Asia Travel Re: Set – Issue #67: In Summary

Asia Travel Re:Set Issue 67 Cover

Here’s a 60-second speed-read of Asia Travel Re:Set Issue #67 – 21 Things That Will Forever Remind Us of Travel in Asia Pacific in 2021, published on 12 December 2021.

This special issue looked back on a second consecutive tough year for travel and tourism in Asia Pacific. Read this issue in full HERE.

So, let’s rewind the 21 events that galvanised attentions across 2021…

1) India, ASEAN & the Delta Variant

From late February, India suffered at the hands of Covid-19. The Delta Variant was first identified in India, and later scythed through South East Asia. On 22 July, the 10 ASEAN nations surpassed 1 million active cases for the first time. It would get much worse.

2) The Phuket Sandbox

Thailand reopened the island of Phuket to vaccinated foreign visitors on 1 July. The procedures were complex and the timing was wrong. The ‘quarantine-free’ Test & Go scheme replaced it on 1 November. Although a better system, Test & Go was suspended before Christmas.

3) 12 More Months Without Chinese Tourists

A regional recovery needs China’s participation. It’s not just the volumes of Chinese visitors or the totals of group vs independent travellers. It’s the entire travel eco-system China built across Asia Pacific in the 2010s. No sign of a return any time soon.

4) South Korea Becomes Asia’s Most Vibrant Travel Market

Vaccinated South Koreans who were exempt from quarantine when returning home took off for summer vacations. Hot destinations included Switzerland, France, Italy, Spain, Guam, Saipan, Hawaii and Maldives. A Delta case surge and Omicron saw quarantine on return reinstated.

5) Trans-Tasman Bubble Flourishes – Briefly

Floated between the Australian and New Zealand governments in late April 2020. Commenced one-way from New Zealand to selected Australian states on 16 October. Two-way Australia-New Zealand travel commenced on 19 April 2021. Suspended on 21 August.

6) Hong Kong-Singapore Air Travel Bubble – Double Deflation

Hong Kong and Singapore tried to launch their bilateral bubble in November 2020, but it was postponed. Several months later, a re-floated second version was scheduled for 26 May. Once more, it failed. 

7) Myanmar in Turmoil

Myanmar’s military executed a violent coup on 1 February. The situation continues to worsen. This is not a travel story, but it is a heart-breaking legacy for South East Asia from 2021.

8) “We Don’t Want Backpackers!”

The most unguarded travel quote of the year came from Indonesia’s minister responsible for the reopening of Bali: “We will filter tourists that come visit. We don’t want backpackers to come so that Bali remains clean, where the people who come are of quality.”

9) 8 Months of Zero Travel in Malaysia

With Covid-19 infections rising after the New Year holidays, Malaysia prohibited domestic travel on 13 January. The ban remained intact until a pilot travel bubble for vaccinated residents was launched on the island of Langkawi on 16 September.

10) No Fuss in the Maldives

Maldives reopened to international travellers on 15 July 2020, after a 110-day closure due to COVID-19. Despite having to close to Indian visitors (its #1 inbound market) in mid-2021, the islands received 1,162,425 arrivals in the first 11 months of 2021 – up 152.1% on 2020. 

The SEA Travel Review of 2021

On the final The South East Asia Travel Show of 2021, we rewind through the 10 events and developments that will always remind us of a very tough year in South East Asia. 

Listen here:

🎧 Website
🎧 Spotify
🎧 Apple Podcasts

11) The Empty Olympics

Delayed for one year due to the pandemic, the Tokyo 2020 (2021) Olympics organisers banned foreign visitors. Hence, the Games will be remembered for mask-wearing ceremonies and empty stadiums as much as for the numerous world records achieved.

12) COP26, Climate Crisis & Travel

The COP26 meeting placed travel in the sustainability cross-hairs. Brands that ‘greenwash’ are unlikely to get an easy ride in Asia. That said, the travel industry focus in 2022 will be on financial recovery. Will the “this is a time to reset our environmental values” talk get to walk?

13) AirAsia’s SuperApp

Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2021, South East Asia’s largest LCC is a private entity with no government funding. This year, it faced a precipice. Time will tell whether its SuperApp conversion will succeed, but other airlines will attempt to follow in its digital footsteps.

14) Domestic Travel Carries the Burden

Covid-19 has triggered a travel reset, with governments forced to turn to their domestic tourism markets – which previously received little finance and marketing support. This continued through 2021, and will remain equally important in the first half of 2022 (at least).

15) Zero Covid Canned … Almost

Zero Tolerance, or elimination, approaches to Covid-19 were (mostly) consigned to history as 2021 progressed. Australia started to reopen before Omicron. New Zealand plans to do likewise in phases in 2022. China and Hong Kong remain the upholders of Zero Tolerance. 

16) “Not” Living With Covid in Hong Kong

“If Hong Kong were to loosen the border controls… or adopt what other countries have done… to live with the COVID-19 virus, then the chances of resuming travel with the mainland will be reduced,” said Carrie Lam, Hong Kong Chief Executive, in October as she tightened travel rules to align with China’s hard border policy.

17) Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTLs)

Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTLs) – quota-capped, quarantine-free air travel corridors – define 2021 in Singapore. Its VTL country count stands at 21, with 3 (UAE, Saudi Arabia & Qatar) currently deferred. Though decelerated by Omicron, the VTLs will scale back up in 2022.

18) China-Laos Railway

The long-awaited China-Laos railway launched on 3 December. It is the first part of China’s pan-ASEAN railway connecting South East Asia with the city of Kunming and China’s high-speed rail network. Running from Kunming-Boten on the China-Lao border and on to Vientiane, the train enables passengers to view this spectacular nation from their window seat.

19) South East Asia Starts to Reopen

As vaccine rates increased by August, ASEAN countries led by Singapore began talking of ‘Covid resilience.’ Thereafter, travel reopenings commenced, at varying degrees of scale, in Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam. Malaysia, Cambodia and the Philippines were poised. In November, cautious booking optimism emerged for the 2022 Lunar New Year holiday. Then came (21) below.

20) Cambodia Goes All In

Cambodia spotted a window. Emboldened by a highly vaccinated population, it decided in November to reopen to International visitors. Unlike Thailand, whose quarantine-free visitor scheme is restricted to vaccinated entrants from 63 destinations, Cambodia welcomed all arrivals.

21) Omicron Derails Travel Optimism

On 26 November, the WHO designated variant B.1.1.529 as “a variant of concern, named Omicron.” Governments across the region immediately retreated from travel and reinstated border entry barriers, such as extended quarantine periods and more regular testing. These moves were initially designed to deter travel, rather than ban it, as Omicron started to spread.

This is a 60-second speed-read of Asia Travel Re:Set Issue #67 – 21 Things That Will Forever Remind Us of Travel in Asia Pacific in 2021, published on 12 December 2021.

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