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The new generation of tourists from emerging markets

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For many destinations, 2023 and 2024 will mark a return to business as usual when it comes to tourism. China’s re-opening following Covid has heartened many; prior to Covid it was the world’s biggest outbound tourism market, with international tourism expenditure of more than quarter of a trillion dollars in each of the three years before 2020.

China may be the biggest game in town but travellers from the US, Germany, the UK and France are also in the crosshairs of destinations seeking to attract tourists.

But what of the emerging economies?

According to the UN World Tourism Organization, some of the fastest growing outbound tourism markets are India, Indonesia and Vietnam and tourism destinations will be keen to attract tourists from those countries in the coming years, particularly if traditional markets prove stagnant.

One of the key drivers of this growing appetite for outbound tourism in emerging markets are the burgeoning middle classes.

Research from the Brookings Institution shows that the middle classes are already the largest spending group in the world and that the middle classes will have grown to 3.8 billion, almost half of the projected world population of 8.4 billion by 2030. By that point, they will account for spending of some $35 trillion every year. 

According to research by People Research on India’s Consumer Economy and non-profit thinktank India’s Citizen Environment, India’s middle class will nearly double to 61% of its total population by 2047, from 31 per cent in 2020-21. This growth is being nurtured by political stability and economic reforms in the country.

Some 52 million of Indonesia’s 275 million population are classified by the World Bank as middle class. Vietnam, meanwhile, has the fastest growing middle class among ASEAN nations and will add 36 million to its middle class by 2030.

Population growth in general is another factor that will boost these outbound markets.

The United Nations said India would surpass China as the world’s largest country some time in 2023 and that by 2050, the country’s population would number 1.7 billion compared to China with an estimated 1.3 billion.

Yet countries also need strong economies to boost tourism.

The Indian economy has been rocketing along for the past two decades. GDP per capita in 2000 was US$755.5; in 2022, this had risen to US$2,085.1 (at constant 2015 US$), says the World Bank. Over the two decades from 2000, the number of tourism departures grew from 4.4 million to 26.9 million, growing by an average of 9.4% year on year over that period.

At the recent 2nd Outbound Tourism Summit in New Delhi, consultancy firm Nangia Andersen released a report that forecasts India’s outbound market to be worth US$44.8 billion by 2032, up from US$15.1 billion in 2022.

Poonam Kaura, a partner at the firm, said: “The growth is not just amongst the middle-aged or older people, a large number of the millennials and Gen Z are also travelling overseas. Moreover, the demand is no longer limited to the top metros or larger sub-metros in the country, it is coming from practically everywhere.”.

Destinations will be competing for this new generation of travellers and one of the most effective ways to achieve this is through visa openness.

Among Indian travellers, Thailand is one of the most popular destinations, particularly among golfers and honeymooners. In July, Tanes Petsuwan, deputy governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, said that 1.6 million Indians are expected to visit the kingdom this year, not far off the 1.9 million who visited in pre-Covid 2019.

Indonesia’s economy is also motoring along. The OECD forecasts that Indonesia’s GDP will grow by 4.7% in 2023 and 5.1% in 2024, although low wage increases are holding back consumption.

Outbound tourism from Indonesia was on the fast-track in the two decades before Covid. According to the World Bank, the number of tourist departures from Indonesia in 2000 was just 2.2 million. Two decades later – before Covid hit – this had jumped to 11.7 million, an annual growth rate of 8.7%.

The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) says that Indonesia’s biggest outbound market is Malaysia, accounting for 39% of all departures in 2022, followed by Singapore and Saudi Arabia.

Vietnam’s economy is doing better still, with GDP growth of 8% in 2022 and 6.5% forecast for 2023 and 6.6% for 2024 by the OECD, continuing a strong economic record for the past two decades. It was one of the few countries to avoid recession in the pandemic.

Before the pandemic, Vietnam’s outbound tourism was growing by 10 to 15% every year. According to research firm The Outbox, Asian countries were the most popular destinations.

Tours and attractions company Klook carried out research at the end of last year which found that 79% of Vietnamese were planning at least one international trip this year.

Michelle Ho, general manager of Klook in Vietnam, said, “We have seen waves of Vietnamese traveling outbound as soon as travel restrictions were lifted, giving rise to a strong recovery of outbound travel since March 2022. Among the top three destinations visited from Vietnam, there were months when demand for Singapore, South Korea and Thailand surpassed pre-Covid levels.”

Brazil, whose economy the International Monetary Fund expects to exceed Italy’s over the rest of this decade, is also seen as a strong source market for tourism. The past two decades have seen a remarkable growth of the country’s middle class, with millions leaving poverty.

According to Brazil’s biggest travel agency CVC, the tourism market in Brazil will be worth R$752.3 billion in 2023, up from R$716.5 million in 2019. It says international tourism is set to grow by an average 11% a year between 2022 and 2026.

The top destination markets for Brazilian tourists, according to the WTTC, are the US (19% of outbound departures), Portugal (12%), a popular choice in Europe because of the linguistic links between the two countries and France (8%).

International students are a growing outbound market from the country. In 2022, 455,480 Brazilian students left to study abroad, according to the agency association Belta, a figure 18% higher than 2019. The most popular destinations for students are Canada, the US and the UK.

The so-called BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – have often been highlighted as some of the most important markets. We have touched on three of these. Russia remains something of a pariah on the international stage because of the war in Ukraine and tourism has been hugely affected, not least because of flight bans.

And what of the final letter in that acronym?

South Africa’s outbound market is taking time to recover after the pandemic. In 2019, around 6 million South African residents were travelling abroad per year. After two years of Covid slump, this is now back to 3.7 million.

Data from the WTTC reveals that neighbouring Mozambique is the biggest destination for South African travellers (14% of departures), followed by the United Kingdom (9%) and Botswana (8%).

Things looked positive for the country when it was admitted to this group around 2010 but growth was minimal in the 2010s and in 2019 the country entered its third recession since 1994. Covid wasn’t even a thing at the time.

Unemployment is at near record highs and GDP is expected to fall sharply again this year, although recovery is on the horizon in 2024.

The IMF says, “Additional far-reaching reforms are needed to achieve job-rich, inclusive, and greener growth.” It will need that to make South Africa’s tourists attractive again.

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