Asia reopens to tourists to save the economy

COVID-19 has cut tourism revenues worldwide, especially in Asia. Southeast Asia needs to restart the sector, even if many doubts remain about the spread of infections. For Eunji Tae, officer with UNWTO, the sector “is adapting to the new realities”.

Milan (AsiaNews) – In Southeast Asia countries are trying to revive the tourism sector, which was hit hard in the last two years by the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the summer, almost half of tourism-related businesses were forced to close in Cambodia, a country where tourism represented 18.7 per cent of GDP in 2019. Last month Indonesia reopened Bali, its most famous tourist destination without reopening air travel to the island.

Malaysia, which has reported nearly 5,000 cases a day over the past week, lifted domestic travel restrictions months ago. The Philippine government lifted the lockdown in the capital Manila on the same day that infections reached a record high.

These signs indicate that the economies of Southeast Asia need to restart even if the number of people who are fully vaccinated is not very high.

In Thailand, where 47 per cent of the population has had its two doses, almost 8,000 new daily cases were reported last week.

It appears that more and more Southeast Asian countries are turning towards a strategy of “living with the virus”, but reopening for tourists leaves many people with questions.

According to Bloomberg’s COVID Resilience Ranking, daily mortality rate in Southeast Asia has exceeded the global average in recent months due to the spread of the Delta variant and delays in the vaccination campaign.

Nevertheless, “Many destinations in all parts of the world are showing that safe international travel is possible and tourism has led the way in adapting to the new realities,” said Eunji Tae, officer with the Regional Department for Asia and the Pacific at the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNTWO), speaking to AsiaNews.

The Maldives is one example. After reopening in mid-July, it reported only 20 twenty cases at the beginning of October.

Worldwide, tourism-related revenues fell by US$ 930 billion in 2020. And Asia has suffered the biggest losses.

Compared to 2019, “by regions, Asia and the Pacific suffered the largest decline with an 84 per cent drop in international arrivals in 2020” with “a 95 per cent drop in international arrivals in the first five months of 2021,” Tae explained.

Tourism “contributes more than 20 per cent GDP in the case of the Philippines, between 10 to 20 per cent of the GDP for Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, and between 5 to 10 per cent for Indonesia, Laos and Vietnam,” Tae writes via email.

If in 2019, Southeast Asia earned US$ 146.9 billion in receipts from international tourism, last year the figure dropped to US$ 32 billion, a decline of 78 per cent. UNTWO expects little improvement this year.

Globally, international air travel will remain well below the 2019 level, but with the progress of vaccination and the increase in traveller confidence, more and more restrictions will be lifted.

“The year 2021 could end with a similar percentage decline in international arrivals as in 2020 (70 to 75 per cent over 2019) but having followed the opposite path,” the UN officer said.

“While the year 2020 started on a strong note and ended with very weak results due to the pandemic, 2021 started poorly but could end with somewhat stronger results.”

The situation could provide an opportunity to address the issue of sustainability of mass tourism.

“At COP26 in Glasgow, UNWTO launched the Glasgow Declaration for Climate Action in Tourism. Signatories commit to halving carbon emissions within the next decade,” Tae said.

Source: Einnews

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