By Rupert Naylor, Senior Vice President, Data & Services, Asia Pacific, Mastercard

If you took a trip to Thailand, Japan or Singapore in the past year, you’re far from alone. With Asia’s hot spots attracting more global travelers than ever before – jumping to 342.2 million visits in 2018 from only 159.1 million in 2009, it’s easy to see the sizable opportunity on the table for SMEs spanning hospitality, retail, tourism, F&B and other industries. What’s more, with total travel spend in the Asia Pacific region more than doubling to US$281.1 billion from US$117.6 billion during the same period, entrepreneurs that can capitalize on the patronage of visitors from overseas stand to gain a lucrative piece of the pie.

Asia’s most active travelers – and their destinations of choice

According to Mastercard’s latest Asia Pacific Destinations Index (APDI) , the five most popular destinations for international travelers – Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo and Seoul – welcomed over one-fifth, or 22 percent, of all overnight visitors to the region’s 161 most popular tourism destinations and regional centers in 2018. These five hot spots also captured more than one-quarter, or 25.2 percent, of total international travel spending in the region.

Peel back another layer of APDI data, and you’ll discover the handful of origin markets that are powering Asia’s travel surge. Not surprisingly, mainland Chinese travelers comprise the majority of overnight arrivals in the region by a large margin – and their numbers only continue to climb. What’s lesser known are the actual figures. From 2009, arrivals by mainland Chinese visitors jumped from 10.5 million to 62.4 million in 2018, an annual average growth rate of 21.9 percent. With mainland China ranking among the top three largest source markets of travelers to more than half – or 82 cities – in the 2019 APDI, small business operators anywhere in the region would be wise to tailor their products, services and marketing efforts towards this most influential group.

In particular, SMEs based in Chinese travelers’ favorite destinations should take note: Bangkok hosted 13.6 percent of all overseas trips taken by mainland Chinese travelers to Asia Pacific destinations last year, more than twice the number of Seoul and Tokyo, their second and third most visited destinations respectively.

Meanwhile, South Korea and Japan, the next largest origin markets of travelers in the region, also tend towards particular locales on their journeys. South Koreans’ top five travel destinations – Osaka, Hokkaido, Fukuoka, Tokyo and Okinawa – are all in Japan. Meanwhile, Japanese travelers generally gravitate towards northeast Asia. Four out of their top five destinations – Taipei, Seoul, Bangkok, Shanghai and Hong Kong SAR – played host to eight million out of Japanese travelers’ 20.7 million total trips to Asia Pacific destinations last year, or 38.7 percent.

Looking to the future, India should also factor into merchants’ business plans. In 2018, Indian travelers made 14.9 million overseas trips globally, with nearly half of those being to destinations in Asia Pacific. In particular, Indian travelers have a fondness for Southeast Asia destinations which accounted for 34.8% of all international trips. Singapore, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Pattaya and Bali were their favored destinations.

Where travelers spend big and what they’re buying

Mastercard’s Index also reveals how much travelers are spending on average in each destination, as well as what they’re spending it on. For example, even though Osaka ranked sixth in total number of arrivals, visitors there spent an average of US$223 per day – more than the US$155 spent in the fifth most popular destination, Seoul. Shanghai, which ranks 12th in total arrivals, but first for number of business arrivals, claimed the top average spend in the region of US$285 per day. Travelers to Shanghai are most willing to splash out on accommodation – to the tune of 31.8 percent of their daily budget per person.

As you might expect, lodging takes precedence in several top destinations in the region. In Bali, Taipei and Mumbai, over 40 percent of traveler spend goes towards accommodation, a powerful insight for hoteliers. Meanwhile, fellow top 20 cities Seoul, Osaka and Chiba have become hot spots for retail therapy – with 40 percent of traveler spend going towards shopping.

In Bangkok, the world’s #1 travel destination, opportunities abound for businesses across all segments. Travelers spent an average of US$184 per day in Thailand’s capital city, with a fairly even split between accommodation, F&B and shopping, with accommodation having a slight edge over the other categories at 25.3 percent.

With Asia’s upward travel trajectory only set to continue, small businesses seeking to win a share of visitors’ travel budgets would do well to think about where most travelers to their cities are coming from so that they may maximize their marketing budget accordingly, and better tailor their offerings to those customers that are most likely to come through their (physical and digital) doors.

For more Mastercard APDI data and insights, please visit:



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