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Travel and Tourism Finds New Optimism in Asia

At this year's Global Travel and Tourism summit in Beijing, there was recognition that the industry still is recovering, there was realism about the unpredictable markets - but there was also optimism.

Hotel room keycard on table
Altrendo Travel | Getty Images
Hotel room keycard on table

Despite the downturn, the sector employs 235 million people, which is equivalent to 8.2 percent of all employment globally.

2009 will go down in history books as the worst year ever for air travel demand, yet, that year, Travel and Tourism generated 9.4 percent of world GDP.

Tourism in Greece and Thailand, two of the most important holiday hotspots, has fallen by as much as 30-50 percent in some places due to the often violent protest activities that have been seen over the past months (in Greece, due to the government imposed austerity packages, in Thailand, because of anti-government protests).

However Jean-Claude Baumgarten, President and CEO of the World Travel and Tourism Council, says that this won't hit global tourism as such, as people simply will travel somewhere else and spend their money.

Much of the hotel sector was under pressure during the recession as hotels were forced to slash room rates and new building stalled.

While hotels are still trying to get revenue per available room to match relatively healthy volumes, Arthur de Haast, Global CEO for Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels, told CNBC that he had definitely seen a positive shift in the willingness of hotel groups to buy assets.

Many of the assets coming to market have seen sharp price recoveries, and buyers are willing to fight for them.

Also, with construction costs still down around 30 percent, it is a lot cheaper to expand. This is exactly what Marriott is doing.

Bill Marriott, the Chairman and CEO of Mariott International, underlined in a CNBC interview that the growth was in Asia, which is why they are building more hotels there.

While the Chinese consumer market (the money people spend) may be around 3-5 times smaller than that of the US, Chinese consumption is growing by 15-20 percent, compared with a 3 percent rise in the US.

And with a predicted 1.9 billion domestic travelers in China within the next few years, it is not hard to see why Marriott is going east.

While I was in Beijing the Chinese government again underlined that it has made Travel and Tourism one of its top five most important areas to support and focus on.

Bill Marriott told CNBC he wished all governments would wake up to the importance of properly supporting the industry.

It will be interesting to see if and how the new UK government does this.