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  • Writer's pictureKaren Ng

Asia: the Global Choice Destination, again! (2021)

This year’s most popular travel destinations have been revealed in Expedia’s 2021 Travel Trends Report. The top ten most searched-for cities are all located within southern and eastern Asia. With Japan and Thailand each taking up 2 spots on the coveted list, the report sends a clear message to hoteliers across the world – Asian countries will be at the forefront of the post-pandemic hospitality industry.

Photo from the 2021 Travel Trends report by Web In Travel

This isn’t the first year Asia has dominated international travel searches. Looking back at the 2020 Travel Trends Report, 3 cities have maintained their top 5 spots into 2021. Singapore, Bangkok, and Tokyo remain some of the most popular travel choices for international travellers. Whereas Kuala Lumpur hasn’t made it onto the new rankings, Malaysia’s Johor continues to prove its popularity as the ninth most searched-for destination this year. Likewise, Indonesia’s Batam city and Bintan island – two of the most searched-for locations in 2020 – see their spaces filled by the cities of Phuket and Osaka, though Bali province is more popular year than it was last year.

Dissecting the appeal of Thailand and Japan

Photo of Bangkok by Andreas Brücker on Unsplash

Phuket is one of Thailand’s most well-known tourist destinations, and Osaka is one of the first Japanese cities that come to mind for most travellers. What is it about Thailand and Japan that secures their positions on the top of Expedia’s trend report?

Two cities from Thailand (Bangkok, Phuket) and Japan (Tokyo, Osaka) respectively have made it onto the list. Thailand is a perpetual favourite holiday choice, with many travellers associating the country with its abundance of greenery and beaches. Without a doubt, the beaches and resorts of Phuket and Bangkok play significant roles in cementing the country’s prominent position on the international most searched-for list.

Photo of Tokyo by Louie Martinez on Unsplash

Despite recent increased COVID-19 cases, Japan has similarly maintained its international popularity amongst tourists. There are several potential explanations: Japanese culture is especially popular in the West, but Japan itself has long proved to be a favourite destination amongst Asian travellers too. Moreover, lockdowns and more time spent indoors during this pandemic have resulted in increased interest in anime, which may have driven further interest in visiting hotspots like Tokyo's Akihabara area.

Japan was also slated to host the Olympics this year. Regardless of being postponed to 2021, the Olympics are known for their role in motivating international tourism. Japan may also benefit from its reputation of cleanliness, potentially prompting travellers to identify it as a safe destination to visit post-pandemic.

The allure of Singapore and Bangkok

Photo of Singapore by Swapnil Bapat on Unsplash

Singapore shares a similar clean reputation. Its Trace Together app and token – alongside Bangkok’s Thai Chana app – utilise tracking technology to facilitate COVID-19 contact tracing. Both cities boast low infection and fatality rates despite their dense populations: Thailand's rate is 1.43% whereas Singapore’s is even lower at 0.04%. The two cities’ populations often made the news even prior to the pandemic for their robust public health infrastructure, so it’s no surprise healthcare has continued to be effective during the pandemic.

Travellers may consider these trends in the post-pandemic age. It’s unclear how long safety will remain an important factor on any journey, but it will unquestionably be at the forefront of tourists’ minds when they are choosing their vacation destinations.

Why the Maldives and Bali are so popular

Photo of Bali by Daniel Faust on Unsplash

The famous island resorts of the Maldives and Bali are likely reasons for the high travel interest they are receiving this year. Resorts are appealing, with everything necessary for a relaxing vacation situated within the resort itself. There are 154 resorts across the 185 inhabited islands of the Maldives, with the natural island formations unintentionally – but desirably – promoting social distancing.

Photo of the Maldives by Ishan @seefromthesky on Unsplash

As for Bali, its lifestyle app Gojek is popular among locals and visitors alike. Its wide-selection delivery service enables you to stay within the resort, and simultaneously access food from outside, as well as services like manicures and massages.

Asia's popularity isn't a new phenomenon.

The high levels of interest in Asian travel destinations could simply be attributed to the collectivist East vs individualistic West. Whilst it may be true that this has some part in determining the successes of lockdowns and adherence to regional COVID-19 policies, and whilst the pandemic has been contained in places like Singapore much more successfully than the United States of America for example – the explanations seem to go deeper than this. Expedia’s 2020 Travel Trends report described similar prevailing travel interest in Asia.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. The comparable success of COVID-19 restrictions and policies have no doubt played a part in maintaining the enduring travel appeal of these countries, but it’s evident that they have incredible appeal regardless of the pandemic.

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