Social media feeds have recently been filled with photos of happy travellers, many of whom are making their first trips abroad since the pandemic began.
Skiing holidays in Switzerland. Beach breaks in Thailand. That long-promised family trip to Disney World.
In fact, so many travelers are hitting the road that experts predict continued travel chaos as the industry struggles to cope with reduced capacity and a shrinking workforce.
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“A very uneven recovery”
A scroll through UNWTO’s Destination Tracker reveals that most places reliant on tourism dollars have dropped quarantine restrictions and are welcoming travelers – although some remain with a few caveats such as mandatory Covid-19 testing at the arrival, pre-flight testing, mandatory quarantines for positive tests and soon.
But while most of the world’s popular destinations have reopened, there are a few tourist favorites still off-limits to leisure travelers regardless of their willingness to vaccinate, test and quarantine.
And most of them are in the Asia-Pacific region.
The Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), which has 650 member organizations including government tourism bodies, travel agencies and airports, said the recovery from the pandemic was uneven.
“We are starting to see the first signs of a recovery with markets such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Australia and Cambodia easing their restrictions and beginning a recovery,” said Liz. Ortiguera, CEO of PATA.
“However, there remain a number of major markets in the region that are virtually closed from an international capacity perspective. The region as a whole is experiencing a very uneven recovery.
Japan eases entry restrictions – tourists still excluded
Tourists eager to hit Tokyo’s fish markets have to wait a little longer for their sushi fix.
Japan continues to ease strict entry measures – the daily limit for new arrivals has been raised to 10,000 people as of April 10, 2022 – but this does not include leisure tourists.
At the moment, citizens, residents, researchers, students, family members of residents and business travelers with prior authorization can enter. Some are quarantined, depending on where they come from.
So when will Japan reopen to vacationers? The issue was raised at a press conference on April 8 by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida but no specific plan was announced.
“We will have to continue to make appropriate decisions based on the infection situation and international movements in each country,” he said. “It is not yet determined.”
China struggles to contain outbreaks
Much has been said about how the global tourism economy won’t really recover until Chinese citizens can travel abroad again.
In 2019, the number of tourists from China reached 155 million, according to the China Tourism Academy, making it the world’s largest market for outbound travel.
For now, Chinese citizens are strongly discouraged from traveling overseas and those who do face at least two weeks of quarantine upon return, sometimes longer.
But what about foreign tourists willing to quarantine in exchange for vacation?
Those wishing to fulfill their lifelong dream of walking along the Great Wall will have to wait. Foreign nationals are currently not permitted to enter for leisure tourism.
Regarding the timing of reopening, last October the head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said that China could open its borders after having vaccinated more than 85% of its population “by the start of of 2022”.
Although this vaccination target has been met, the country remains committed to its zero COVID strategy as it struggles to contain outbreaks in several cities, making it highly unlikely that global tourists will be welcomed soon.
Macau not ready, HK opens the door wide
Bad news for travelers looking to hit the tables at Asia’s most famous gambling destination. Macau has shown no sign of opening its borders to the world soon.
Tourists are still banned from entering the special administrative region, except for visitors from mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan who must self-quarantine for two weeks unless arriving from certain Chinese cities.
A government press release issued in mid-April said business travelers and students from outside mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong will soon be allowed entry, but few details have been released. given.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong officials have announced that from May 1 the city will allow non-residents entry for the first time in more than two years.
Although it is technically possible to visit as a tourist, a 7-day quarantine awaits and flight cancellations are frequent.
No firm reopening date from Taiwan
Taiwan, one of Asia’s favorite culinary destinations, has eased its travel restrictions over the past two months.
Foreign business travelers have been allowed to visit the island since March 7. Since April 12, foreign relatives and Taiwan residents with a valid foreign resident certificate can also apply to visit the island.
Other travelers are now welcome, including those on work/study visas, those coming for investment or business purposes, or visitors entering for humanitarian reasons.
They are all subject to 10 days of quarantine at the hotel or at home.
Leisure tourists, however, still cannot visit.
As more destinations reopen their borders, Taiwan’s Health and Wellness Minister Chen Shih-chung said in February that the island should consider easing travel restrictions so as not to fall behind in economic development.
Without offering a concrete reopening date, Chen also said current restrictions would be further lifted and non-professional travelers would be allowed entry if the spread of the virus remained under control.
Several Pacific islands remain prohibited
According to Asia’s Travel-Ready Index 2022 report released by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) last week, island nations including Vanuatu and Fiji are among the most dependent on tourism in the region.
Fiji, where tourism accounts for 40% of the economy, reopened in late 2021.
It tops the EIU’s Travel Readiness Index, which examines three factors that can affect international tourist sentiment: vaccination coverage in the destination; ease of travel to the destination; and quarantine requirements when returning to their place of residence.
Other Pacific island destinations that have reopened to tourists are Tahiti, Palau and the Cook Islands.
But a number of places in this region remain closed to holidaymakers, including Samoa, Vanuatu, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Tonga and the Solomon Islands.
PATA CEO Ortiguera notes that the circumstances are unique and each destination must judge its willingness to reconnect with the outside world as it navigates the difficult balance between life and livelihood.
“And to borrow an analogy used in a recent WHO briefing – each nation must follow its unique path down the mountain from this pandemic impact,” she says.
“If I take Singapore as an example, the nation has aggressively managed COVID transmissions and is now successfully navigating to reopen the market. I am convinced that these measures have laid a solid foundation for a sustainable recovery.