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Outbound Asian tourists to hit pre-pandemic levels by 2024-Agoda CEO

The logo of Agoda online travel agency is seen at their office in Bangkok

(Refiles to add dropped letter in CEO's name)

By Chayut Setboonsarng

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Asian tourists are only expected to resume international travel at pre-pandemic levels gradually, by 2024, the new chief executive of online travel agency Agoda said late on Monday.

The Asia-focused company expects tourists from Asian countries, excluding China, will take about six months after respective COVID-19 restrictions are lifted to travel confidently, said Omri Morgenshtern, who took the helm at Agoda in July.

"Korea opened up two months ago … but numbers are 40% of what it was before, so it's not jumping," he said.

Across its Asian markets, Agoda's booking volumes have returned to 2019 levels, but more so in domestic travel, Morgenshtern told Reuters in an interview, in contrast to the stronger and quicker tourism recovery in the United States and Europe.

"In the U.S. or Europe, it's almost like everybody decided COVID was over," said Morgenshtern, noting that travel resumed quickly there and many stopped wearing masks.

But in many Asian countries - like Thailand, South Korea, Singapore, and Indonesia - people generally have kept masks on even after mandates were dropped.

Agoda is rolling out more products to allow customers to plan their entire travel itinerary on the platform with the promise of more discounts, Morgenshtern added.

In 2020, the company, a unit of Booking Holdings Inc, slashed 1,500 jobs to cut spending amid the pandemic. Now, headcount has returned to pre-COVID levels, he said.

(Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor)