• In the Asia Pacific region, tourism sector offers significant economic boost, but it witnessed a drastic decline in international tourism amid COVID-19.
• A plethora of developments in the global tourism space can accelerate the recovery of the travel industry in Asia.
• Vaccine passports and smart tourism have emerged as potential solutions to kickstart international travel.
The escalating COVID-19 cases is déjà vu all over again for many parts of the Asian world, with uncertainty weighing on sentiments lately. It has sparked concerns that the current situational downturns can add insults to injury to the already battered travel sector.
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The pandemic had inflicted a massive blow on international tourism when millions of globe-trotters cancelled their holiday plans. Asia-Pacific region, where tourism remains a significant economic driver, saw a decline of over 80% in foreign tourists. Simultaneously, the United Nations World Tourism Organization anticipates that tourism is not likely to return to the pre-pandemic level at least for the next couple of years.
At this point, while the utopia of travel boom is more like a pie in the sky, 2021 nevertheless seems to inspire hope with a flurry of developments.
Let us look at how the tourism sector in Asia is charting out its road to recovery.
A potential solution through “vaccine passports”
Governments across the globe appear determined to leave no stone unturned for successful mass vaccination against COVID-19. It could mean that travel may revive ahead of general expectations, especially when ‘Vaccine Passports’ could offer a fallback solution.
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Meanwhile, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is also making a convincing case for its travel pass with details about traveller’s vaccination, test results and other necessary information needed to ensure safe travel.
In a bid to kick off tourism, Singapore Airlines recently announced digital COVID-19 passports based on IATA’s travel pass outline. The travellers coming to Singapore from Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur would be required to undergo tests at designated centres in the two cities. They would be given heath certificates containing a QR code. The airlines intend to extend the plan to other cities if proven successful.
Persistent efforts to unlock travel channels
Governments are working progressively to open travel channels that can set the stage for rebooting tourism. Thailand recently relaxed restrictions for citizens from 56 countries. Travellers would be tested for COVID-19 72 hours before the travel, although a 14-day hotel quarantine remains necessary post the arrival. The move is expected to provide a much-needed nudge to the country’s economic scenario heavily reliant on the travel industry. Meanwhile, Singapore is also contemplating to slacken restrictions for the vaccinated inbound tourists.
©Kalkine Group 2020
However, the second wave of infection in Japan and the discovery of the new coronavirus strain has put the nation in caution mode. Focussed on ensuring safety, Japan has halted business travels and banned entry of all foreigners. It would mean that the Summer Olympics could be further delayed as the Government remains fixated on curbing the health emergency.
Smart Tourism Gaining Grounds
The pandemic has brought technological integration to new levels with travel players ready to integrate their offerings with innovative digital solutions. After the onset of the pandemic, both the Governments and critical tourism players were witnessed applying ‘smart technologies’ to not only enhance visitors’ experiences but also to ensure safe travel in the new normal. It includes contact tracing, continuous mobile communications, real-time information along with value-added personalised enhancements.
Asia’s busiest airport, Beijing Capital International Airport, provides an entirely contactless experience for the passengers via biometric technologies and facial recognition systems. Meanwhile, many other Asian airports such as Singapore’s Changi Airport and Japan’s Haneda Airport have also embraced automated check-ins through contactless kiosks.
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While domestic travels with the rising staycation trends are already on reboot mode, it might not be sufficient to significantly gear up the recovery process. Meanwhile, Asia’s travel providers are keenly eyeing developments in the international travel space that can fast-tract the healing process of the ailing travel industry.