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    Travel industry takes the road to recovery

    By YANG HAN and XU WEIWEI in Hong Kong | China Daily | Updated: 2021-11-15 08:11
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    Foreign tourists visit The Grand Palace in Bangkok on Nov 2, a day after Thailand launched its reopening campaign as part of the government's efforts to revive the pandemic-hit tourism sector. [Photo/Agencies]

    Hopes rise as borders reopen and flights resume

    Thai tour guide Suchira Kaewkerdket is feeling hopeful again after her country opened its doors wider to visitors on Nov 1, rolling out the welcome mat to arrivals from more than 60 countries and regions.

    "It was quite a big change when the government announced the latest reopening," she said. "Compared with the previous limited opening, tourists now have more opportunities and choice to fly to Thailand. I feel happy that hope is returning."

    Such sentiments are not only being voiced in Thailand, but by travel industry insiders in many nations in Southeast Asia and beyond, as governments begin easing COVID-19 travel curbs in an attempt to shore up pandemic-hit economies.

    From Singapore and Malaysia, to Sri Lanka and Vietnam, borders are starting to reopen after months of pandemic-induced restrictions and lockdowns.

    Experts said these moves offer relief for the travel, hospitality and retail sectors, but it may take many months, probably years, before the situation returns to normal for industries severely hit by COVID.

    The pandemic remains a threat, with new virus variants and the prospect of even more dangerous strains emerging.

    Governments are basically in experimental mode as they welcome back international travelers, but any major new COVID outbreak could prompt a reversal of the reopening, according to industry personnel.

    Christopher Khoo, managing director at international tourism consultancy MasterConsult Services, said, "The travel industry has been severely hit by the pandemic-probably the most severely affected-and any restart will be seen as welcome relief."

    However, the industry should be prepared for more surprises next year and beyond. "It may be a case of two steps forward and one step back," he said.

    Karori Singh, an Emeritus Fellow at the University of Rajasthan in India, said reviving devastated economies is a daunting task for countries in the region.

    "The easing of travel restrictions is a major step toward reviving the tourism industry," Singh said, noting that countries have begun relaxing visa rules and reviving visa-on-arrival measures.

    "But the problem is exorbitant air fares … and fears of a new wave of infections are constraining the tourism revival," Singh said, adding that the World Health Organization has warned countries in Europe and other nations about a possible rise in new COVID cases.

    Given these concerns, nations in South Asia are proceeding cautiously in relaxing travel restrictions despite the pressing need for a tourism revival, Singh said.

    Last month, the Indian government decided to relax quarantine rules for international passengers arriving from certain countries.

    From Oct 25, foreigners from designated countries arriving in India have been allowed to leave airports and self-monitor their health for 14 days after arrival.

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