, 54 percent, 53 percent and 51 percent respectively in flight booking lead times compared to pre-COVID-19 levels. Even in Japan – where booking lead times have remained the longest in the region at 53 days – the booking window has still contracted by 14 percent compared to before the pandemic.

“We expected that a greater number of passengers would prefer to book last minute in light of the uncertainties and changing travel restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and this has been borne out by our flight booking data across APAC,” said Cyril Tetaz, executive vice president, Airlines, Amadeus Asia-Pacific. “This has significant ramifications for our industry as it looks to rebuild. For a start, airlines, hotels and tour operators now have a much shorter window of opportunity to engage travellers, and urgently need to adapt their marketing and business strategies to cater to the nuances of the last-minute market more than ever before.”

The Nepalese government will reopen the country’s borders to international tourists from October 17, 2020, following an almost eight-month-long shutdown. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

Amadeus’ COVID-19 Travel Insights bulletin also looked into the impact that the pandemic has had specifically on domestic flight bookings. While most markets in the region followed a similar pattern of condensed lead times for domestic flights in the COVID-19 era, travellers in Malaysia and the Philippines have so far bucked this trend.

In recent months, Malaysian travellers in particular have been making domestic flight bookings much further ahead than they were typically doing before the pandemic hit – booking domestic flights, on average, 51 days ahead of their departure date between March-July 2020, compared to the country’s average booking lead time of 28 days for domestic flights prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. According to Amadeus’ anonymised data, the same is true of Filipino travellers too, whose average booking lead time has increased by 22 percent for domestic flights during the pandemic.

Tourism in Hong Kong has suffered from a double whappmy of political unrest and the COVID-19 pandemic. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

Skyscanner’s report, The New World of Travel, revealed three shifts in the way travellers are searching for flights in 2020. Global searches for one-way travel peaked in March but continue to trend upward, with the share of searches in August growing by 11 percent compared to 2019. Last month, the share of searches for domestic travel has increased 13 percent globally against a backdrop of changing travel restrictions. And amid ongoing uncertainty, travellers are looking to get away in much shorter timeframes with booking windows of under one week more popular this year than ever before with a 12 percent increase in share of searches compared to 2019.

For Europeans, 24 percent believe it is safe to travel internationally now, compared to 21 percent of travellers in the Americas and just 10 percent in Asia-Pacific. Search patterns for domestic, regional and international flights reflect this sentiment and point towards a multispeed recovery, tied to the global economy and driven by low-cost carriers. Skyscanner’s executives predict that LCCs will have the fastest route to recovery, owing to their business operations and point to point models. At the same time, the decline in business travel revenues for full-service carriers points to an uncertain future for this fare class and a need for innovation.

The report also showed that sustainable travel concerns are no longer top of mind for many travellers. But as destinations previously suffering from over-tourism begin to re-open, the sector has a unique opportunity to redesign old travel patterns and rearchitect the tourism industry for the benefit of local communities, the environment and travellers alike.

A new, complex decision-making process has emerged amongst those willing to travel and it relates to their individual appetite to risk. Factors across five categories – health, financial, social, ethical and recreational are now top of mind. This is shaping a new demographic of travellers – male travellers are more likely to book than female and those with children are more likely to book than those without, according to Skyscanner’s Covid-19 traveller sentiment data.

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