reported a fourth quarter surge in bookings, up 30 percent over the previous year, and remains upbeat on the travel outlook for 2004.
Abacus President and CEO Don Birch said that he expects to see a significant increase in bookings through the Abacus system in the year ahead, “We are forecasting a bumper year in terms of our booking performance in Asia Pacific - a dramatic increase of roughly 20 percent.”
He added, “Barring any major catastrophe like a second wave of SARS, this is an achievable target. This will be driven by a combination of economic recovery in the region, pent up demand from SARS-affected travel in 2003 and airlines bringing additional capacity online. This is encouraged in part by the low-cost carriers buzz in Asia and finally growth at the expense of our competition.”
More than 40 million bookings were made through the Abacus system for all of 2003. This represents a 2 percent increase over 2002.
This strong performance reflects the continued resilience of the travel industry, along with Abacus gain in market share and commitment to understanding the travel industry’s peaks and valleys.
“Even though war and SARS were wreaking havoc over Asian travel during the first half of 2003, we saw a steady stream of travellers return to the skies in the second half,” Mr Birch said.
“When SARS first broke out, we told our travel agents that once the virus was contained, travellers would return quickly,” Mr Birch said.
And they did. In every month since July, Abacus experienced double-digit increases in bookings over the same period in 2002.
“Early on, the recovery arc was sparked by incredible promotions by airlines and hotels. While these offers were taken up very quickly, travellers continued to return, even after the promotions had finished.”
“The extent of the travel industry’s turnaround has as much to do with the industry’s focus on being strong and competitive as it does with the strengthening economies in Asia,” said Mr Birch.
Mr Birch said that the Asian travel industry is on solid footing and entering 2004 with a level of confidence. This is a result of the continued strength of the Intra-Asia travel sector. For the seventh straight month, intra-Asia travel bookings are up compared to the same period the year before.
In December 2003, Abacus handled 59 percent more intra-Asia bookings than December 2002.
Mr Birch said, “Intra-Asia bookings have consistently been a good barometer for measuring the health of the region’s travel industry. Considering how the year started, I’m very pleased with where we are, and where we are heading in 2004.”
Mr Birch pointed to the recent statements from the World Bank saying that it has already upgraded its East Asian growth projection for this year from 5 percent to 5.7 percent.
“This is consistent with what we are seeing. Based on our experience, travel grows at almost twice the rate of GDP.”
Mr Birch added that while there were emerging concerns about the new strain of bird flu, he stressed that as long as it is contained, it shouldn’t be a major factor in Asia travel, “The World Health Organization has said that the bird flu at this stage poses no realistic health threat to travellers visiting Asian cities. The WHO has also stated they have no evidence that person-to-person transmission is occurring.”