EMEA’s Biggest Winners and Losers for 2015
Photo courtesy of Thinkstock
In 2015, major airlines and hotels were able to recover from a dismal stretch of in-the-red years. The flow of tourists in Europe and Asia led to new winners and losers when it came to destinations. Some countries were able to overcome negative events and get their tourism industries back on track, but others saw their stock fall to levels that will not be easy to recover from going forward.
Here are three of the biggest winners and three of the biggest losers in Asian and European travel industries for 2015.
Thailand did not have a straightforward year. The military is still in charge after last year's coup, and a bomb attack on the Erawan Shrine in Central Bangkok killed a number of tourists in August. Even many experts believed that Thailand’s final tourist tally for 2015 would be disappointing. However, the Kingdom defied the odds and actually posted record-breaking numbers this year. Over 30 million tourists had their passports stamped by Thai immigration officials in 2015. That is more than the 27 million that the Tourism Authority of Thailand was hoping for.
Even after the 2004 tsunami, violent street protests in Bangkok (on more than one occasion) and military coups, the country’s tourism industry kept thriving. Tourists never felt targeted or caught up in the unrest. That changed with the Erawan Bombing in August, which directly targeted tourists. This was the first sign that Thailand’s tourism industry might not be bulletproof after all. The arrival numbers, however, showed that tourists were not deterred. 2015 proved that Thailand's tourism industry is indeed made of Kevlar.
India’s low cost carrier
Asia’s best low cost carriers have always managed to be profitable. However, this year was tough for airlines in India. Every major company struggled, except one. LCC IndiGo scored its sixth straight profitable year and got a huge amount of interest when it went public late in 2015.
Like Thailand, IndiGo has shown that it is immune to hard times. IndiGo’s secret is similar to that of AirAsia, Southwest and others: it can afford to offer low fares by keeping its services simple. Its planes are basic, but always clean. Its flight attendants are unfailingly polite and its food is passable. The carrier's CEO once explained it like this: “we serve food that doesn’t make them sick.”
If India is able to improve its air travel infrastructure, IndiGo will be in a great position to take advantage of the situation while its competitors are still trying to get out from under their debt and improve their image.
TUI, Thomas Cook and other major tour operators in Europe
Terror attacks and unrest dominated the news in Europe this year. No one would have blamed people for staying home after seeing the headlines. Major junket operators like TUI and Thomas Cook had to offer refunds for travelers who had already booked trips to Egypt and Tunisia. This was certainly a short term hit, but things did not go as badly as you might have expected.
Rather than simply staying home, travelers in Europe chose destinations that their foreign office or state department deemed safe. Cyprus and Spain’s Canary Islands were favorite options, as were Cape Verde and Malta. Because of this switch to new destinations, TUI and its peers actually managed to earn a profit this year despite all the fear-inducing media coverage.
China’s inbound market
For many in the travel industry, the biggest story of 2015 was China’s outbound travel market. Everyone from Kenya to England to Australia was scrambling to promote themselves as suitable destinations for travelers from the PRC. China’s domestic and inbound markets did not fare well, however, Yes, the country claimed more than 100 million international arrivals, but a vast majority of those were repeat visitors from Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan (yes, Hong Kong and Macau arrivals were considered “international”).
Meanwhile, would-be domestic tourists were traveling internationally. Terrible pollution problems have been plaguing Beijing this year, causing some travel agents to advise their tour operators to stock surgical masks to give clients when they arrive in China’s capital. There are some signs of hope going forward. More Chinese travelers are showing interest in the nature-dominated Western provinces, and the government has promised some changes that will make it easier for travel and hospitality companies to operate inside the country.
Russian tourists have not had a good year. The world was well aware of the travel warnings issued by the Kremlin for Egypt (and the Metrojet crash) and Turkey (after an airspace dispute that led to a Russian fighter jet being shot down). Because of these events, Russian tourists lost two of their favorite wintertime destinations to safety concerns.
However, Russian tourists were staying home before the Sinai crash and the Turkey trouble. The ruble lost value against virtually every other major currency in the world this year. Even the struggling Australian dollar maintained a favorable exchange rate. Many Russians simply could not afford to travel. The struggling economy compounded the problem.
On the upside, a few destinations started courting Russian snowbirds late in the year with cheap flights. Eilat, Israel’s Red Sea resort town, began offering discounts to airlines that flew from Russia in a bid to capture some of Egypt's market share.
Asia’s gambling haven seemed unstoppable just a few short years ago. Macau’s casino revenue shot past Las Vegas, and all the world’s biggest gaming firms were bending over backwards to get a spot along the Cotai Strip next to iconic casinos like the Lisboa.
That buzz has now almost completely died. Macau’s revenue has been dropping for more than a year. Chinese high rollers have been staying on the mainland in the midst of a corruption crackdown and economic woes. Other tourists are heading elsewhere — to Singapore's "integrated resorts" and other newer regional gaming destinations.
Macau's attempts to build more mass-market appeal may be too late. Theme-park-like resorts like Hollywood-themed Studio City are now open, but they have yet to live up to expectations.
More by Josh Lew
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