ASEANTA pointers on how to kickstart tourism

PHNOM PENH, 8 February 2021: Southeast Asia’s tourism urgently needs a kickstart before the end of the second quarter to avoid collapse, according to the ASEAN Tourism Association that represents private tourism sector organisations across the 10-country region.

The association presented proposals to revive tourism 4 February to the 24th meeting of ASEAN Tourism Ministers, hosted virtually from Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

“We express our deepest concern on the severe impact of Covid-19 on the travel and tourism industries. It poses a real threat to the lives and livelihoods of people,” ASEANTA directors told the Tourism Ministers.

In 2019, the travel and tourism sector contributed USD380 billion or 12.1% to the ASEAN GDP and created 42.3 million jobs or 13.3% of total ASEAN employment.

More than 70% of those tourism jobs will be lost if borders remain closed much longer the association warned. It pointed to projections that forward bookings remain weak despite the rollout of vaccines, indicating at best only a minimal improvement until November 2021.

ASEANTA said: “Taking into the prolonged situation of the pandemic and the likelihood that the recovery process from Covid-19 may take longer than the earlier expectations, we agree on the following recommendations for consideration by the respective governments of ASEAN Member states.”

Timetable
Phase 1: Initiate Immediate government support in a fair and equitable manner to ensure the survival of the industry (Q1 2021).

Phase 2: Prepare for reopening of borders by laying down frameworks for cross-border travel, SOPs for the whole tourism ecosystem, and guidelines on testing & vaccination (Q1 2021).

Phase 3 Facilitate resumption of all types of travel (business, leisure & VFR travel) following the ASEAN Travel Corridor framework (Q2 2021).

Since the first Covid-19 lockdown March 2020 ASEAN governments guaranteed loan, tax relief, subsidies, incentives, and introduced fiscal policies to assist the industry in surviving COVID-19 situation.

Covid-19 vaccinations are now rolling out in all ASEAN countries except for Thailand (scheduled June 2021), and tourism workers are on priority lists for the jab.

Last November, the Tourism Ministers approved a declaration on an ASEAN Travel Corridor Arrangement (TCA) Framework that aims to develop a standard set of pre-departure and post-arrival health and safety measures an initiative led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Indonesia.

Observations
Business travel, on its own, will not be enough to restore intra-ASEAN traffic to 35% of the total international overseas and domestic passenger traffic of pre-Covid-19 years.

Business travel bubble arrangements (RGL) have not generated significant volumes of air traffic.

If reopening is limited to essential business traffic, passenger traffic between ASEAN countries will likely remain at less than 5% of normal levels for most of 2021.

ASEAN’s incredible 10-year growth in tourism was reversed in 2020 when arrivals dropped by 70%.

Cambodia, Philippines, and Thailand are the most vulnerable to ongoing travel restrictions.

ASEANTA proposals
• The proposed ASEAN Travel Corridor Arrangement should facilitate both business and leisure/visiting friends & relatives (VFR) travel.
• Pre-departure and arrival testing must be introduced urgently.
• Reduce quarantine or self-isolation to just one to two days (until PCR test on arrival results are released).
• Controlled itinerary or business travellers allowed to travel for tourism purposes after as long as sponsored by a company.
• No quarantine for returning business travellers.

Quarantine -Free Travel Bubbles
• Allow leisure & VFR travel between low-risk countries.
• No quarantine imposed on both incoming and returning travellers.
• Mutually recognised testing procedures.
• Common vaccine documentation for ease of verification.

ASEAN Health Passport
• Common vaccine documentation for ease of verification with the potential to integrate and share information with existing contact tracing or health declaration Apps under an ASEAN Health Passport.