Hwaseong, South Korea—— Even if the vaccination rate reaches its peak, Asia-Pacific countries still adhere to strict border controls, which inhibits the prospects for the region’s pandemic-hit tourism industry to recover.
Although mainland China and Hong Kong have fallen into deeper quarantine under the strict “zero COVID” policy, requiring hotels to be quarantined for several weeks, countries such as Japan, South Korea, Australia, Singapore, and Malaysia are taking a middle road. There are still strict restrictions on necessary travel.
The cautious stance of the region is increasingly inconsistent with Europe and North America. In Europe and North America, vaccinated travelers, including tourists, can travel freely, with almost no restrictions except for a negative COVID test result.
Jayant Menon, a visiting senior researcher at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, told Al Jazeera: “Asia has a long way to go to catch up with the reopening of Europe and North America.”
“Part of the reason is that they need to catch up with their vaccination rates, but not all. Even countries with high vaccination rates… have not opened up international borders as quickly as they eased domestic movement restrictions. When they did, they imposed requirements. There are far more requirements and agreements that apply to domestic movements.”
The vaccination rate in Japan and South Korea is close to 80%, and although restrictions on certain entrants such as business travelers and students have been relaxed, no date has been announced for the resumption of tourism.
Australia, where approximately 70% of the population has been double-vaccinated, said international tourists will not return until sometime next year.
77% of residents in Malaysia have suffered a double blow, but it is still largely closed to international tourists, and plans to start accepting international tourists before January.
Singapore, where more than 80% of the population has been vaccinated with two doses, has resumed quarantine-free travel in stages through the vaccinated travel route plan, which will include 21 countries/regions starting next month.
According to data compiled by Capital Investment, as of September, the number of arrivals in most parts of Asia has fallen by 99% from pre-pandemic levels, while Mexico has fallen by only 20%, and Southern Europe has fallen by about 65%.
According to the 2019 Tourism Competitiveness Index of the World Economic Forum, before the pandemic, the Asia-Pacific region received approximately 291 million tourists each year, adding $875 billion to the economy.
Joshua Ng, director of Alton Aviation Consulting in Singapore, told Al Jazeera that he does not expect international travel to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024 or 2025, because the region has experienced a “three-speed recovery” in Western countries and the Asia-Pacific region. . And China.
“Asian countries have shown a cautious attitude. This is the result of several other virus outbreaks-such as SARS, H1N1, and MERs-which have dealt a heavy blow to Asian countries in the 21st century,” Wu said.
“The response to the COVID-19 pandemic reflects the lessons learned from the early outbreak. When the pandemic first broke out, Asian countries were among the first to close borders and initiate urban lockdowns to control the spread of COVID-19.”
Although Asia-Pacific governments are unwilling to resume travel quickly, the hope of a rapid rebound is further dispelled as China is expected to remain closed from the world in the second half of 2022 or even longer.
Before the pandemic, the world’s second largest economy redoubled its efforts to eliminate COVID-19 through strict lockdowns, quarantine and large-scale testing, which is estimated to account for about one-third of all tourists in the region.
“Although there may be a lot of suppressed demand, as long as China, which accounted for about 30% of tourists in the region before the crisis, continues to close its borders, recovery may be difficult,” senior Asian economist Gareth Leather Capital Economics told Al Jazeera.
It goes beyond tourism and goes beyond business travel. There are many reasons why people travel.They travel for education, they travel to visit family and friends, they travel for economic immigration
Some countries in the region, including those with inadequate vaccine coverage, have taken a bolder approach. Less than one-third of India’s population has been vaccinated with double vaccinations, and its borders were reopened to tourists from more than 90 countries on Monday.
Thailand relied on one-fifth of the tourism industry’s gross domestic product (GDP) before the pandemic. After a lacklustre response to the quarantine-free “sandbox” of popular holiday destinations, Thailand responded to more than 60 people on November 1st. The country is reopened for tourists. Phuket.
Gary Bowerman, director of Check-in Asia, a travel and tourism research company based in Kuala Lumpur, said people are becoming more aware of the cost of international travel collapse.
“It goes beyond tourism, and it goes beyond business travel. People travel for many reasons,” Bowerman said. “They travel to get education, they travel to visit family and friends, they are for economic immigration… I think many governments don’t fully understand this, but I think this is beginning to affect the country.”
Bowerman predicts that after taking into account the pent-up demand among people to go home and visit friends and family, the industry will usher in a new baseline, and the future will be a difficult period.
“Once this surge subsides, travel companies and airlines must figure out what will happen next,” Bowerman said. “Will business travel go back to where it was before? You hear some people say “yes”, you hear some people say “no”. Now we don’t even know.”
“People are trying to guess and predict the travel demand for next year, but we don’t know at all,” he added. “No one knows that it will basically be two years if people don’t travel.”