Tourism is back — with a vengeance. The visitor numbers areon the upswing everywhere, but certain destinations have done exceptionally well. Last year, the travel trade found a pathway to recovery. This year may be known as the year when tourism figures will most probably eclipse the previous, pre-pandemic highs.
Three months into 2023, certain destinations are reporting record jump in visitors, overshooting previous travel numbers — with countries like Thailand getting as high as 1,500 per cent jump in tourism arrivals.
Thanks to what is now known as “revenge travel” — the phenomenon of people booking trips and going on vacation as a means to 'take revenge' against the pandemic — tourists by the millions are out to make up for the lost time by taking that much-awaited trip, or treat oneself after a long period of fear and uncertainty.
These are the top destinations seeing a big surge in travel numbers:
Armenia is listed by Forbes as one of the top travel destinations in 2023, not least due to the attraction of the Caucasus Mountains and Lake Sevan, as well as several historic architectural treasures, such as the Temple of Garni and the Monastery of Haghpat, both of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Those who prefer hiking, the 861 kilometers (535 miles) of the Transcaucasian Trail that runs across Armenia provide unmatched opportunities.
Of late, tourism numbers had been up: 159,475 foreign tourists visited Armenia in January 2023, up 69 per cent from 94,339 who visited the country in January 2022, the Armenian Tourism Committee reported.
The country is also well known for its delectable food — such as the “khash” thick soup, “manti” baked dumplings, and, of course, homemade pickles with every meal. Armenia is a key destination for weekend wanderers and visitors from the UAE.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Dubai, in the UAE, ranks first regionally and second globally, in the Top 100 City Destinations Index 2022, published by Euromonitor International. Dubai welcomed 14.36 million overnight visitors in January to December 2022, with the highest number of international guests from India at 1.8 million, according to data from the Dubai Department of Economy and Tourism (DET).
Dubai is one of the top 5 most-visited cities in the world, according to Travel Medium. The city's room inventory actually rose by 16 per cent in 2022, and average occupancy from January-December 2022 was a few points shy of hitting pre-pandemic level. In January 2023, Dubai welcomed 1.47 million overnight visitors, according to DET.
On January 18, 2023, Dubai was crowned the No.1 global destination in the Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards for a second successive year, consolidating its position as the world’s favourite tourist destination. The award bolsters the recently-launched Dubai Economic Agenda D33 to consolidate the emirates’ status as one of the world’s top three destinations for tourism and business.
In 2022, inbound tourism numbers in Georgia already reached pre-pandemic levels. And the numbers are bound to increase, thanks to increased tourism promotion drive by the Tbilisi government.
From 7-9 March 2023, Georgia will be the official guest country at the world’s largest tourism trade fair, ITB, in Berlin, Germany. The event will be help Georgia further promote tourism, including for investment in its tourism sector. Georgia is a popular destination for tourists from the UAE.
From March 1, 2023, masks are no longer required both indoors and outdoors, including on public transport. Even before this full relaxation of travel curbs, January tourist arrivals has already soared 70 times year-on-year vs December's 16 times growth, Reuters reported.
Jewellery and watch sales were also up 23.1 per cent year-on-year vs December's 4.9 per cent fall. And the government sees a rebound of visitor numbers to support retail. January retail sales grew 7% from a year earlier in value terms to stand at $4.61 billion. With the full relaxation of pandemic mandates, the special administrative region is expected to continue making significant progress in visitor numbers.
Thailand, South-east Asia
Due in part to the busy travel season and China's reopening, 2.14 million foreign travelers arrived in Thailand in January alone. According to information from the Thai Ministry of Tourism and Sports issued on February 28, arrivals increased by more than 1,500 per cent in January compared to the same month last year.
The rest of Southeast Asia mirrors Thailand. China’s reopening continues to help Asean. One result: Asia’s tourism and consumer stocks climbed on expectations that more Chinese may travel as pandemic-related restrictions lift, Bloomberg reported.
Another result: Hotel rates are at an “all-time high,” Alan Watts, Hilton’s Asia-Pacific president, told CNBC. Rates are being fueled by travel demand that is like “a feast … to offset the famine,” he said, referencing the pandemic.
Average daily rates have increased by 8% in the fourth quarter of 2022, for Hilton, compared with the same period in 2019. Similarly, Marriott and IHG hiked prices by 13%, while Hyatt had a 14% daily rate increase.
Saudi Arabia is targeting to receive 25 million foreign tourists in 2023 as part of efforts to diversify the kingdom’s economy and bolster tourism. The country saw 16.5 million tourists last year, Saudi Minister of Tourism Ahmad Al Khatib said, adding that the kingdom is expected to hold the world’s 17th rank in terms of tourist attraction, an increase of 94 per cent compared to the pre-epidemic time.
The overall tourism spending last year amounted to SR185 billion, a 93 per cent jump from 2021, the official added. The kingdom has already exceeded the 2019 figures to emerge as the leading country in registering record numbers among the Group of 20 (G20) countries. G20, a forum of the world’s largest economies, comprises 19 countries and the European Union.
The significant rise in travel to Asia is matched by an equally sharp rise in travel to Europe, which has tweaked its travel rules.
For example, a total of 4.1 million international tourists came to Spain in January this year, representing an increase of 65.8 per cent compared to the same month last year, according to data released by the National Institute of Statistics (INE) this week, SchengenVisaInfo.com reported.
In 2022, 71.6 million foreign tourists visited Spain, up 130% compared to 2021, but still 14% less than in the pre-Covid year 2019. But in January 2023, Spain had more foreign tourists in January than three years earlier — just before the pandemic.
In particular, the Balearic islands of Mallorca, Ibiza and Menorca, the previous big-hitters, are back with a vengeance with their year-round sunshine in the Mediterranean Sea. Canary Islands — Tenerife and the lesser-known La Gomera and La Palma — have also seen their tourism industry regaining their vibrancy. Sun-seekers also find their way to beach destinations on the mainland such as the Costa de la Luz and Catalonia.
Kenya's earnings from tourism rose to $2.13 billion in 2022 compared to $1.16 billion in 2021, according to data released by the state-owned Tourism Research Institute (TRI). The country's tourist arrivals in 2022 was 1.48 million, a 70.45 per cent jump as compared to 870,465 arrivals in 2021. The numbers show sustained progress toward pre-pandemic visitor arrivals.
Tourism is one of Kenya's leading dollar earners. The US was the leading source of foreign tourists with 209,360, followed closely by Uganda, Britain, and Tanzania. In February, after three years of pandemic curbs, tourism officials in Nairobi received the first group of 40 Chinese tourists on board a Southern Airlines flight from Guangzhou.
As travelers, especially from neighbouring US and Canada, take advantage of the first “normal” Spring break since the pandemic, Los Cabos in Mexico is now rated as “the next Cancun”.
In 2022, 13 million US tourists visited the neighbouring country. This year, the numbers are expected to go even higher. Unlike Cancun, famous for its luxurious resorts, this twin destination of "The Capes” — which includes both Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo — rose to prominence among travellers, as a much more relaxed alternative that’s yet to be overrun by the hordes of visitors.
Tourism service providers from Moldova, Romania, Montenegro, Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Albania are make a big push to increase their share of the post-pandemic tourism market.
The Balkans are undoubtedly one of Europe's last unique destinations — as more people want to visit the region because of its diversity in culture, natural beauty, beaches, and skiing.
Furthermore, the region provides excellent value for money, particularly for non-EU countries, with Albania being one of the most promising locations. Albania offers encouraging results of developing a thriving tourism business.
Albania has strong indicators of a huge tourism bump, with travel magazine Conde Nast seeing almost double the number of bookings in 2022 than it enjoyed in the same period in 2019.
For the Balkans in general, most people have yet to discover it, but flights and tourism infrastructure are in place, and thus there are fewer crowds.
Moreover, Greece and Albania inked a cooperation pact to improve bilateral ties, particularly in the tourism sector. Both countries promised to promote their destinations and boost the number of visitors.
Switzerland has been voted as the safest country in Europe, according to a report published on Gamblino.com. The study used nine variables connected to destination safety: the number of homicides, assaults, and road deaths, the risk of natural disasters, and the global peace index.
According to SchengenVisaInfo.com, the Gamblino.com survey assigned each country a score out of ten for nine key characteristics. Moreover, the 100% Women Initiative of Switzerland Tourism — for the third year running — aims to provide more opportunities for women in outdoor spots.
Swiss authorities have announced 2023 as the year focusing on outdoor activities, such as cycling, hiking and mountaineering to a female audience. On February 25, Xinhua reported that China has already resumed outbound group travel for tourists to 20 countries, including Hungary and Switzerland in Europe.
So far this year, the number of tourists visiting the Maldives has climbed by 25.3% over the same period last year. As of March 4, 2023, there were 375,283 tourists who landed in the Maldives, Tourism Ministry data shows. This represents a 75,790 increase over the 299,493 tourists who visited the Maldives during the same period previous year.
Official tourism data also show that 172,499 tourists visited the Maldives in January and 177,914 in February. So far in March, 24,870 people have visited the archipelago, known for its clear emerald waters, beautiful beaches that stretch as far as the eye can see, and luxurious overwater bungalows.