ASEAN nations differ on reopening dates

PHNOM PENH, 23 June 2020: Tourism leaders from the 10-ASEAN nations claim they are ready to engage and promote tourism within the region’s member countries but have so far failed to come up with a timeframe to reopen borders.

Leaders of tourism ministries in ASEAN met with their counterparts from travel agencies in a virtual Federation of ASEAN Travel Agents event hosted online 20 June.

Commenting on the takeaways from the Webinar, the Cambodia Ministry of Tourism’s Facebook post confirmed countries had individual recovery and promotional plans at the ready but failed to reach a consensus or identify a possible timeframe to reopen borders. Tour operators in the region consider the reopening schedule crucial for survival. However, the Webinar failed to deliver clues on the region’s “D-Day” timetable that they so urgently need to reboot tourism and get staff back to work.

Cambodia Association of Travel Agents president, Chhay Siivlin, noted during the FATA webinar that 95% of the tourism operators in the country had suspended all business operations.

“Around 5 % remain open mainly to keep staff occupied. They are assigned to plan and create activities, research new products to attract local tourists and look at new nature travel opportunities such as camping holidays.”

Travel to the country is down 90% from March to June according to CATA. The first quarter January to March declined 38% to reach 1.6 million arrivals.

ASEAN is made up of Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Cambodia’s Ministry of Tourism was represented at the Webinar by the director-general of tourism development and international cooperation, Thong Rathisak.

In addition to the country reports on the Covid-19 response, members looked forward at possible timeframes for reopening tourism, but there were considerable differences with Thailand adopting a conservative tone suggesting even a highly managed recovery plan might not see international flights resume until September.  That would coincide with the bankrupt national airline’s restructuring. It plans to resume limited regional flights using around nine aircraft in September followed by an additional 20 aircraft deployed to expand services in October.

Thai aviation officials have hinted that September would be a more practical timeframe to allow foreign airlines to resume international services. Thailand has always been an important gateway for travel to Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.

The Civil Aviation of Authority of Thailand’s director-general has hinted that the ban on international flights might not be lifted when it is due to expire 30 June.

Thailand’s travel industry was hoping for a partial opening in July and August leading up to a full opening of international flights to airports in Thailand by 1 September.

Cambodia has not closed its borders. Still, very few airlines serve Phnom Penh, and Siem Reap, except for repatriation flights for Cambodians returning home or for foreigners stranded in Cambodia.

At present, Draconian rules apply for visitors to Cambodia. On arrival, they must show proof of a negative Covid-19 test result in a health certificate valid for 72 hours.

They are PCR swab tested again at the airport and have to wait for 24 hours in a quarantine centre closeby while the tests are processed.  One positive Covid-19 result will quarantine the entire planeload of passengers at their own cost for 14 days.

If the PCR test is clear for everyone on the flight, passengers pay the test fees and other sundry expenses such as the overnight accommodation and meals from a USD3,000 cash or credit card deposit paid to a bank at the airport and embark on their holiday without further quarantine requirements. For the duration of their holiday in Cambodia, all travellers must have valid medical insurance cover valued at USD50,000, not to be confused with the USD3,000 Covid-19 cash deposit. They need to show proof to immigration officials.