Asia Travel Re: Set – Issue #72: In Summary

Asia Travel Re:Set Issue 72 cover

Here’s a 60-second speed-read of Asia Travel Re:Set Issue 72 – Malaysia’s Reopening is More Complex Than Headline Writers Realisepublished on 13 February 2022.

While the current Omicron wave is surging across South East Asia, travel activity is gradually rebuilding.

This week, the Philippines reopened its airport gates after nearly two years.

But the week’s most revealing story was in Malaysia, where restoring travel to revitalise the economy was complicated by misleading headlines that the country will reopen in March.

Malaysia’s border reopening is complex, and merits deeper analysis than the ill-considered headlines that circulated in midweek.

So here are 5 key factors to keep in mind.

Read Asia Travel Re:set Issue 72 in full HERE

1) “As of today, our borders are still closed – there’s no discussion yet to reopen”

On 8 February, Malaysia’s COVID-19 National Recovery Council, an advisory board chaired by former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, proposed to the government that the nation should reopen its borders “as early as as 1 March.” Many media outlets interpreted this as a fait accompli. It is, however, only a recommendation to the government. The Prime Minister, Ismail Sabri, responded on 11 February with the above quote, largely to diffuse media speculation.

2) The pandemic has hit Malaysia hard

Malaysia has a highly vaccinated population, but Omicron is surging. On Saturday, 22,802 new cases signalled the highest daily total since August 2021. Critical cases and hospitalisations are lower than at that time. Malaysia has been scarred emotionally by COVID-19. The people have endured long periods of lockdowns and restrictions. In 2021, domestic travel was prohibited for 8 months. The economy cratered in 2020, and is recovering slowly. The nation’s borders were closed in mid-March 2020. There is widespread trepidation about reopening them.

3) The economy needs tourism

Malaysia’s travel industry has been decimated by COVID-19. Accumulated revenue losses due to the borders being closed for two years are estimated at around RMB300 billion. While domestic travel started to rebound at the end of 2021, international travel is minimal due to a mandatory quarantine requirement. This week, a local think tank forecast international passenger movements in 2022 could reach 25% compared to 2019, up from just 2.6% in 2021.

Pantai Cenang Langkawi

4) VTLs or a Broader Reopening?

In January, national carrier Malaysia Airlines said it had provided a list of recommended Vaccinated Travel Lane markets to the government. However, with other South East Asian nations – notably Cambodia, Thailand, Philippines, Laos and potentially Vietnam – eschewing the Singapore-style VTL approach for a broader reopening, Malaysia could follow suit.

5) Once the current Omicron surge stabilises, Malaysia will reopen its borders

This is likely to be fairly soon – but it is not yet clear when or how this will happen. Malaysia’s government is aware of the ticking economic clock, and the travel strides other ASEAN nations are making. Entering Q2 with closed borders isn’t economically viable – and the cash-strapped airlines are lobbying hard for transformative action on travel. Keeping a balance between economic recovery and protecting the public will challenge a government without an electoral mandate – and which is seeking to achieve one in the coming months.

This is a 60-second speed-read of Asia Travel Re:Set Issue #72 – Malaysia’s Reopening is More Complex Than Headline Writers Realise, published on 13 February 2022.

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