Phuket’s Sandbox to Singapore’s Travel Corridor: Destinations Weigh Risks and Rewards as Asian Tourism Awakens

October 14, Indonesia The international airport serving the tourist islands of Bali, Bintan and Batam reopened to vaccinated travelers from 19 countries, requiring them to reduce their quarantine period from eight to five month Malaysia Langkawi will be open to vaccinated travelers.

However, experts say these are “small steps” and there is still a long way to go on the road to recovery. Selena Ling, OCBC’s head of financial research and strategy, described the efforts as a “test” in which a handful of relatively small countries will show whether travel plans for vaccinations work on a broader basis. safe operation.

Singapore, for example, has limited the number of travelers entering the country for vaccinations to 3,000 per day. In comparison, in the pre-pandemic days, 200,000 travelers passed through Changi every day.

Passengers at the arrival hall of Singapore Changi Airport.Photo: EPA

travel hesitation

Even without a national cap on arrivals, tourists appeared in no rush to flock back, despite cabin fever Singaporeans crashing the Singapore Airlines website on the day the route was announced.

Local media reported a quiet international arrivals hall on Bali’s first day of reopening, while on the first day people were allowed to apply to enter Singapore through its vaccinated travel lanes, with 2,409 travelers from Europe and North America applying Enter Singapore.

Phuket’s sandbox sounds popular — it has attracted 42,000 visitors to date — but many of them are expats or returning residents, not tourists.

Huang Jingxian, a tourism expert at Nanyang Technological University, said people were hesitant to travel because of the cumbersome process and increased costs.

“In the past, leisure travel was easy and convenient. Now for leisure, your flight is more expensive than before, and you need to do at least two PCR tests, which increases your cost. So even if many people have the desire to travel, but in the end They may not have really acted on it,” she said.

Currently, most countries’ reopening plans are too limited to make much of an impact on gross domestic product, but tourism-dependent economies must try, Huang said. Places like Bali and Phuket “really want to reopen because it’s hard for them to find other ways to revive their economies,” she said, while tourism needs all the help it can get.

Indeed, any reopening could be a lifeline for some. Bon, a 37-year-old waitress, has just returned to work at an open-air bar on Bangla Road in Phuket. She described the experience as “like being born again”.

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Patong Beach in Phuket benefited from the sandbox program.Photo: AFP

In Phuket, thousands of workers depend on tourists for their income, not only bar staff like Bon, but also taxi drivers, restaurants and street vendors. Bon wants the island’s nightlife to “stay like this and nothing bad will happen to put us out of business”.

In his reopening speech, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said the “millions” of Thais who depend on tourism, leisure and entertainment cannot afford “the devastation of a second lost New Year holiday”.

Anan Nuisuchon, a 51-year-old longtail boat driver, said his income has dropped from $1,000 to $150 a month because there are no tourists to ferry him to. Instead, he had to support himself by doing odd jobs.

Thailand’s economy is not alone in its dependence on tourism. In 2018, tourism revenue accounted for 5.5% of GDP in Singapore, 5.8% in Malaysia, and more than 11% in Vietnam and Thailand.

In Cambodia, it accounts for 17.8 percent of GDP, while in some areas — such as Bali, Indonesia — up to 70 percent of people depend on it. Thailand welcomed a record 40 million tourists in 2019, but just over 70,000 between January and August this year.

For Asian economies such as Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore, which are also hubs for airlines, “the reopening of international travel and tourism is an important part of efforts to revive their respective economies and normalize growth prospects,” said OCBC’s Ling. part”.

Fate weighs heavily on all destinations China tourist, they were among the biggest drivers of tourism in the region before the pandemic. In 2019, Chinese tourists accounted for a fifth of tourist arrivals in Singapore and more than a quarter of tourist arrivals in Thailand. In 2018, 27 million Chinese tourists visited ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries, an almost tenfold increase from 2003. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that they will return anytime soon, given Beijing’s pursuit of a “zero-coronavirus” strategy.
clean china golden week


Domestic tourism and consumption surge during China’s ‘Golden Week’

Domestic tourism and consumption surge during China’s ‘Golden Week’

“Are we really ready?”

From Bangkok to Bali, Chiang Mai and Langkawi, Asia’s top tourist destinations are closely watching Phuket’s sandbox and Singapore’s vaccination corridor to see what lessons can be learned.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has expressed concern that Thailand may open its borders prematurely and that it may lead to the entry of new variant cases, leading to an increase in serious cases.

Nikhom Jensiriratanakorn, director of hospitality consultancy Horwath HTL, said: “It’s one thing to have a vision and communicate to the world that you’re about to reopen, but ask yourself: are we really ready?”

“Staff, do we have enough test kits? What if a tourist gets COVID? Can our healthcare system manage it?”

Vaccine passports, domestic travel, expensive flights: the future of travel?

But the results so far look promising. The number of Covid-19 infections in Phuket has not surged as expected, with about 13,000 cases and 89 deaths. Even domestic travel was banned on the island in the months leading up to the opening of the sandbox, but provincial authorities recorded 735 cases between April, when a third wave hit Thailand, and the end of June, including just seven deaths.

Data from Singapore were also encouraging. The city-state has been operating a quarantine-free travel corridor with Germany and Brunei since early September. In the first month of the scheme, only two tourists arriving in Singapore were found to be infected with Covid-19, and their infection was detected at the border through arrival testing, so patients had no chance of infecting the local community.

However, Huang believes that it will take weeks or months of policy adjustments to find a strategy suitable for a larger reopening. Huang said that because multiple countries use different methods and testing regimes, it will take time to determine which method is most effective and does not burden the hospital system too much or affect the local community too much.

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Staff at Phuket International Airport check the documents of arriving passengers as part of a sandbox program.Photo: AFP

Experts say the success of these travel arrangements will depend largely on vaccination rates among travelers and residents.

Nuno Guerreiro, South Asia Pacific regional director for, said the vaccine was an “important tool” that would pave the way for the industry to move forward. He cites a survey that found 67% of travelers will only travel to countries that have implemented vaccination programs.

Singapore has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, with 84% of its 5.5 million population fully vaccinated. Seven out of 10 Phuket residents are vaccinated — more than double Thailand’s overall vaccination rate of 35%.About 98% of Bali’s 4.4 million people have received at least one dose of the vaccine Severe Specific Infectious Pneumonia Vaccine, while more than 80% are fully vaccinated. In the Indonesian Riau Islands, 83% of the population has received the first shot and 58% are fully vaccinated.
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Phuket’s nightlife is coming back to life. Photo: Vijitra Duangdee

Guerrero was optimistic, saying the travel corridor was an “inflection point” that showed countries were increasingly able to support outbound and inbound travel.

Huang said she hopes the virus stops mutating, or that the vaccine remains effective against all variants, so that countries can eventually resume global travel.

OCBC’s Lim added: “When the global vaccination rate exceeds a certain threshold, hopefully travel can still co-exist safely in the COVID-19 environment.”

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