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March 25, 2021

Asia

SOUTHEAST ASIA: The emerging shape of inbound tourism policies through end 2021

BY Bob Herrera-Lim

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As vaccinations have started to proceed apace in many of the region’s top tourism markets in the west, countries are putting more details into their plans for reopening travel. Many of the countries already have existing arrangements to receive returning citizens, investors, teachers and technical experts with strict quarantine regimes. However, except for Thailand’s 14-day quarantine program for tourists from selected countries, none allow inbound casual travel.

SOUTHEAST ASIA: The emerging shape of inbound tourism policies through end 2021 1

As would be expected, economies with a substantial stake in trade or tourism — Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia — are leading in the initiatives. Noticeably, Thailand and Indonesia are planning to accelerate the vaccination of residents in their top tourism destinations such as Phuket and Bali, with the goal of hitting herd immunity targets of around 60% by June or July. Their objective is to reassure both the residents in these localities and travelers that the risk from opening these destinations can be reduced. This would then allow them to plan for bubbles with other countries using direct flights or dedicated routes. Singapore, which has no separate tourism geography, is considering mutual vaccination agreements, and the details of a reciprocal program with Malaysia are being worked out.

But Thailand is also planning a broader reopening by October that would eliminate quarantine requirements for many tourists, except for those from high-risk areas where variants are in the wild. This would be the most substantial reopening to inbound travel in Southeast Asia. Thailand’s goal is to establish these tourist flows for the peak November to April period, and pressure is building on the Thai government not to lose this season for a second year in row.

Although Vietnam has consistently won praises for its ability to bring Covid-19 under control, its vaccine policy may prove to be an uncharacteristic misstep that limits its ability to open up to foreign tourists this year. Hanoi had wanted a locally developed vaccine to be used as the lead for its vaccination program, possibly underestimating the speed of global vaccine development and overestimating its own timeline. To compensate for the likelihood that its own vaccine will not be ready until next year, it is negotiating with foreign vaccine suppliers as well as the COVAX initiative for additional doses and to accelerate deliveries. In the Philippines, a slow vaccine rollout and a recent spike make it more likely that the country will be a laggard in tourism reopening.

Six-month inbound travel emerging policy outlook

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