Asia Pacific preps to welcome back tourists

TD Editor

The Asia Pacific region has begun to slowly ease its COVID-19 lockdown measures along with its border restrictions and is moving toward welcoming tourists back.

Commenting on the preparations Chris Crampton – Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) UK & Ireland Chairman has released this statement and update:

“It feels good to be on the road to recovery after what has been one of the most challenging times in history for the travel industry. As the region’s countries begin to ease lockdown and travel restrictions, it is vital, for the survival of our industry and tourism to the region, that we work together to ensure a steady recovery. Through reliable and concise information and coordinated actions our priority is to reassure the trade, and consumers, to help boost confidence in travelling once again” said Crampton.

“Consumers’ desire to travel is still strong and there is significant pent up demand but, understandably, travellers are looking for more flexibility now and I believe we will see a structural change in changes to booking terms and conditions. Traditional booking patterns won’t apply this year and there will be a much shorter book to travel time as consumers remain cautious. November, for example, is cited to be an unusually busy month for bookings as consumers book last-minute 2020 winter sun and trips for Q1 2021. Our members and businesses in the region that adapt quickly to changing consumer behaviour and demands will have a competitive advantage that could prove crucial in hastening their recovery” Crampton added.

Airlines serving the region are rejigging fare structures and introducing more flexible fare options. For example, Malaysia Airlines now offers Economy Lite, Economy Basic and Economy Flex fares. Economy Flex, for example, affords greater flexibility, rebooking, unlimited date changes (fare difference applies) or refunds at no extra cost.

“In terms of types of holidays, and countries we expect to see perform well across the Asia Pacific region in the immediate future, we understand that travellers are looking for escapism, relaxation and wellness holidays so destinations with great beaches and islands, remote resorts and excellent spa and health facilities are likely to welcome back visitors first. As consumers start to enquire and book again, our tour operator and Destination Management Company (DMC) members have also reported an interesting increase in demand for touring and multi-centre/country holidays but this is largely for 2021 departures when more, if not all, of the region will be accessible again” continued Crampton.

DMC member, EXO Travel, is committed to following WTTC protocols as they return to operations. Nick Ghosh, global director of sales, reports: “Enquiries have started to return but are only at around 20% compared to 2019 levels. Japan is fairing best, followed by Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam. We have more flexible conditions for bookings made in 2020 and are watching closely to see how our destinations slowly open up to international travel in the coming months. We do not expect to see much travel in 2020 at this stage, but hope to see it return in Q1 and cannot wait to welcome our partners and clients back to Asia soon!”

Representation member, Red Elephant Reps commented on behalf of their hotel, DMC and cruise clients reporting that they’ve put various stringent post-COVID measures in place and that hotels such as The Pimalai Koh Lanta, Thailand are seeing interesting changes to occupancy patterns as they report healthy levels in August, usually an off-peak month.

Ethos Travel, tour operator member, believes there is undoubtedly a pent-up demand for holidays to Asia but this is tempered by travel restrictions. Co-founder, Sam Collins, shared: “We’re only seeing airline and hotel sales staff returning to their offices now after furlough so we’re expecting to see a surge in offers for 2021 travel coming over the next couple of months. We’re putting together more flexible booking conditions and increasing our villa product range in Thailand and Indonesia whilst adding more destinations to our portfolio. We’re feeling positive about the future!”

David Kevan, Partner & Product Manager at CHIC Locations commented: “I can’t see most of SE Asia opening up to UK arrivals until November – with limited flights – increasing gradually into December, however, I think the UK will remain a ‘red zone’ country for some time so British travellers will be amongst the last to be accepted into much of the region sadly. I expect to see clients making bookings for SE Asia in Q4 but generally with departures in Q1/2 of 2021. We are seeing good demand for escapist resorts rather than cities and I feel airline schedules will reflect this. Tremendous interest in the Maldives, in our view one of the safest destinations given its unique style but still somewhat illogically still on the UK FCO only travel if essential list ”

The Maldives was the first South Asian country to open its borders for tourism. Resorts, liveaboards and hotels located at uninhabited islands opened on 15 July while guest houses and hotels located at inhabited islands will be open ‪from 1 August 2020‬.

Popular destinations Sri Lanka and Bali are following suit in the coming weeks.

Many Asia Pacific destinations have reopened to the domestic travel market, testing new policies and protocols ahead of welcoming back international travellers. Various initiatives and apps have been launched in Thailand to manage the health and safety of tourists such as a Safety & Health Association Certification which has over 2,000 approved businesses listed from hotels to spas, restaurants and shopping centres. A new QueQ app will help control the flow of tourists at national parks, attractions and restaurants providing additional reassurance whilst on holiday in Thailand.

Singapore has launched a similar initiative, the SG Clean Certification and the South Australian Tourism Commission (SATC) has set up an online course, developed in partnership with South Australian-owned businesses and Health Safety Environment Australia, and so far has helped nearly 3,500 tourism and hospitality workers get back to business.

Fiji has launched a compulsory track and traced APP called CareFiji.

Some hotel properties, such as PATA’s newest member Kantary Hotel Group, have undergone renovation and modernisation, refurbishing and improving guest rooms and facilities and used the downtime to provide intensive training programmes for staff. They are an outstanding example of a hotel group putting staff & customer safety first; they’re rigidly following the World Health Organization (WHO) and Ministry of Public Health (Thailand) measures and are working with a qualified medical team of doctors and pharmacists to oversee staff training to ensure the highest standard of safety.

“Our members’ swift efforts to launch new initiatives to support a safe return to tourism is admirable and should give peace of mind to agents, and their customers, for travel to the region” concluded Crampton.

To help agents better understand which countries in the region are open or opening soon and those that the British government have eased travel restrictions to PATA has released the following lists.

The following countries in the region are open/reopening to international arrivals but still have restricted FCO travel advice in place or the 14-day quarantine on return to the UK applies:

  • Cambodia (open)
  • French Polynesia (open)
  • The Maldives (open since 15th July)
  • South Korea (open)
  • Sri Lanka (open ‪from 1st August‬)
  • UAE (open)

The following countries have ‘travel corridors’ (from 10th July 2020) with the UK and therefore are exempt from the 14-day quarantine on return to the UK:

  • Australia
  • Brunei
  • Fiji
  • French Polynesia (open with entry requirements & restrictions)
  • Hong Kong
  • Japan
  • Macau
  • Malaysia
  • New Zealand
  • South Korea (open with entry requirements & restrictions)
  • Taiwan
  • Vietnam

All of the above countries (except Fiji) will benefit from eased travel restrictions by the FCO but the majority remains closed to international arrivals still.

Other countries the FCO has eased travel restrictions to (from 4th July 2020) which they deem “no longer pose a high risk to British travellers” include: Thailand, Singapore, and Wallis and Futuna.

On return to the UK from these countries, travellers must still quarantine for 14 days. These countries remain closed to international arrivals still.

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