Breaking China. Travel numbers.

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Fox – sly. Trots – left-leaning (Trotsky) plus its more insalubrious meaning.
Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.

2009 April 25

Breaking China. Travel numbers.

We have become used to fast growth for China – both inbound and outbound travel. Well, not everything goes up for ever.

China’s inbound travel in 2008 fell – totals have not yet been finalised but around 7%. In fact, much of this decline was self-inflicted. Before the Summer Olympic games in August, China formally tightened its visa policies – partly as a result of the Tibet disturbances, and partly to avoid problems during the Games.

We know of perhaps the most-extreme case, when the (foreign) person responsible for security during the Games was refused entry! (This happened about two months before August; we presume he was eventually accepted.)

Meanwhile, outbound travel by Chinese citizens appears to be still growing fast, even if less fast than before. In 2007, the total increased 19% to 41mn. And according to our calculations, it increased 9% in 2008.

But don’t get too excited about those big numbers; most of them are heading just across the border to Hong Kong and Macau.

The Fox

6-2-0. Six Senses and the environment.

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Fox – sly.  Trots – left-leaning (Trotsky) plus its more insalubrious meaning. 

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.


2009 April 17


6-2-0. Six Senses and the environment.


I was wrong, it seems. One year ago, I named and launched the ZERO section in our newsletters after Six Senses’ plans to establish a zero-emission resort in the Maldives – ie, Six To Zero.


I was wrong because Six Senses, not satisfied with zero emissions*, now wants to be ‘carbon positive’. Six plans to calculate how much CO2 the resort would have emitted if it used fossil fuels (which it doesn’t), and then plant trees or whatever to absorb that amount of CO2.


Also, it has banned imported bottled water at its resorts. “When so many people do not have access to clean water, it seems a little arrogant to fly in water.” It says revenue from bottled water would be US$250,000 per resort per year, but this is not all a revenue loss because although its own mineral water is free to guests, it charges for crystallised water.


Other Six developments:


[] All its resorts have an organic farm, which also can be revenue-generating, not just a cost item.


[] One target is “low food miles”.


[] It uses waste for biomass.


[] It plans to use mirrors to heat water, which will then create usable steam, etc.



*The company admits it does not yet know how to achieve zero emissions. For instance, a sales trip by the resort’s marketing manager would emit CO2 unless he swam to India, and then walked to trade shows in Asia and Europe. But Six still targets zero-emissions at Soneva Fushi by 2010, and company-wide by 2020. It has named this process, ‘Evalution’.



The Fox

Rocco Forte. The rocky road.

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Fox – sly.  Trots – left-leaning (Trotsky) plus its more insalubrious meaning. 

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.


2009 April 15


Rocco Forte. The rocky road.


Rocco Forte hotels is expanding out of Europe, and starting to lose its product definition by doing so.


Its 11 hotels in Europe are high-grade hotels in central locations and often in special buildings, with an average room count of 120. But three of its five new ones are bigger than that average, see table. Also, whereas all existing ones are owned, most of the new ones are managed. And although RF may add its luxury interiors and service, its planned hotels in the Middle East are nondescript – compared with many of its hotels in Europe.


RF is also changing by moving into resorts; until now it has concentrated on city centres, even though its market is divided 49% business and 51% leisure. Also, its largest source market is the US (followed by the UK), so that will need to change for most of the new hotels.


RF explains the moves by saying it has reached critical mass, and so it is moving into resorts and out of Europe. It also notes that Lord Forte, father of RF’s Rocco Forte, expanded into the Middle East, and so it is well equipped for this expansion. In fact this 30-year-old anecdote has little relevance today, except perhaps in terms of contacts.


It plans further expansion in the Middle East, probably 4-6 hotels in GCC countries, but in other Mideast destinations if opportunities arise. It also opened a regional sales office in Abu Dhabi at the start of this year.



New Rocco Forte hotels




R-101; O-May 2009; monastery.


R-200; resort; O-May 2009; west of island, 1hr from Palermo, 230ha estate.

Abu Dhabi

R-282; O-late 2009/10.


R-98; resort; O-late 2010; 225ha estate.


R-198; O-late-2010.

Notes: All managed except Sicily, owned. O = opening, R = rooms. Source: Travel Business Analyst.



The Fox

Eurotunnel. No light to be seen.

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Fox – sly.  Trots – left-leaning (Trotsky) plus its more insalubrious meaning. 

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.


2009 April 14

Eurotunnel. No light to be seen.

When will we see the bright lights in Eurotunnel’s business?


Traffic results for 2008 show yet another year of decline for its passenger business. The number of cars carried on trains through the Channel tunnel declined 11% to 1.9mn, which is an extraordinary 43% below its peak – which was exactly 10 years ago.


Likewise for buses carried on the trains. Those fell 15% in 2008 – and that is 42% below the peak, which was also in 1998.


The only bright spot was passenger numbers on Eurostar – but this is another company, which uses the Eurotunnel rails to operate its train service. In fact, Eurostar did not have a great year either, and there was even a slight decline in passenger traffic in Q4, although the all-year total increased 10% to 9.1mn.


Eurostar has increased its traffic count in most of the past 10 years, although recording declines in each year 2001-3.



The Fox

Air Asia. Hiding data.

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Fox – sly.  Trots – left-leaning (Trotsky) plus its more insalubrious meaning. 

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.


2009 April 10

Air Asia. Hiding data.

In 2008, Air Asia started reducing the amount of traffic data released*. I presume part of the reason was that progress was beginning to look less than good. Nevertheless, as a company quoted on the stockmarket, it is obliged to release certain information.


I have now noted inconsistency – one measure shown for one quarter, a different one for the next quarter. I am surprised the stock-market authorities allow this; even though the obfuscatory data pertains to traffic results and not financial, what use is one without the other?


My data is essentially my calculations from data released. For instance, a rounded percentage growth figure (without the resulting number) obliges me to calculate from data revealed in 2007. I believe this methodology shows viable results for 2008.


Although my earlier calculations indicated a traffic slowdown for the Air Asia group, particularly for Indonesia, half-year figures show better results, although slower than in earlier years. Total figures for the year indicated growth in seat sales of around 21%, but in Q4 I estimate growth slowed to 13%.


The two smaller divisions, Indonesia and Thailand, were growing faster, but I maintain their growth is not as fast as it should be; the main Malaysia division is still producing too-much of the group’s growth.


As I have noted before, Air Asia needs a hub in a solid travel market – such as China, Hong Kong, Korea, or Taiwan. These markets are difficult-entry markets. That has pushed AA into planning a new division in a weak-but-accessible market, Vietnam, and risky longhaul expansion – to Australia and a delayed start for Europe.



*This is despite now-false credos in the airline, which include “Optimum disclosure – higher than industry norms”.


The Fox

The Economist is impressed with the travel business. I am not impressed with TE.

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Fox – sly.  Trots – left-leaning (Trotsky) plus its more insalubrious meaning. 

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.






2008 May 19




The Economist is impressed. Not me.








I mean that. The Economist (TE), a magazine that usually questions the subjects it covers, appears to have fallen for the charms of the travel business. I am, like many others, in awe of much of what the publication does, and so I am somewhat timid about attacking, nay, ridiculing something that it has produced.








But I must do the work TE usually does – on its report on the travel business in the current issue:








[] The report subject was ‘Travel and tourism’. TE appears somewhat ignorant about the travel business, and over-influenced by those big names in the travel business. For instance, what is “travel and tourism”? According to the World Tourism Organization, ‘tourism’ includes ‘travel’. Geoffrey Lipman – now of WTO, then of WTTC – invented T&T because he could not call his WTTC ‘WTC’ because it was too close to WTO.








[] TE has fallen for WTO’s marketing ploy and named the body ‘United Nations World Tourism Organization’. This is wrong. The body is the World Tourism Organization, which it would like to be abbreviated to UNWTO. Another sign that TE is a newcomer to the travel business.








[] One statistical table is sourced as ‘United Nations’. The data is actually from the WTO. Also, TE’s definitions are wrong – it should be ‘International visitor arrivals’ not “tourist”.








[] Dubai “is expected to  become the world’s busiest airport”. TE’s editors should go back to read their book of maths, preferably while sitting in one of New York’s three airports, one of London’s five, or, of course, Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai.








[] “…the world’s only seven-star hotel…” Who says so? The hotel, and now TE. What happened to the sixth star? Most counts go up to 5-stars. Does TE know that the better hotels do not like to describe their lowest room category as ‘standard’, so they use ‘superior’. To me, you can’t have something ‘superior’ if you don’t have something ‘standard’.








And does TE know that hotels, particularly in Asia and now the Middle East, use ‘5-star’ with abandon, so those hotels that aim for something genuinely 5-star have to say more, so they say 5-star-deluxe or even 6-star. Now a hotel has come along (yes, in Dubai) that has taken this hype up another rung, and denominated itself 7-star. Now endorsed by TE.








[] “Dubai also boasts the Middle East’s first indoor ski-slope.” Hopefully the last as well. Today it might be a boast, tomorrow it will be a shame – until powered by solar power. We are surprised TE glides over this matter – despite its comments on the environment later in the report.








[] “…the top brass of the World Travel & Tourism Council…might have found lots of reasons to be gloomy: a weak dollar, sky-high oil and food prices, looming recession in America and a credit crunch on both sides of the Atlantic…[yet they] were fairly chipper.” Welcome to the travel business. Has it ever predicted a downturn? Only post-event does it issue such negative commentary, usually accompanied by ‘resilient’ comments, and genuine examples of resistance to downturn.








If TE (and the WTTC) really need to know, there is already a downturn this year – in some sectors of some markets. Yet there is also continued and remarkable growth. For instance, I forecast China’s outbound will top 50mn this year, although the first quarter seems to have started slowly with growth around 16% – but see below.








[] WTO “has resorted to monitoring international tourist arrivals only. It therefore knows where tourists are going to, but has a much less accurate idea of where they have come from.”








Eh? “Resorted” sounds like a change; the WTO has been doing this not quite as long as TE has been around, but a long time. “Tourists”? Hopefully all travellers, not just tourists.








“It therefore knows where tourists are going to, but has a much less accurate idea of where they have come from.” I don’t really know where to start on this one, but…








The WTO gets its data from national bodies and adjusts some (but does not tell its audience that, or how – so, for instance, its China total is different from the (3) sets of data that China itself produces). So the WTO’s figures are as good or  bad as theirs. And, in general, the biggest mistake WTO and others make is collection of data by passport instead of residence. The US-national financier based in London is categorised as ‘US’ when he arrives in China – by China and thus by the WTO.








[] “Arrivals in [Asia Pacific] were 185m”. Hopefully TE (and the WTO) knows about 100mn of these are border crossings from Hong Kong and Macau into China. (But not, ironically, a US-national financier based in Hong Kong; he is listed under ‘US’!) Under WTO’s own rules, most of these should not be counted. The WTO ignores its own guidelines – probably because it does not want to mark down its visitor counts. If the financial business has problems with grading agencies, the travel business has problems with the WTO.








[] A nice table on increased spending 2009-18 is meaningless – but nice. It needs to be attached to other numbers, such as actual visitor numbers. But I presume the main reason for the table is to impress politicians – and TE – and for that it will probably work.








[] TE quotes Bill Marriott, head of the eponymous hotel company or, hopefully, misquotes him. “The Middle East, India and China are the next big thing”. Except for the Mideast (which I don’t think is big), that comment is about 10 years behind the reality in China, but probably only 1-2 years for India – although “the next” appears wrong. “He thinks that the industry will be bigger in the Middle East”. Can’t really argue with that; in fact I reckon the industry will be bigger in most of the world. “China will dwarf even the Middle East.” What planet are we on? “Will”? How about ‘However, China dwarfs the Middle East’.








[] China outbound in 2007 “reached 47m”. That’s a new figure to me (I estimated 41mn), but if correct and from the same base as earlier figures, then the remarkable fact is more than the number. Because it would mean growth was 36%. However, until there is more confirmation (honestly, I don’t think we could be that wrong), treat that figure with caution.








[] China says it will “add 97 airports by 2020”. We hope TE knows that China repeats last year’s targets (that c97 has been the annual statement for about 30 years) and that it usually includes expansion of existing airports.








[] For all TE’s misunderstandings on China, it appears to understand India better. Although it did not note an important reason – visas, the cost and difficulty of getting them – for poor results in terms of visitor arrivals. It was going to cost me US$75 for a visa for a 3-day visit – but I could not find out how long it would take to actually issue the visa, so I did not go.








[] “Carlson is developing around 50 hotels in India compared with only ten in China.” I am not bothered about the figures, but I know the sentiment of this comment is wrong. It could be Carlson has signed a franchise agreement for its economy brands (Country Inn, Park Inn), which TE did not mention. And that it has not yet signed a similar agreement in China.








[] “Thomas Cook bought Thomas Cook India”. Whoops. TC also sold TCI about two years ago to the company it has now bought it back from. That was dysfunction at TC, although remarkable that it did not have the elementary foresight about India’s potential when it sold.









[] The industry “recovered quickly after [9/11], SARS, [start of war in Iraq], and the [Indian Ocean] tsunami [end-2004]”. Well, yes and no. The US is still below its pre-9/11 visitor count in 2000 – seven years on. Recovery from SARS was indeed rapid for some destinations although for some, such as Hong Kong, it was boosted by a change in visa regulations for travellers from Hong Kong – creating a new category which now produces 50% of the visitors in Hong Kong from China. The war in Iraq was a non-event – sorry, as far as the travel business is concerned – so ‘recovery’ is the wrong word. The tsunami recovery was also quick – about one year. Bali was not mentioned (two serious bombing incidents), but recovery there has not been so obvious.









[] TE touched on the environment. But I was not impressed with most of the commentary. No mention, for instance, of my favourite – Six Senses plans for a zero-emission resort in the Maldives. That, in turn, inspired the start of the new report at our organisation, entitled ZERO.






The Fox

Singapore. Healthy growth.

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Fox – sly.  Trots – left-leaning (Trotsky) plus its more insalubrious meaning. 

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.


2009 April 08

Singapore. Healthy growth.

Singapore is probably Asia’s leading medical-tourist (MT) destination, but numbers vary wildly.


Singapore’s VPO reports around 410,000 international patients (year not given, but probably 2007), and targets 1mn in 2012, which would mean an average 20% annual growth. Some other reports give 500,000 in 2007. Others use 750,000 (in Asia in 2007), growing to 6mn in 2012, which would mean an average 50% annual growth.


Probably most Singapore MTs come from Indonesia, although the US may be the biggest worldwide MT source. In 2008, about 180,000 left the US for healthcare, and about 350,000 are expected to leave in 2010, which would mean an average 40% annual growth.


Research & Markets – but whose figures are often contradictory and not sourced – reports that there were 2.9mn MTs in India, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand in 2007. (That would be almost 6% of regional visitor arrivals, which we find too high to believe – unless R&M’s MT definition includes visits to pharmacy, doctor, etc.) It expects an average annual growth of 17.6% over 2007-12.


Singapore has created Singapore Medicine, sponsored by the Ministry of Health, Economic Development Board, International Enterprise Singapore, and the VPO, Singapore Tourism Board.


And Singapore is moving in the same direction as Korea – which plans a purpose-built ‘Healthcare Town’ on its Jeju island. HT is expected to cost US$315mn to build; Korea (not just Jeju) targets 100,000 MTs in 2011, when HT is due to open.


The name of Singapore’s centre is not much better than Korea’s Healthcare Town; its ‘mediplex’ sounds more like a treatment. Plans for the 19-floor complex at Farrer Park, due 2010, include a hospital, private medical suites, and hotel.


As one example of lower costs, a US$130,000 heart bypass operation in the US would cost about US$20,000 in Singapore. The main ‘clients’ for such medical services are insurance companies.


The Fox

Reports; low scores. Euromonitor, Nielsen, Research & Markets.

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Fox – sly.  Trots – left-leaning (Trotsky) plus its more insalubrious meaning.

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.

2009 April 06

Reports; low scores. Euromonitor, Nielsen, Research & Markets.

I present quick reviews of a series of reports on various aspects of the travel business. The range is wide – China, India, business travel, medical travel, etc – but a surprising number make surprising mistakes:



Euromonitor (EM), despite its name, tackles subjects further afield. A current one is business travel. Unfortunately, some material is questionable, and EM rejected our requests for clarification. Points:

-Business travel market was 194mn in 2007. (WTO says worldwide arrivals were 903mn, so that means a 21% share; I would expect at least 30%.) Asia Pacific takes 27% of both the outbound and inbound markets; North America takes 10% and 6%, West Europe 36% and 41%.

-Self-evident (SE), erroneous (E), or bizarre (B) comment: SE-“Fuel surcharges affect ticket prices”. E-“Lower profits for” (among others) Oasis; yet it stopped flying last April. B-“Air travel shifting to Asia”. B-“Business-only travel also developing amongst longhaul flights” -(but business-only travel has been part of longhaul flights since the beginning). SE-“Hotel openings [help] shortage of rooms”.

-EM lists progress in “chained hotel markets”, but will not confirm that this means destinations with chain hotels – which I presume must mean nearly every destination with more than (10?) hotels. For Asia Pacific, the company says China will grow fastest in “outlets” (assumed to mean hotel openings) 2007-12, growing 57%. Next, Vietnam 55%, India 52%, Philippines 30%, Indonesia 27%. (No other destinations are included, but the biggest gap is Macau – a report in Travel Business Analyst shows 186% growth over almost the same period, although probably 40% of that is not ‘chained’).

-A list of bizarre (again) bullet-point descriptions for MICE destinations: Bali – ‘best charm…’, India – ‘dedicated hubs for high-growth sectors’, Malaysia – ‘warmth and hospitality’, Thailand – ‘ultimate client servicing…top rate facilities’.

-A section on future business travel, see table, could be interesting. Although I might dispute some developments, our main challenge is on numbers. These seem too low, but given the absence of clarification (on share of total, for instance, and EM’s 2007 totals) I cannot go further.

Fortunately, some information is interesting:

-For travel spend, 31% of those surveyed expected 2008 travel spend to be higher than 2007; 27% expect 2009 spend to be same as 2008; 63% expect higher 2009 spend because of higher air fares; 25% to spend more as a result of more travel.

(Overall, I find this report shockingly deficient in quality, clarity, and relevance. If this is an indication of other EM reports, I urge would-be buyers to look elsewhere.)




India, outbound. According to an AS Nielsen report:

-Over 1996-2006, India’s outbound market “expanded by…10% annually, well above world average.” (My data, derived from PATA data, shows 9.2%.)

-“Latest figures put outbound growth at 16% in 2006.” (PATA’s own 2007 data shows 17% growth.)

-“The average traveller spent US$1700 per trip, which amounts to a US$15bn…market.” (No source was given for these figures. WTO, which gets most of its data from official sources, puts the figures much lower – US$6.8bn in 2006, growing 9.6% to US$8.2bn in 2007. That would mean average spend (in 2006) of US$930, not Nielsen’s US$1700.)




Also on India from Research & Markets, a company:

-10mn annual arrivals in 2009. (The total was 4.9mn in 2007, so that would mean a 43% annual increase this year and in 2009 and thus, like so much of R&M data, not believable.) The average annual increase has been 9.3% this decade.

-India’s medical tourism will reach US$2bn in 2011. R&M says this would represent an average annual growth (probably from 2007) of 61%.

-Outbound travel from India is expected to increase at an average annual growth of 13.3% over 2008-12. (This decade, growth has been similar – an annual 13.7%.)

-For the hotel sector, R&M reports that India has a shortage of 150,000 rooms.




And R&M on medical tourism (MT):

-In 2007, Asia generated MT revenues of US$3.4bn, 12.7% of the world market.

-In 2007, 2.9mn MTs visited India, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand. (That would be 5.6%; I find this too high to believe – unless its MT definition includes visits to pharmacy, doctor, etc.)

-Average annual growth rate of MT in Asia expected to be 17.6% over 2007-12.




And on China, inbound:

-China forecast to count US$53bn (quoted in US$; a risk these days of sizeable fluctuating exchange rates) revenue from international visitor arrivals in 2010, plus US$124bn (at US$1 to Y6.85) from domestic travel. (R&M does not name the source of these figures.)

  (That total, of US$185bn (R&M’s count), would compare with what China’s NTO put at US$159bn in 2007, which calculates to an average annual growth of 5.2% and which looks low by a fact of two. Also, the WTO puts the 2007 international visitor spend at US$41.9bn; if R&M is using WTO data, AAGR on this segment would be 8.1%, which seems closer to likely outcome.)





The Fox

Air Asia. Hagiography from The Economist.

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Fox – sly.  Trots – left-leaning (Trotsky) plus its more insalubrious meaning. 

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.



2009 April 01


Air Asia. Hagiography from The Economist.


The Economist, usually a hard-headed observer of business, goes soft when it writes about the travel business, often writing hagiographic features. Perhaps its travel-business writer is not very good and/or new?


A current one is on Air Asia. Following are some comments:



[] ‘After seeing a TV interview with the founder of Easyjet, [Tony Fernandes, Air Asia’s founder] went to the airline’s London Luton base to see how the airline operated.’


If this is a true story, he would not have learned much. Because all you can see are planes arriving and leaving. A key factor is turnaround time (best is 20” but not more than 30”), but then also important are to have a simple fare structure – cheap fares three months in advance but increasing near flight time. And inflight service – selling food etc, but also with passengers helping to keep the cabin clean. Fernandes would have seen none of that at the airport.



[] ‘He returned the following day with a video camera.’


Sorry, nothing he captured on film would have helped him with Air Asia – unless it was to write a tag-line on the plane’s cabin – Now Everyone Can Fly.



[] ‘He decided to start [Air Asia] only if it could be profitable from the first day.’


Sorry, folks, that might be a nice story for publication, but that could not happen – particularly as some invited free guests were on Air Asia’s first flights, as well as free tickets for the public to attract publicity.



[] ‘It was widely assumed that the LFA model would not work in Asia because customers expected high levels of service.’


I didn’t; I rubbished the comments about the market’s need for cushions and comforts. I said when passengers saw those low fares – say $20 instead of $150 – they would happily fly without a cushion and ‘free’ brandy. That service matter was western-implanted consultants’’ philosophy, but note that many in Europe still say the same thing – that Ryanair’s airports are too far away from the city served, for instance, that it does not respect the customer, and so on. And then look at Ryanair’s business success – selling more seats than either Air France, British Airways, or Lufthansa, systemwide, not just Europe.



[] ‘AA targets 22mn passengers this year.’


But TE’s reporter did not note (know?) that AA’s two subsidiaries in Indonesia and Thailand are growing slower than the original operation in Malaysia – even though they are newer and smaller. The reason is that ID and TH are not good places to base an airline. The AA group needs to have airlines in some bigger and stronger economies, such as China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Korea. But it can’t get into those markets, so it opens in weak markets, such as ID and TH. And it has said (but gone quiet recently) that is also planning something in VN – another loser.


Also, include those two subsidiaries and the passenger total was already 23mn in 2008 – according to my calculations (AA tries to hide figures for its two subsidiaries). If that 22mn mentioned in The Economist is just for AA’s main Malaysia operation, then the task looks tough. AA would need to achieve 50% growth this year, although it managed only 21% in 2008.


The Fox