Reopening ASEAN region to tourism

12 Feb 2022 08:18pm
ASEAN Tourism Research Association (ATRA) secretary general Professor Datuk Seri Dr Victor Wee
ASEAN Tourism Research Association (ATRA) secretary general Professor Datuk Seri Dr Victor Wee

SHAH ALAM - The recent spike in cases of the highly contagious Omicron variant has dampened plans to open international travel and brought a return to restrictive measures, said ASEAN Tourism Research Association (ATRA) secretary general Professor Datuk Seri Dr Victor Wee.

He said however, ASEAN countries have adopted the endemic approach of learning to live with the Covid-19 virus and have resigned to the fact that the virus will not disappear any time soon.

The national Covid-19 immunisation programmes in the ASEAN countries, he said, have brought down the infection numbers and allowed the resumption of business and domestic travel.

“Herein lies the delicate task of containing the virus, while trying to jumpstart travel and keeping the economy growing,” he said noting that the responses to coping with the Omicron surge vary widely among the countries.

Regardless, he said ASEAN countries must make necessary preparations for the resumption of international travel.

He suggested some measures for priority action to enable and facilitate international travel within the region.

· Close cooperation among the ASEAN countries to restart international tourism and ensure that the lifting of travel restrictions does not come with unnecessary hiccups. There should be clear rules, processes, and standards as well as mutually agreed protocols that can be applied throughout the region.

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· Safe and predictable cross-border travel. Right now, international travel is hindered by constant changes in travel restrictions and requirements as they are being updated by the authorities. One of the problems affecting cross-border travel in the ASEAN region is the lack of clarity on entry requirements of travellers from neighbouring countries. What is needed is coordination and harmonisation for border crossing and regional integration within ASEAN to restart travel and cross-border economic activity.

· Provide safety and flexibility in travel arrangements where travel bookings are protected from changes in travel policies and restrictions that can occur on short notice. The border restrictions among countries can be complex and changing, and travellers do not want to be caught unaware since this can lead to frustration and unexpected costs.

· Adopt a standard approach among ASEAN countries to enable people to document their certified Covid-19 status that is accepted across countries. Travellers who have been tested at a trusted lab and vaccinated in another country can provide the necessary documents to reduce forged lab results.

· Avoid excess disclosure of personal health information. Concerns for digital privacy can arise from contact tracing requirements when travellers need to download different health screening apps each time they enter a country, an airport, or a plane.

· Ease or do away with quarantine requirements. Even if borders are described as open, travellers are reluctant to go to destinations with quarantine requirements. A recent study by IATA found that countries with a 14-day quarantine requirement are as good as closing borders for inbound arrivals. Countries wishing to welcome travellers must seriously consider the removal of quarantine requirements.

· Support big and small destinations as they prepare for opening up. The government, private sector, and local community should come together to re-establish operations and implement new policies that rebuild travellers' confidence and to pay special attention to increased health and safety protocols.

· Government support to travel and tourism business for them to get back on their feet again. The assistance could come in the form of stimulus packages and incentives for travel. The survival of the tourism business will help to bring back jobs that many depend on for their livelihood.

He said ASEAN governments should coordinate to harmonise the lifting of travel restrictions and facilitate movement across national boundaries.

Some priority measures include the standardising regulations, removing onerous procedures, and adopting a form of universal digital health certification, he said in a statement.

He added that currently, this was not happening in a fast or integrated enough manner for the return of international travel.