Here’s a 60-second speed-read of Asia Travel Re:Set Issue #27, published on 7 February 2021.
6 things we learned in Travel & Tourism in Asia Pacific last week include…
An ASEAN Single Aviation Market Remains Unlikely
In 2011, establishing Open Skies in South East Asia became a policy goal for the 10 members of ASEAN. Progress has been slow. States are battling to protect their home carriers and their route networks while strict airline investment rules remain in place. In addition, external aviation agreements favour airlines from key air markets like China. This week’s The South East Asia Travel Show assessed whether COVID-19 will accelerate or decelerate the development of an ASEAN Single Aviation Market with Michelle Dy, Manager, Global Affairs & Policy at AirAsia. Michelle says that although considerable economic benefits have been gained by air liberalisation in recent years, the next steps may be tricky:
“In ASEAN, airlines’ inability to efficiently expand into the other countries – like companies in other industries can – is due to the foreign ownership restrictions imposed on airlines. It’s unfortunate to say, but it doesn’t look like COVID-19, and the challenges being faced by airlines, will do anything to change that whole ownership regime anytime soon.”
New Zealand, Hong Kong & Sri Lanka
This week’s Asia Travel Re:Set analysed the above graphic from Fitch Solutions / World Travel & Tourism Council. The focus was on the 7 destinations on the left side of the chart. These are the most economically in need of restarting inbound travel. Four are in ASEAN, plus New Zealand, Hong Kong and Sri Lanka. On 21 February, Sri Lanka reopened to visitors. Its supply lines are, however, restricted by ongoing travel bans and suspended flight routes from key markets. In Hong Kong, social restrictions remain in place for the upcoming Chinese New Year, and its primary goal is to establish an open border with Mainland China. New Zealand’s travel horizons are very low in 2021, as it pursues a Zero COVID strategy. This week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said:
“We will continue to pursue travel bubbles with Australia and the Pacific, but the rest of the world simply poses too great a risk for our health and our economy.”
Picking a Travel Bubble Partner in ASEAN
The 4 most prominent South East Asian nations on the graph are Cambodia, Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia. But would any of those pick a travel bubble partner in ASEAN? Cambodia has an extremely low incidence of COVID-19, and may be looking to China as its preferred travel source market. As mentioned below, Malaysia’s high rate of new cases may influence its decision to seek a travel corridor with Indonesia. An agreement between Thailand and Philippines would appear unlikely following their Land of COVID disagreement last August. But will any ASEAN nations enter into bilateral or multilateral travel corridor deals? Entrenched national positions and a low degree of trust among member states about the safety of border re-openings are big hurdles to overcome.
Thailand Tourism Talks “SEXY”
Since October, when Thailand introduced its long-stay Special Tourist Visa (STV) scheme, the nation’s tourism board has floated various reopening concepts. These included bespoke Happy Quarantines for spa connoisseurs and golfers. This week, Phuket said it plans to inoculate its population in order to reopen for tourism in the middle of the year. Meanwhile, Thailand surprised the world with its “SEXY” travel programme – S – Safety and Hygiene, E – Environmental Sustainability, X – Extra Experiences, and Y – Yield. The Tourism Authority of Thailand explained the scheme as “a high-value form of tourism from a group of people with high-spending potential.”
Delay for World Economic Forum in Singapore
The 2021 World Economic Forum Special Annual Meeting, scheduled to take place from 25-28 May, was this week delayed. The event will now be hosted from 17-20 August, giving Singapore more time to prepare – and to vaccinate its population. The official explanation for the postponement was that it “Reflects the international challenges in containing the pandemic.” Moreover, “Current global travel restrictions have made planning difficult for an in-person meeting in the first half of the year.” This year’s WEF Summit has set itself an immense task, to “bring leaders face-to-face to focus on shaping solutions to the most pressing challenges of our times.”
Can Indonesia & Malaysia Construct a Travel Bubble?
Indonesia and Malaysia continue to struggle with COVID-19 containment. Together, they account for 84% (65% Indonesia, 19% Malaysia) of total active cases in ASEAN. While Indonesia has begun inoculating a targeted 70% of its 270 million population, Malaysia has not started its vaccine programme. Furthermore, it remains under a Movement Control Order until 18 February, and domestic travel is banned. This week, however, Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin discussed establishing “a Reciprocal Green Lane” for essential business travel during a meeting in Jakarta. Despite positive reports in the Malaysian media, this is unlikely to be initiated any time soon.
This is a short summary version of Issue #27 of Asia Travel Re:Set: “Is ASEAN More Divided Than Ever on Travel?”