Public health always comes first! Since the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that COVID-19 outbreak was pandemic in early 2020, multiple countries have immediately taken harsh precautionary measures to prevent widespread infection. As a result, the global economic growth has incurred massive losses on the back of the hard hits across different industries due to the forced lockdowns.
The international travel industry was undoubtedly among the most negatively affected sectors, with governments left with no option but to ban travel to keep people safe. Sectors like aviation and hospitality have seen unprecedented damages all around the globe; and Southeast Asian countries came on top of the list. Between a promising future and lingering worries, the travel authorities in Southeast Asia are now struggling to revive the travel activities that have been a strong economic pillar for a pretty long time.
The status of Southeast Asian Travel amid COVID-19
Southeast Asia is famous for its world-class tourist destinations, and many of the region’s economies are highly dependent on tourism. For these countries, the suspension of travel activities translates into lower foreign inflows, decreased employment rates, and thus, sharp economic slowdown. For that reason, their governments are striving to find a way out to draw back vacationers without exposing public health to any kind of danger.
Now, almost eight months after the WHO announcement, several countries in Southeast Asia have managed to partially contain the crisis and curb the negative impacts of the pandemic virus. Fears of a second spike, however, prevented Southeast Asian states from easing travel restrictions completely.
Alternatively, some countries began to permit domestic travel and lift some restrictions over travels with neighbouring countries. Others began to allow foreigners to enter for business purposes, yet with strict regulations, including 14-day quarantines, travel insurances, and medical certificates.
The lingering worries over COVID-19 seem justified in respect of the number of active COVID-19 cases and deaths in the region. The COVID-19 mortality rate, for instance, increased in many Southeast Asian countries, including Indonesia, Philippines, and Myanmar.
Let’s get a closer look at the latest updates on five of the region’s countries and read into how they regularly react to this prolonged crisis.
The impact of the pandemic on a country where tourism last year contributed around one-fifth of the gross domestic product (GDP) was massive and far-reaching. The Bank of Thailand forecasts GDP to shrink by an annual rate of 7.8% in 2020, recording the sharpest decline in the country’s history.
Thailand’s government still adopts tight travel restrictions and allows certain non-Thai passengers into the country under certain conditions, including long-stay tourist visas. The Thai authorities recently announced the issuance of 1,200 limited editions of long-stay visas that can be extended up to 9 months.
The permitted passengers, however, should commit to a self-funded 14-day quarantine upon arrival in one of 22 luxury hotels in Bangkok where stay costs 100 to 200 USD per night! They also have to book all of their 90-day accommodation in advance and hold a travel insurance that covers COVID-19.
Bali beaches are now empty! By the time this piece was written, the total number of COVID-19 cases in Indonesia surpassed 415,000, making it the world’s 19th most infected spot. Although Indonesian domestic airlines resumed operations, international travel is still suspended with most of the world’s countries. The country’s authorities only permit travels with countries like South Korea, China, Japan, Singapore, and the UAE for essential business and diplomatic purposes. Additionally, a foreign passenger needs to have a health certificate to be allowed to enter the country.
Previous plans to open the popular Bali island, where tourism makes up around 80% of the overall economy, to international tourists have been soon backed off due to the reincrease in the number of COVID-19 cases.
All short-term visitors are still banned from entering Singapore. The Southeast Asian island country, which is home to more than 50,000 infected cases so far, continues to disallow leisure and tourism travels. Some tracks were reopened for Chinese, South Korean, Japanese, and Malaysian business travellers. Even those need to fill out a form and wait to get an official permission, as per which they have to complete a 14-day quarantine upon arrival at a state-owned hotel at a cost of around 2000 USD.
No foreign tourists are allowed into Vietnam yet. Only selected international flights are permitted with Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Domestic flights are also permitted, in an attempt to make up for the losses resulting from international travel bans. The country’s coastal city Danang, for instance, has been promoted as a domestic tourism destination over the past few months.
With over 40,000 COVID-19 cases, Malaysia applies strict lockdown measures to curb the losses. The government runs the so-called conditional movement control order (CMCO) across the whole country, except for three states, namely: Perlis, Pahang and Kelantan. Schools are closed until 20th of January 2021, and internal travels from CMCO areas are not permitted.
On the international travel level, Malaysia is only open to certain types of travellers, including Malaysian nationals, permanent residents, as well as work pass and MM2H permit holders. While tourism travels are completely prohibited, business travellers from neighbouring countries are allowed to enter under certain conditions, such as the Reciprocal Green Lane (RGL) with Singapore.
Every cloud has a silver lining!
Despite the gloomy scenery, a positive future prospects loom on the horizon. Some new trends are emerging in the Southeast Asian travel sector, which digs for alternative plans to recover and regain its strength by the beginning of 2021. These are three of them:
- Domestic and regional tourism
As easing international travel bans is now not in the cards, Southeast Asian governments look forward to domestic tourism as a potential source of income. In this regard, many promotional campaigns are conducted to encourage locals to explore different parts of their own countries. Not only that, allowing regional movements and inviting neighbouring countries’ travellers to visit the country sounds like a successful approach to partially compensate for the foreign currency tourism.
- Travel bubble
Alternatively known as corona corridors, travel bubble is a new term that refers to the creation of a travel network between the countries with the least number of COVID-19 cases. This looks like a good idea to reduce economic losses and guarantee a higher level of health and safety.
- Digital solutions
The need to come up with creative contactless solutions across all travel-related industries suggests a possible advancement in the digitization and automation solutions. From the airlines and hotel chains all the way to historical sights and leisure hubs, keeping social distancing and hygiene standards necessitates the use of advanced technologies, which will likely be the case for the upcoming years.
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