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Asia-Pacific tourism ready to grow as more borders open. Part 1

Analysis

A growing number of countries in the Asia-Pacific region are looking to reopen their borders to international travel as rising vaccination levels give their governments more confidence in easing restrictions.

This is a particularly welcome development, since the Asia-Pacific region has been far slower to open up than Europe or North America. Asian countries were initially more successful in combatting the pandemic than those in other regions, but then Europe and North America moved ahead due to their faster vaccination programs.

The Asia-Pacific countries in question are taking different approaches to relaxing border rules and some are moving more aggressively than others. Quarantine periods are being eliminated or drastically reduced.

Other aspects common to most of these initiatives are that pre-departure COVID-19 testing is still required, and travellers must be fully vaccinated. Testing after arrival is also stipulated in most cases.

Among those that have recently made – or are planning – changes to their entry restrictions are Fiji, India, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Australia is also taking important steps, although initially for outbound travel only. Such moves are allowing airlines to resume or increase flights in these markets, which is an important step towards rebuilding international demand.

Fiji and Thailand are covered in part one of this report, with the others in part two.

Summary:

  • Thailand is expanding its tourism reopening program after earlier “sandbox” arrangements.
  • Fiji is aiming to reopen for tourism in Nov-2021, with flights resuming in Dec-2021.
  • Restarting the tourism sector is vitally important for countries such as Thailand and Fiji.

Thailand has been a leader in restarting tourism, highlighting tourism's importance to the economy

Thailand recently announced that vaccinated arrivals from a list of 10 low risk countries would be able to enter the country by air without the need for quarantine, beginning 1-Nov-2021. Pre-departure and post-arrival tests are still required. The initial list includes important visitor markets such as the UK, the US, Singapore, Germany, and China.

More countries will be added by 1-Dec-2021, and the list will be expanded again on 1-Jan-2022.

Thailand has previously allowed tourists to enter selected leisure destinations such as Phuket under its “sandbox” pilot program, although they had to stay at these destinations for seven days before moving elsewhere in the country. The new initiative will allow approved visitors to travel through the whole country after arriving. Vietnam and Indonesia are taking a similar phased approach (see part two).

The latest step is crucial for Thailand, which is heavily reliant on tourism and is one of the Asia-Pacific region’s leading leisure destinations. The government said it was anxious not to miss the opportunity to draw traffic during the upcoming holiday season, as some of its primary visitor markets are starting to allow residents to travel overseas for leisure.

The chart below shows that China was by far the leading source of tourists for Thailand in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic arrived.

Thailand: visitor arrivals by market, 2019

Restarting inbound travel is also vitally important to Fiji

Another popular leisure destination seeking to draw tourists back is Fiji. The country will allow vaccinated visitors from a list of approved countries from 11-Nov-2021, although flights into the country will not begin until Dec-2021.

Included on this list are Australia, New Zealand, the US, the UK, the UAE, Canada, Qatar, Germany, Spain, France, South Korea, Singapore, Switzerland, Japan and most Pacific Island countries and territories. The government stressed that countries can be added as they achieve high vaccination rates.

While there will be no quarantine requirement, tourist arrivals will not be able to leave their hotel premises for 48 hours. They will then undergo a rapid COVID test, and if this is negative they will be able to move around most of the country freely.

Some areas with low vaccination rates will be off limits, however.

This move has prompted Fiji Airways to resume scheduled international flights from 1-Dec-2021, between Fiji and a dozen cities in five countries. It will mainly fly to Australia, New Zealand and the US, with less frequent services to Hong Kong and Japan. The Australian airlines Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Australia will resume Fiji services in Dec-2021.

The chart below shows the importance of the Australian and New Zealand markets to Fiji, accounting for a combined 65% of visitors in 2019. While New Zealand visitors are allowed to enter Fiji, they would still face quarantine on their return. The US market is also significant for Fiji, with a 10.8% share.

Fiji: visitor arrivals by market, 2019

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