Skift Take

Data is highlighting the shift away from Asia as the epicenter of travel, moving towards the Middle East and Europe. With China looking at its zero-Covid policy as the long-term solution to beating the pandemic, it will be interesting to see how long it takes for the pendulum to swing back.

Asia is finally picking up some momentum in its pandemic recovery, with destinations like Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan drastically reducing restrictions.

Unquestionably, the region continues to rely on the Chinese traveler more so than the rest of the world to achieve full recovery. Still, with the Chinese President Xi still insisting recently that the country’s zero-Covid pandemic response is the best choice and most sustainable way forward, it is unlikely that hordes of Chinese travelers are returning any time soon. 

Asia No Longer Epicenter of Travel

A report by the Centre of Aviation states that Europe will likely become the largest travel region by the end of 2022, taking the title from the Asia Pacific region. While traffic has recovered to 85% of pre-pandemic levels in Europe, it sits at only 45% in Asia Pacific. 

New data from OAG on the busiest airline routes in 2022 similarly shows this shift from the East back to the West. The list of top 10 busiest airline routes between November 2021 and October, based on scheduled seats, looks very differently from the 2019 list. 

Top 10 Busiest Routes by Seat Capacity in 2019 (Left) and 2022 (Right) 

2019DepartArriveMillion seats2022DepartArriveMillion seats
1Hong KongTaipei7.961CairoJeddah3.23
2Kuala LumpurSingapore5.562DubaiRiyadh3.19
3JakartaSingapore5.483New YorkLondon2.84
4BangkokHong Kong4.834DubaiLondon2.69
5Hong KongShanghai4.465Kuala LumpurSingapore2.44
6Hong KongSeoul3.946DubaiJeddah2.42
7Hong KongManila3.857OrlandoSan Juan2.09
8New YorkLondon3.838MumbaiDubai1.97
9BangkokSingapore3.839CairoRiyadh1.91
10JakartaKuala Lumpur3.7910DelhiDubai1.89

Visualized, the difference between 2019 and 2022 is stark. Nine out of the 10 busiest international routes were in Asia Pacific in 2019. Today, Dubai has taken over the role of Hong Kong as the major hub for the busiest routes. 

That said, according to data from OAG, many of the busiest domestic routes are still in Asia Pacific countries. And with strong demand for domestic travel in China, it is extremely likely that this map will be rewritten once Chinese borders reopen.

The return of business travel will likely also shift the ranking of route demand into 2023. The busiest route in 2022 (Cairo to Jeddah) is still only 40 percent of the seat volume of the 2019 busiest route (Hong Kong to Taipei). 

Global Travel Performance Has Stagnated

The differing fortunes of travel sectors and countries is discussed in the latest update of the Skift Travel Health Index by Skift Research.

In September 2022 the global average score of the Index remained at 86 percent of 2019 levels, which is virtually the same score it has seen since June 2022. 

More analysis can be found in our September 2022 Highlights report and on our Skift Travel Health Index data dashboard.

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Tags: china, coronavirus recovery, skift research, skift travel health index

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