ASIAN travel leaders remain excited over opportunities in the region despite a slowdown of powerhouses China and India, which saw the Asian Development Bank recently lower its growth forecast for the region next year to 6.7 per cent, from 7.3 per cent.
Ho Kwon Ping, executive chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings, said ‘event’ risks were far more worrying for tourism than economic crises. “Tsunami, SARS, bird flu, 9-11, Fukushima, riots in Bangkok – those things really dry up tourism as the perception of risk has a strong negative impact on tourism, whereas economic recessions generally cause business overall to come down gradually, but all of us in the industry are able to deal with it by (using) various strategies; it’s part of the business cycle.
“We’ve been lucky that China was big when European business declined. Now of course we’re a bit worried as China outbound is beginning to slow down, but we all have to take it in our stride and work hard.”
Group CEO of Panorama, Budi Tirtawisata, said he was cautious, but the industry remained promising.
“Indonesia’s economy has been centred on energy and mining, but now it’s consumer products and services. Demand from the middle-class, affluent consumer has reached the momentum that we’ve all been waiting for – it keeps increasing and we need to keep the supply up. The opportunities in Indonesia alone are vast, thanks to infrastructure development and increased connectivity. We have to tap the momentum.”
He expects the group, whose business is tourism, transportation and hospitality, to grow 20 to 25 per cent this year, as it did last year. It is building 20 to 25 hotels in Indonesia in the next five years, its three brands catering to the affluent middle class – The BnB (budget), The 101 (three star) and The Haven (four star).
Another CEO who expects high growth to continue is Madhavan Menon, managing director of Thomas Cook (India). “In India, the middle class is not affected by the economy. Travel demand is growing faster than the slowdown in the economy. New travellers are emerging all the time, while the priority for holidaying has increased.
“I see India as an outbound country, while domestic travel is picking up and we’re getting into it. Domestic is localised, specialised; as a national and international player, we don’t have the ability but I’m going to do it. I’m not one to let opportunities go just like that.”