The great paradox of summer travel in 2022: Japanese, Singaporean, and South Korean travelers have the world’s most powerful passports, but they’re also least likely to travel abroad.
While Americans and Europeans are fitfully making up for years of being stuck at home during the height of the pandemic, the rate of travel in the top three countries have only reached 17% of pre-covid levels, according to a report by immigration consultants Henley & Partners. The London-based consultancy based their analysis on data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
Japan, Singapore, and South Korea are currently at the top of the Henley Passport Index, a quarterly ranking based on how many countries passport holders can travel to without first obtaining a travel visa.
Willie Walsh, IATA’s director, sees a correlation between the reluctance to travel with stricter covid restrictions throughout the region. International travel by people in eastern Asia is at 17% of pre-covid levels while globally international travel is at 60% Walsh said a recent aviation industry conference held in Singapore. “The lag is because of government restrictions. The sooner they are lifted, the sooner we will see a recovery in the region’s travel and tourism sector, and all the economic benefits that will bring.”
Henley’s findings echo research about Japanese attitudes about going abroad. Despite having the world’s most powerful passport, less than a quarter of the population has a valid travel document. Most Japanese citizens, in fact, aren’t excited about the prospect of going to faraway foreign destinations.
It isn’t a question of agoraphobia per se, but a matter of affordability. “Sluggish wage growth and a weak yen have made travel less affordable. Even pensioners, who have plenty of free time and disposable income, are traveling less,” the Economist explains, dubbing the Japanese as the “endangered tourist“.
Christian Kaelin, chairman of Henley & Partners who came up with the passport index concept, however believes that tourists, including Asians, will soon be making good use of their powerful passports. “The shock of the pandemic was unlike anything seen in our lifetimes,” he said in a press statement. “The recovery and reclamation of our travel freedoms and our innate instinct to move and migrate will take time.”