How tourism-dependent countries are charting out travel recovery path

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Rollout of vaccination programs across countries has been a significant boost to travel recovery. The travel and tourism scenario remained bleak in 2020 due to border restrictions and health risks.

With recovery en-route, a few countries are re-opening borders for travellers to accelerate travel reboot.

Many travel enthusiasts were relishing the exhilarating experiences across tourism gateways when the COVID-19 pandemic came as a prophecy of doom for the tourism sector. The real-world travel possibilities of the pre-pandemic era have been reduced to a flight of fancy as border restrictions, and infection risks complicates the travel scenario.

The double whammy of health-crisis and job losses was strongly felt by economies heavily reliant on the tourism industry. During the lockdown, famous spots that usually flocked with tourists witnessed an eerie silence that sits at a striking contrast with the stormy turmoil within people encountering loss of livelihood.

On the sunny side, the unprecedented scenario not only tested the resilience of the current operational model but also injected significant transitions to empower the tourism scenario. With tourism-focused economies gearing up, let us explore how some of the most tourism-reliant countries are drafting their recovery route.

Seychelles

Seychelles, where tourism contributes around 40% of the national GDP, was hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. The country’s finance minister Naadir Hassan indicated that the 70% fall in tourist arrivals led to a 61% decline in tourism revenue for the nation.

The vaccination program comes as a silver lining for the tourism sector, with Seychelles becoming the first country in the world to allow travellers who have received two jabs of approved vaccinations. In addition, a negative COVID-19 test certificate obtained less than 72 hours before travel will also be required, while quarantine requirements would be lifted.

The businesses directly related to tourism will continue to receive assistance from the Financial Assistance for Job Retention scheme, which was set up last year in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, Seychelles has rolled out its vaccination program and plans to get 70% of its adult population vaccinated by mid-March 2021, further enhancing travel prospects in the country.

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Thailand

Thai new year, Songkran would be no great shakes this time, just like the bygone Chinese New Year as Thailand travel and tourism scenario remains dimmer. One of the tourist hotspots in Southeast Asia, Thailand saw travellers’ arrivals drop by around 83% after COVID-19 hit the global tourism industry, as indicated by Thailand’s Ministry of Tourism and Sports. The visitor number has dropped to record lows since 2008.

Meanwhile, troubles for Thai’s travel industry further increased with the new COVID-19 infection wave and mandatory two-weeks quarantine, discouraging travellers from making their next holiday plans in the country. Thai Government continues to support the domestic travel industry through the extension of the subsidy programme.

Thailand, in a bid to uplift the travel economy, launched Thailand Special Tourist Visa Scheme (STV) that allows visitors to stay for 90-days, with two times renewal options. However, quarantining at the Government’s approvement hotel and heavy insurance purchase seems to have deterred many tourists from taking up the scheme. Furthermore, a shorter stay tourist visa valid for 60 days was also introduced in December last year to attract travellers.

The Thai island Phuket is eyeing to welcome inoculated travellers waiving off quarantine requirement, with the program implementation depending upon successful vaccination of a significant proportion of the population.

Maldives

The Maldives emerged as a case in point for travel recovery on the back of swift border reopening measures in July 2020 when other countries remained shut. It has allowed Maldives tourism operators to remain ahead of others, allowing sufficient time for travel recovery.

While other Asia-Pacific island alternatives remained off the grid for tourists, Maldives offered a safe haven destination due to the significant utilisation of luxury resorts that made the better implementation of COVID-19 safety measures and testing. The country has welcomed over 0.16 million tourists between the start of the year and 20 February 2021.

Maldives has launched its COVID-19 vaccine programme this year, with the Ministry of Tourism aiming to attract 1.5 million tourists in 2021.

Tourism-economies have hit the ground running, putting confidence in vaccination programs, albeit the effectiveness of inoculation is yet to be seen. Meanwhile, technological adoption could continue to remain at the forefront, gyrating the industry towards a more sustainable and long-term future. The pandemic-induced shifts towards an encouraging potential could prove to be a fine coda to a horrible start.