Tourism eyes sunnier days as worlds top fair opens

BERLIN: The world’s largest tourism fair, the ITB, kicked off today in Berlin with the global travel industry hoping for better times following a crisis-hit 2009.

According to United Nations figures, international tourist arrivals fell by four per cent in 2009 and the earnings from international tourism dropped by six per cent as the world economy went into a tailspin.

However, speaking to reporters as the ITB opened, the secretary-general of the UN’s World Tourism Organisation (WTO), Taleb Rifai, said that the worst was over.

“We do think that we are leaving the bad year behind, clearly. The last part of 2009 and the first part of 2010 indicate a bottoming out,” he said. “People are going to continue to want to travel. It’s unstoppable. It’s become engrained

in the culture and psyche of

people. It has become a human right,” he said.

“Even when incomes went down, people continued to travel. They travelled differently, they travelled cheaper, they travelled closer, they spent less money, but they did not stop travelling.”

At the Berlin fair, described by Rifai as “the mother of all tourism fairs”, 11,127 companies from

187 countries have booked stands, organisers said, a very slight

rise from last year.

However, in the German market, Europe’s biggest, the recovery was likely to be delayed until 2011, the country’s tourism board head said.

Klaus Laepple said that 2010 “will be a challenging year but also a year of consolidation and stability. We are cautiously optimistic but we are not euphoric.

2011 could once again be a normal year.”

The ITB was due to open for trade visitors and media on Wednesday and throw its doors open to the public on March 13, wrapping up a day later.

Meanwhile, corporate travel is likely to grow by 10-15 per cent in Asia this year as business activities improve from last year’s sharp falls, a major air ticketing and reservations firm said.

Singapore-based Abacus International said that the recovery will be gradual because most of the austerity measures and travel policies implemented during the global economic downturn are likely to remain.

“As businesses resume to the ‘new normal’, we should also see an upward adjustment in travel budgets when business activities improve in a more thriving economic climate,” said Abacus’ vice-president for marketing Brett Henry.

“We are expecting to see a gradual 10-15 per cent growth in corporate travel in 2010, especially in traditional corporate travel markets like Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong,” he said in a statement.

Business travel declined by 15-20 per cent last year and the amount spent during these trips dropped between 25 and 40 per cent, Henry said.

Despite the downturn, the overall bookings for Abacus shrank a narrower-than-expected one per cent in 2009 from the year before, thanks to a pickup starting from the second half.

Emerging markets in Central Asia as well as Nepal, Bangladesh and South Korea are seen as key growth areas.

In Nepal also, tourist arrivals has started looking up. The arrivals via air have been encouraging in the last couple of months — South Asian and Chinese arrivals especially posted robust growth.

Visitor arrivals figures released by Immigration Office, Tribhuvan International Airport, for the month of February — compared to the same month last year — increased by 33 per cent to 33,492. The entire South Asian region posted overall positive growth of 12.1 per cent, with arrivals from India growing by 1.8 per cent, Bangladesh by 110.2 per cent, Pakistan by one per cent and Sri Lanka by 11.6 per cent.

China, one of the largest

source markets for Nepal, bounced back with a remarkable growth of 242.5 per cent.