Leisure travel to new locations emerges top choice this year
China's reopening post-Covid regulations is a positive step forward
The recently released ‘Travel Industry Trends 2023’ provides important insights into the current state of travel around the world, which is characterised by evolving economic landscapes, enduring consumer demands and reopening of mainland China. Recent findings from the Mastercard Economics Institute show that customers will prioritise leisure travel this year and will open up new routes across the globe. They will also take use of a more traditional travel ecosystem.
The 2023 prognosis is shaped by post-pandemic preferences for experiences over things and a persistent demand for leisure travel in the face of a shifting economic situation.
Business travel, which had initially lagged behind pleasure travel, started gaining ground in the second half of 2022, particularly in societies where returning to work was valued highly.
According to Mastercard Economics Institute’s predictions, reopening of mainland China will boost global growth with a focus on Asia Pacific, despite an uncertain economy causing some cross-market turmoil.
Key findings-Leisure and business travel are growing at the same pace:
1. Driven by the long-awaited lifting of travel restrictions in Asia, global leisure travel remains robust, with flight bookings up roughly 31 per cent this March compared to the same month in 2019.
2. In the second half of 2022 into early 2023, corporate flight bookings caught up to leisure flight bookings driven by regions with a strong return to office culture.
3. Global leisure and business travel are now growing at the same rate. Insights show demand for in-person meetings, with the most significant growth in commercial travel and entertainment expenses being led by Asia Pacific and Europe up 64 per cent and 42 per cent, respectively, between January and March 2023.
Mainland China's reopening after stringent Covid regulations comes at a time when it is likely to have a positive impact on the experience economy as pent-up demand for travel is expected to drive strong tailwinds. By March, spending on experiences was notably 93 per cent of where it was in 2019 despite minimal travel last year.
Economies in the Asia Pacific region could be obvious beneficiaries of China's opening, given their strong ties to international trade, tourism, and geographical proximity. Based on Mastercard Economics Institute estimates, other countries that are expected to benefit include Germany, France and Brazil, which could see a boost in their exports to China as the economy recovers.
New corridors: As consumers are enjoying higher incomes and returning to some level of pre-pandemic comfort, they're also starting to venture further from home to new locations. For travellers from the Asia Pacific region, the United States and Australia remain favourite destinations for spring and summer journeys. Beginning in late 2022, visitors to Hong Kong SAR started to increase, with the destination edging its way into the top 10 list and soaring to #3 in February. Luxury travel experiences, such as splurging on high-end accommodation and luxury travel in places like France and Italy, will likely entice Chinese tourists emerging from a zero-Covid environment to rejoin the experience economy.
Tourists prioritise experiences: Preference for experiences over things persists, and travellers are demonstrating new demand for the unique. Potentially influenced by social media and entertainment, travellers are landing in lesser-known destinations in search of cultural immersion. As of March, global spending on experiences was up 65 per cent while spending on things is up 12 per cent compared to 2019.
Experience-oriented spending is surging in certain corridors where pandemic lockdowns have expired, but Chinese tourists, who traditionally over-index on luxury retail compared to other tourists, could boost goods spending across markets.
"In 2023, travel came roaring back in Asia as China re-opened its borders and other markets eased the last of their pandemic-era travel restrictions," said David Mann, Chief Economist for Asia at the Mastercard Economics Institute. "As people around the world prioritise experiences over things, the strong demand for travel is expected to last far beyond the initial 'revenge travel' bump. As we look ahead to the peak summer travel season, the big question is whether flight and accommodation supply can keep up with the rising demand."
Travellers want a good experience from the time they book their plane ticket to the first step they put on new soil, and companies that understand this are better positioned to establish longer and more valuable relationships with their consumers. This key shift in expectations has already started to change not only how companies work with their consumers, but also the way in which we travel. And though consumer behaviour will continue to shift alongside the macroeconomic environment, providing more choice in how to pay (like redeeming points for bookings) and tailoring experiences, recommendations and offers are just two strategies that keep the individual traveller at the center of engagement.
Mastercard helps global tourism sector recover with a range of services, including market analysis and high-frequency data insights.