Asia Travel Re: Set – Issue #69: In Summary

Asia Travel Re:Set issue 69 cover

Here’s a 60-second speed-read of Asia Travel Re:Set Issue #69 – Loosening State Control Over Travel is South East Asia’s Biggest Challengepublished on 16 January 2022.

After 2 years of COVID-19, travel has become more political than ever – especially in South East Asia, where it was already heavily state-driven.

Tough border regulations, flight bans, quarantines, visa approvals and vaccine mandates have tightened state control over the ability to travel – and the policy direction the industry might take.

Decoupling border controls from revenue raising and overall tourism management will be a tricky challenge.

This issue assesses how travel and tourism in South East Asia is exposed more than ever to political power plays. Read this issue in full HERE

So, here’s a quick recap of this week’s top 5 talking points…

1) Tourism Industry Target Setting

During the 2010s, South East Asian tourism boards published ambitious annual visitor targets. These tended to promote mass tourism and encouraged frequent discounting. The widespread travel dislocations caused by COVID-19 might have been expected to reduce the appeal of visitor targets. Now they are back. Thailand wants  10-18 million inbound visitors in 2022. Vietnam 5 million, Indonesia 3.6 million and Laos 1 million.

2) Rewriting the Rules of Supply

South East Asia’s ‘book-and-fly’ culture has been replaced – for now – by central planning, which controls the available destinations and booking channels. Malaysia and Vietnam began offering small-scale, resort tourism at hand-picked destinations, such as Phu Quoc, Ha Long, Sa Pa and Da Lat in Vietnam, and Langkawi in Malaysia. All flights, transfers, accommodation and tour bookings must, however, be made through an approved local agent. 

3) Reshaping the Market Composition

In 2021, some governments selected lists of ‘eligible’ countries from which travellers can arrive. Thailand chose 63 countries for its quarantine-free Test & Go scheme. Vietnam 72 countries. The Philippines chose 159 eligible countries before Omicron forced it to postpone reopening. Cherry picking of visitor demographics is also emerging. Tourism boards actively pitch to ‘quality tourists,’ while Indonesia actually said it no longer wants backpackers to visit Bali!

4) Travel Revenue Tools

The ancillary costs of travel will no longer be confined to airlines and hotels. Governments will also increase the privilege of visiting. This week, Thailand announced it will collect a THB300 ‘Tourism Fee’ from April. The utilisation of the fee remains opaque. It will be channelled to a so-called Tourism Transformation Fund, which “aims to rebuild and develop tourism supply chains as well as offer safety and security for tourists.”

5) Making Travel Policy a Media Moment

Prime Ministers are claiming credit for reopening borders, even partially, often in front of the TV cameras. When Thailand launched the Phuket Sandbox, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha greeted the first visitors at the airport. Similarly, a joint press conference by Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri inaugurated the cross-border Vaccinated Travel Lanes between the two countries last November.

This is a 60-second speed-read of Asia Travel Re:Set Issue #69 – Loosening State Control Over Travel is South East Asia’s Biggest Challenge, published on 16 January 2022.

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