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South-East Asian countries yearn to revive tourism

While some South-East Asian countries have gradually reopened their borders to foreign travelers, many feel that the region’s tourism industry has a way to go before it dispels the gloom brought by the COVID-19 pandemic on “a bumpy road” to recovery.

As part of encouraging moves in the region, Singapore is lifting border restrictions for visitors from the Chinese mainland from Friday, the city state’s authorities announced late last week. Visitors must take a Covid-19 test upon arrival and will not need to quarantine if they record a negative result.

Singapore’s move comes on the heels of Thailand welcoming the first batch of Chinese tourists under a special tourist visa program in late October. They were the first foreign arrivals in the tourism-reliant country in seven months.

The visa program was devised by the Thai authorities to restore, incrementally, a sector that by some estimates accounts for more than 10 percent of the country’s GDP, with almost 40 million visitors last year.

In South-East Asia, Thailand is far from alone in having its tourism industry ravaged by the pandemic.

In Indonesia, the number of foreign visitors plunged more than 70 percent from January to September compared with the same period last year.

A strategy of gradual reopening to foreign visitors is a good start for countries in South-East Asia, and China stands out as a target source market for tourists with its record on coronavirus control, said Xu Liping, director of Southeast Asian studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

South-East Asia boost cooperation

Thailand was one of the top overseas destinations for Chinese tourists last year, accounting for by far the largest number of visitors by nationality. Some 11 million Chinese visitors put about US$17 billion into the economy.

In a bid to lift its tourism industry out of the doldrums, Thailand plans further moves to open up.

Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, said the first phase of reopening will be limited to 1,200 people, a far cry from a monthly figure of around 3 million before the pandemic. A full revival of tourism in South-East Asian nations is some way off, Xu said. “South-East Asia’s tourism sector is still facing a bumpy road ahead. It all depends on the situation with the epidemic,” he said.

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