HONG KONG/NEW YORK: Digital travel sales in Asia-Pacific are expected to surpass those in North America in 2017, making it the largest market of its type in the world, according to the latest forecast from eMarketer.

The New York-based research firm said it expected consumers in Asia-Pacific to spend $216bn next year, representing growth of more than 21%, compared with just over $200bn in North America.

Covering all manner of digital travel activity, from online flight bookings to hotels and tours, this strong growth is attributed to rapid internet and mobile penetration in the region as well as higher levels of disposable income.

This development is particularly pronounced in China, where eMarketer expects digital travel sales this year to grow by 36% to $95.3bn, and while this figure is only about half the projected US total of $180.6bn, China is catching up fast.

By 2020, eMarketer said it expected digital travel sales in China to reach $198.5bn, or just $15bn fewer sales than in the US. That equates to the US taking 26.1% of worldwide digital travel sales in 2020 with China just behind on 24.3%.

Chris Bendtsen, an analyst at eMarketer, explained that Chinese consumers are able to take advantage of rising disposable incomes as well as easier visa policies, which is all to the benefit of travel companies that focus on digital.

"Digital and mobile sales growth in China are some of the highest in the world, and online travel agencies such as Ctrip, Qunar, Tuniu and Alitrip are all fuelling that growth," he said.

"In addition, mobile adoption in the country is driving revenue for the online travel agencies, and causing airlines and hotels to further invest in their own mobile apps."

But it is not China alone that is driving sales growth in the Asian digital travel market because eMarketer also identified opportunities for travel companies in India and Indonesia.

"Travel companies are increasing their digital (especially mobile) investments in India as the mobile internet user base continues to grow," Bendtsen noted.

Data sourced from eMarketer; additional content from Warc staff