The View From Asia

From Bali to Langkawi: The pandemic and tourism

Asia News Network writers discuss the latest Covid-19 developments in Asia. Here are excerpts.

A sign recommending the use of a surveillance app at the entrance of a beach in Kuta, Bali, on Sept 28, 2021.
A sign recommending the use of a surveillance app at the entrance of a beach in Kuta, Bali, on Sept 28, 2021.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Why Thailand's tourism sandbox programmes failed

Editorial

The Nation, Thailand

Nearly three months ago, Thailand launched its pilot programme to reopen selected destinations to vaccinated foreign tourists without quarantine.

The trial reopening began in Phuket on July 1, followed by three resort islands in Surat Thani on July 15.

However, the tourism sandboxes have received a lukewarm response from foreigners. The emergence of the fourth wave of Covid-19 in April which pushed up daily cases to over 20,000 prompted many countries to raise their warning level for travel to Thailand.

The increase in warning levels is likely a major contributor to the failure of sandbox programmes since tourists tend to avoid countries with high infection risk.

Furthermore, for a province to join the sandbox programme, at least 70 per cent of its populace must have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 to achieve herd immunity. However, the government's tardiness in distributing vaccines to tourism provinces delayed their plans to reopen, which also rendered the existing programmes less attractive as fewer tourism destinations were available.

Currently, each province under the sandbox programme has its own standard operating procedure (SOP) that foreign tourists must follow before entering and while staying in the destination.

However, details of these SOPs differ from province to province, which may confuse tourists as to which regulations they have to follow and where.

Many parties propose that all areas under sandbox programmes should employ the same SOP for uniformity and simplicity, which would help attract more foreign tourists.

Everybody misses Bali

Editorial

The Jakarta Post, Indonesia

When October comes, we may recall the heinous attacks on Bali in 2002 and 2005 and their devastating impacts on the island's tourism - the backbone of its economy.

It took Bali years to regain its feet, during which the government initiated a collective leave day policy to accelerate the recovery of the country's most popular tourist destination.

The Covid-19 pandemic has proven to be more damaging for Bali, which is why the government's plan to reopen the island for foreign tourists has been met with enthusiasm.

In fact, pressure had been mounting on the government to implement the policy much earlier, turning a blind eye to the surge in infection cases that has prompted strict mobility curbs there.

The pandemic has hit Bali very hard. Statistics shows the province's economy contracted 9.31 per cent year on year last year, mostly due to its paralysed tourism.

Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Sandiaga Uno has indicated that Bali's reopening may follow the model used by Phuket and Samui islands in Thailand, which Vietnam also plans to adopt on its idyllic Phu Quoc Island.

The two Thai tourist resorts are limited only to vaccinated foreign tourists from low-risk countries, without the need to quarantine.

Mr Sandiaga also suggested a regional collaboration to form a tourism triangle between Bali, Phuket and Langkawi in Malaysia. Langkawi has so far been open to domestic tourists only.

Indonesia is also considering accepting travellers from South Korea, Japan, Singapore and New Zealand when tourist destinations like Bali resume business.

While no specific date for Bali's reopening has been set, the government needs to make sure everybody involved in tourism has been vaccinated.

The double-dose vaccination rate on the island has exceeded 70 per cent, but increasing the figure would better protect both the local people and their guests.

The government's choice of a gradual instead of a full Bali reopening is worth commending. Even if we long for Bali, we need to exercise caution as we have yet to win this Covid-19 war.

Parents should be careful as tourism sites reopen

Editorial

Sin Chew Daily, Malaysia

While executing the travel bubble programme, it is imperative that the SOPs are strictly adhered to at the planned locations.

The authorities must stick to the golden rule that all necessary preparations are in place before reopening, while members of the public must exercise extra caution throughout the trip to ensure a smooth and safe vacation.

Other than faithfully complying with the SOPs, parents should also avoid taking their unvaccinated children along.

Langkawi became the first destination under the government's "travel bubble" programme on Sept 16, and the response has been exceptionally good. Some 10,105 tourists flocked to the island within the first four days.

Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Nancy Shukri says the government has decided to open up more tourist sites following the success of Langkawi, with Genting Highlands, Melaka and Tioman the next destinations ready to welcome visitors.

It is understandable that many Malaysians will get excessively excited by this programme, having been locked in for months.

However, the pandemic is yet to be fully controlled and minors below the age of 18, who make up 29.7 per cent of the country's population, have just begun to get vaccinated. What if among the over 10,000 tourists flooding Langkawi island are unvaccinated youngsters who may get infected?

If the rule "only people fully vaccinated are allowed to travel" is strictly enforced by the authorities and travel operators, perhaps things may not get out of hand due to the travel bubble. Otherwise, there is always this concern about a possible explosion of new cases after the holiday season.

Both Langkawi and Tioman are islands accessible only via flights or ferries, while there is only one road leading to Genting Highlands. So, inspecting the vaccination status of a visitor is relatively easy. Other destinations such as Melaka and the East Coast could be reached in many ways, making it extremely difficult to inspect all the visitors to these destinations. Vaccination is of utmost importance in our anti-virus strategy.

Figures illustrate the fact that nearly ten million unvaccinated minors are a very vulnerable group. Although the ratio of this group of people developing serious illnesses or even death is relatively low, they make up 19.4 per cent of all the infections in the country.

Parents must be perpetually conscious of their children's well-being and they should stay away from the travel bubble.

  • The View From Asia is a compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 23 news media titles.