Asia Paradox is the first to contain Covid but the last to travel – Skift
The tables have turned.
In June, Skift founder and CEO Rafat Ali wrote an essay, Who Wants an American Tourist Now ?, reporting how the United States had become the global hub for Covid-19 infections and deaths, as a result. an outcast of incoming or outgoing tourism.
Now it is travelers from India – the world’s largest vaccine maker – who are not wanted. Half of all the cases reported worldwide last week were in India, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Thailand, touted by the WHO at the end of last year as a model of Covid containment, is battling its worst upsurge in history, putting into play its international opening scheduled from July 1. The quarantine for inbound travelers is back to 14 days, after a reduction from 7 to 10 days since April 1.
In Singapore, another Covid containment model, the quarantine has been increased to 21 days, and the city imposed a “heightened alert” on Friday. From May 16 to June 13, the group size for gatherings is two out of five. The dining room is suspended. Work from home is the default.
Singapore has said it is “on a razor’s edge” with Covid cases, meaning cases may increase or decrease over the coming weeks. A non-quarantine two-way travel corridor with Hong Kong from May 26 could also go both ways.
In Australia, the tourism industry is angry this week after confirmation from the federal budget that the country is not likely to open its international borders until at least mid-2022. The Australian Tourism Export Council said in a statement that the budget “does not bring clarity” to Australia’s “struggling” tourism industry, warning that many companies in the tourism supply chain will have to make decisions difficult as to their future and which many should close.
The lost kingdom?
Asian countries are worried about more contagious variants such as B16172 which was first detected in India and appears to be spreading across the region.
The year looks like 2020 again, maybe even a little worse, as countries like Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, and so on, battle the surge in cases.
While the West sees the light at the end of the tunnel, the East is strangled.
The continent which has closed borders, introduced lockdowns, quarantines and curfews, and which has imposed the wearing of masks, social distancing and contact tracing, faces an enigma. Do these measures, which made Asia a zero Covid hero, backfire and make the region a lost or hermetically sealed kingdom? The West, which has lagged behind Asia on containment, is opening the floodgates for people to do business or meet in person, and rediscover the joys of leisure travel.
“Travel to Europe has picked up quite well. European countries are trying to deal with infections pragmatically and keep the numbers in check. Thailand and other Asian destinations have a “zero” target. It requires total isolation – with unprecedented consequences, ”said Ruth Landolt, Managing Director of Asia365, a Zurich-based tour operator that is part of the German group DER Touristik.
The point is, she said in a Skift article written in August 2020. It turns out that the West sees that a combination of rapid vaccine deployment and a non-zero tolerance approach is the way to go. key to opening.
“Who best managed the crisis? The East has been really risk-averse, putting health above the economy. The West put the economy first, health second. Western countries are now deploying a lot of efforts to speed up vaccination, that is to say they are catching up on the health component while gradually opening up the economy. In Asia, we are still very focused on health, but vaccination is so far behind the West, with a few exceptions like Singapore, ”said Mario Hardy, CEO of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA).
“Asian countries are realizing the impact of the lack of tourism on the economy and are struggling to find a way forward because without vaccinating the population, reopening involves a risk. And that’s something they don’t want to take. In contrast, look at countries like Israel and a few others that have vaccinated the majority of the population – they are ready to open, ”he said.
Why oh why
The ideal match is when vaccinated travelers meet vaccinated locals. But Asia’s biggest problem is that it sits at the lower echelons of vaccine deployment, with exceptions such as Singapore and the Maldives, as seen here. Monitoring of the Covid-19 vaccine compiled by the Financial Times.
How a continent that has been so focused on health rather than the economy lags behind in vaccinating its people is not at all mind boggling. The political game, for its part, is transparent to many.
In Australia, for example, the decision to keep international borders closed until mid-2022 is widely seen as a maneuver for the next election. The recent national elections in Western Australia and Queensland have shown that a stronger stance on openness wins votes.
In India, huge crowds were cheered up at election rallies and the month-long Hindu religious festival of Kumbh Mela, held on the banks of the Ganges.
Hubris is another reason, with countries like India and Thailand seen as victims of their own successful containment of the virus causing governments to delay securing vaccines quickly and lowering their guards.
The greatest decline
Of any region in the world today, Asia-Pacific suffered the largest 95% drop in inbound international arrivals in the first four months, compared to 2019, according to the latest figures from ForwardKeys. The Americas were the least affected with a decline of 74%, followed by Africa and the Middle East (minus 78%) and Europe (minus 89%).
“I have spoken with some Asian governments and the overall tone has changed,” said Jameson Wong, Asia-Pacific director of ForwardKeys. “In the first quarter, there was a feeling of optimism, with them saying they are trying to open in the second half of the year. But in the last six to eight weeks, it’s back to “we don’t know”. The challenge for Asia is the dynamic viral situation here. “
On the other hand, it is certain in the West that vaccination is boosting international travel. Three home markets, Israel, the United States and the United Kingdom, where vaccination campaigns are particularly well advanced, have seen flight bookings increase more sharply than elsewhere.
Conversely, the destinations that welcome vaccinated travelers, such as Greece and Iceland, are the most successful. Flight bookings increase “dramatically” from the moment of their announcements, ForwardKeys said.
“It’s immunization, politics and communications,” Wong said. “Greece and Cyprus are examples of two countries that indicated early on that they wanted travelers in the summer. Travelers need time to decide where to go. “
From Australia to Thailand, members of tourism crave clarity.
The stakes are high if Thailand’s plan to open up to vaccinated travelers this summer, starting with Phuket, does not materialize. For Asian Trails, a tour operator specializing in European affairs, it’s not because of the summer booking, which is traditionally not high. Its a question of confidence.
“If the July deadline is delayed, winter activity will also suffer because there will be a loss of confidence as to whether or not the Phuket Sandbox model will be in place from October,” said Laurent Kuenzle, CEO of Asian Trails.
Winter is when Europeans escape the cold. Thailand’s value for money, warm climate and beautiful beaches make it a favorite playground for Europeans from October to March. Kuenzle said there was already a strong demand.
“Several of our partners, especially in Scandinavia and Poland, say they are ready to send large numbers of customers to Phuket and Krabi from October if borders are opened and quarantine restrictions lifted. I would say we can expect between 30-40% of winter season 2019/2020 rental customers for the upcoming winter season in southern Thailand, ”Kuenzle said.
As for openings in the rest of Southeast Asia, it’s chalky at best. “Maybe Bali but not the rest of Indonesia. Cambodia also says it wants to open by October. There is no official news from Laos. The news from Vietnam is confusing, but looking at how it has reacted in recent months, Vietnam is unlikely to open its borders this year. Malaysia’s communication “yes but no but yes but no but” is also very confused. Myanmar is sadly in a terrible state at the moment. I think Singapore will try to find a model to reopen, but the current regulations are not conducive to tourism, ”Laurent said.
Not surprisingly, PATA this year revised the scenario of a resumption of international arrivals in Asia-Pacific to “severe” from “medium to severe” just a month ago. The association expects growth of no more than 6% in international arrivals to the region this year, in 2019, compared to growth of 6 to 11% earlier.
This will bring international arrivals to Asia-Pacific back to the level of 20 years ago, Hardy said.
“There may be exceptions, for example Singapore or the Maldives, but on average I would say [the recovery scenario] is severe across Asia, ”Hardy said.
“However, in 2022 we could envision an average recovery as more people get vaccinated and Asian destinations see how Europe and others end protocols and simplify ways to travel to Europe. “
The European Commission is expected to deploy a Covid-19 certificate that will allow citizens who are vaccinated, who have recovered from Covid-19 or who have tested negative to travel easily in the summer.