Tourism revival hopes ebb, wane in SE Asia

27 May, 2021 12:00 AM printer

CAMBODIA: Southeast Asia’s tourism-reliant economies are holding out hope that they can welcome back droves of international travelers by the final quarter of this year, a plan that looks increasingly dubious amid worst-yet Covid-19 waves and glacial vaccination campaigns. 

Cambodia’s Ministry of Tourism released a video this week saying it aims to reopen its tourism sector by the last quarter of this year, while so-called “sandbox” plans in Thailand would see the resort island of Phuket be the first place to reopen in July, report agencies. Thailand hopes to follow the success of that plan for a phased reopening of 10 other destinations in October, with the government recently saying that it expects 500,000 foreign visitors this year.

Vietnamese authorities were also planning to resume international tourism between July to September, focusing first on resorts around the central beach town of Danang before a full reopening in the last quarter of 2021.

Thailand welcomed around 40 million visitors in 2019, generating US$60 billion in revenue, representing nearly one-fifth of the kingdom’s gross domestic product (GDP).

For Cambodia, tourism contributed nearly a third of GDP that same year. Vietnam’s 18 million foreign visitors generated revenues of $32.8 billion in 2019.

But the Covid-19 pandemic has decimated tourism across Southeast Asia, leading to a surge in joblessness and business defaults, not to mention a big shortfall in foreign currency earnings for their governments.

Cambodia welcomed only 71,000 tourists in the first quarter of this year, down almost 94 per cent from the same period in 2020. Almost half were from neighboring Thailand.

According to the World Tourism Organization (WTO), international traveler numbers fell by 74 per cent in 2020 compared with the previous year, cutting almost $1.3 trillion from 2019 international tourism market revenues.

Governments are weighing how best to kickstart their dormant tourism sectors in anticipation that a majority of Chinese, Americans and Europeans will be vaccinated by the second half of 2021.

Thailand and Vietnam seek to drop quarantine requirements for certain locations where tourists will have to show they are vaccinated against Covid-19. Cambodia will likely test a similar scheme with localized trials before reopening the entire country.