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Southeast Asia: sandboxes for vaccinated tourists – Economic Policy

With the covid pandemic, the tourist map of Southeast Asia will look very different in 2022

Before the pandemic, the itinerary offered by the Lonely Planet tourist guide for travelers wishing to discover the “best of Southeast Asia” included eight weeks of adventure in the region’s megacities, temple cities, jungle and the islands. A proposal for 2022, aimed primarily at those who are not lucky enough to live in “low risk countries”, could be limited to a few islands and one or another large city because it would seem that travelers can’t access much else.

In 2019, the most recent normal year for the sector, tourism employed 42 million people in Southeast Asia, or 13% of total employment, and contributed 12% to regional GDP. The UN estimates that this GDP could decline by 8.4% in 2020 following the decline in tourism. Some countries have been particularly affected. Thus, tourism represents 20% of Thailand’s GDP thanks, mainly, to foreign travelers. From 2019 to 2020, the country welcomed 83% fewer.

In 2021, fearing that many businesses hurt in the first year of the pandemic would collapse in the second, Thailand began experimenting with the concept of a “sandbox”. The idea is simple: allow fully vaccinated tourists to frolic without quarantine on an island paradise where most residents are also double vaccinated. After 14 days on the island without being sick, visitors are then allowed to travel to other parts of the country, if they wish.

Phuket welcomed its first foreign tourists under the scheme on July 1. A week later, the first foreigner tested positive for Covid-19. However, the Thai government persevered, even as the rest of the country faced a huge surge due to the delta variant. At the end of 2021, other places were opened to travelers, such as Bangkok, so that they could visit the country without undergoing quarantine.

Other Southeast Asian countries will follow Thailand’s lead in 2022…up to a point: they will only open popular tourist attractions to visitors, and only to certain nationalities. Indonesia will allow international travelers to visit islands like Bali, but there will be greater restrictions elsewhere. Vietnam will welcome travelers to the island of Phu Quoc, famous for its long sandy beaches at the foot of the mountains and the jungle. Malaysia will expand its experience for domestic travelers in Langkawi, another tropical island, to other tourist spots and will also start allowing entry to international tourists. Cambodian tour operators want to install a sandbox in Siem Reap, far inland, to allow visitors to visit the temples of Angkor Wat.

Barring new variant, expect this region and other corners of the planet to start welcoming visitors again in 2022. This is not necessarily the best of Southeast Asia but after the last past years is a good start.

Leo Mirani, The Economist

Before the pandemic, the itinerary offered by the Lonely Planet tourist guide for travelers wishing to discover the “best of Southeast Asia” included eight weeks of adventure in the region’s megacities, temple cities, jungle and the islands. A proposal for 2022, aimed primarily at those who are not lucky enough to live in “low risk countries”, could be limited to a few islands and one or another large city because it would seem that travelers can’t access much else. In 2019, the most recent normal year for the sector, tourism employed 42 million people in Southeast Asia, or 13% of total employment, and contributed 12% to regional GDP. The UN estimates that this GDP could decline by 8.4% in 2020 following the decline in tourism. Some countries have been particularly affected. Thus, tourism represents 20% of Thailand’s GDP thanks, mainly, to foreign travelers. From 2019 to 2020, the country welcomed 83% fewer. In 2021, fearing that many businesses hurt in the first year of the pandemic would collapse in the second, Thailand began experimenting with the concept of a “sandbox”. The idea is simple: allow fully vaccinated tourists to frolic without quarantine on an island paradise where most residents are also double vaccinated. After 14 days on the island without being sick, visitors are then allowed to travel to other parts of the country, if they wish. Phuket welcomed its first foreign tourists under the scheme on July 1. A week later, the first foreigner tested positive for Covid-19. However, the Thai government persevered, even as the rest of the country faced a huge surge due to the delta variant. At the end of 2021, other places were opened to travelers, such as Bangkok, so that they could visit the country without undergoing quarantine. Other Southeast Asian countries will follow Thailand’s lead in 2022…up to a point: they will only open popular tourist attractions to visitors, and only to certain nationalities. Indonesia will allow international travelers to visit islands like Bali, but there will be greater restrictions elsewhere. Vietnam will welcome travelers to the island of Phu Quoc, famous for its long sandy beaches at the foot of the mountains and the jungle. Malaysia will expand its experience for domestic travelers in Langkawi, another tropical island, to other tourist spots and will also start allowing entry to international tourists. Cambodian tour operators want to install a sandbox in Siem Reap, far inland, to allow visitors to visit the temples of Angkor Wat. Barring new variant, expect this region and other corners of the planet to start welcoming visitors again in 2022. This is not necessarily the best of Southeast Asia but after the last past years is a good start. Leo Mirani, The Economist

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