Welcome to our easy-to read analysis of Asia Pacific’s Top 5 Travel Takeaways: Issue 3.
This week’s snapshots feature ASEAN, Australia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.
Each Monday, we deconstruct 5 key travel and tourism stories you may have missed.
Top 5 Travel Takeaways: Issue 3 is adapted from issue 70 of Asia Travel Re:Set.
1) ASEAN Travel Corridor Still Locked
We’ve heard this several times before, but South East Asian Tourism Ministers reconfirmed plans to open an ASEAN Travel Corridor following the ASEAN Tourism Ministers meeting in Cambodia. Political placemaking, or a genuine policy shift?
Takeaway: Sadly, the former. This announcement prompted inaccurate media headlines that ASEAN was reopening its borders. Once again, this is the politics of COVID supplanting actual fact. The 10 ASEAN nations will continue to develop their own border policies. Until ASEAN agrees on a common format for intra-ASEAN entry, these pronouncements are meaningless.
2) Backpacks Back in Australia
Backpackers are welcome again in Australia, as the government says it will waive the visa fee for Working Holiday visitors. Arrival testing requirements are also to be eased, but Aussie borders will remain closed for general travel. The state of Western Australia will prolong its own isolation from the rest of Australia and the world.
Takeaway: Australia has long been a proactive and supportive protagonist of working holiday and backpacker travel, and has reaped the benefits. Young, long-stay travellers undertake vital jobs in hospitality, farming and agriculture that support economic growth – both in regional communities and nationally – and enjoy invaluable experiences along the way. Bring it back!
3) Malaysia Cuts Home-Quarantine Time
Malaysia has introduced a 3-tier isolation period for returning nationals and inbound arrivals. Vaccine boosted visitors will now need to home-isolate for 5 days – with different rules for non-boosted and unvaccinated visitors.
Takeaway: Inherent caution defines Malaysia’s Omicron-era approach to reopening its borders. The National Recovery Council announced last November that Malaysia would reopen for travel no later that 1 January 2022. Omicron intervened. New infections are stable, the country has a high vaccination rate and is accelerating its booster programme. It seems the government will wait to hit a high booster threshold before adding to its small-scale Travel Bubble on the island of Langkawi and Vaccinated Travel Lane (land and air) with Singapore.
4) ‘Test & Go’ Returns to Thailand
This week, the Land of Smiles unveiled v.04 of its pandemic-era tourism reboot. Thailand will restore its currently suspended Test & Go quarantine-free visitor scheme, with amended rules, in February.
Takeaway: Economic reality is biting in Thailand, and its tourism sector is in ruins. This is proving a taxing economic, political and social issue in South East Asia’s most visited country. Following three previous attempts to reintroduce international tourism during the pandemic, it is trying again in early 2022. Thailand launched its Special Tourist Visa in October 2020. The Phuket Sandbox scheme commenced in July 2021, and the Test & Go programme began in November 2021. Test & Go II is scheduled to start on 1 February.
5) Vietnam Steps Up Reopening Talk
Is Vietnam edging closer to reviving travel? Local media reports that the government is considering removing inbound restrictions from 1 May. Strong pressure is being applied from travel, tourism and airline lobbyists to open the airport gates.
Takeaway: Setting travel reopening timelines in South East Asia is awash with problems, as government continue to prevaricate. That doesn’t stop the media from beating the drum. Vietnam is the latest country to openly recognise that its ambitious 2022 economic recovery targets are unachievable while its borders remain mostly closed. Although it has a pilot tourism scheme operating for hand-picked destinations, the impact has been minimal.