The future of tourism in the coronavirus era: Asia could have answers to what lies ahead

The future of tourism in the coronavirus era: Asia could have answers to what lies ahead
Bangkok, Thailand (CNN) – It’s a sunny day Bangkok’s the most famous tourist street and the shopping Cletana Thangworachai is open for business.

Her Khao San Road boutique is filled with shiny magnets, brightly colored elephant key chains and patterned cotton pants that have become an unofficial uniform for backpackers in Southeast Asia.

But for now, there is no one to buy them.

the Coronavirus pandemic had a devastating impact on Trip, the United Nations World Tourism Organization estimates that international tourism could decline until 80% this year in 2019, endangering at least 100 million jobs.

In Thailand, where tourism accounts for 18% of the country’s GDP, the Tourism Authority predicts that the number of visitors could drop by 65% ​​this year.

Many, like Cletana, are struggling to make ends meet. Before Covid-19, she could earn $ 300 a day. In April, Thailand prohibited all international flights in the country, and now his daily earnings have fallen to $ 2 – sometimes even zero.

But the 45-year-old woman, who has been selling souvenirs on the street for more than a decade, still opens her shop every day, hoping that she will be lucky with a rare tourist.

With so much at stake for livelihoods and economies, countries around the world are looking for ways to keep tourism businesses afloat.

New Zealand and Australia are committed to creating a “travel bubble” allowing visits between the two countries – once it’s safe to do so. China started licensing inner journey, although its borders are still closed to most foreigners. Thailand is considering special tourist resorts that also act as quarantine zones.

But experts warn that even with new initiatives, travel could take years to reach pre-Covid-19 levels. And even when that happens, we may never travel the same way again.

Travel bubbles

Traditional Thai dancers wearing protective face shields perform at Erawan Shrine in Bangkok, which was reopened after the Thai government relaxed measures to combat the spread of Covid-19 on May 4.


In the short term, the future of tourism is made up of regional travel bubbles.

Australia and New Zealand have engaged in a travel lane, which should not arrive before a few months. In Europe, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have announced their intention to open their internal borders to citizens of the three countries from May 15.

For most countries, staying isolated is not an option they can afford in the long run, and experts predict that it is only a matter of time before other countries create their own bubbles. trip.

Vietnam and Thailand may consider creating a travel corridor in the coming months, according to Mario Hardy, based in Thailand, chief executive of the non-profit Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA).

Aviation analyst Brendan Sobie expects to see similar deals in Europe and North America.

When countries look for partners in pairs, he says they will take into account a few factors. They will be looking for countries that appear to be in control of their outbreaks – and that have reliable statistics.

Hardy thinks they are also likely to remain regional at the start.

They are also likely to partner with countries with which they already have strong geopolitical relationships, says Hong Kong University tourism geographer Benjamin Iaquinto, adding that New Zealand and Australia already have a relationship. narrow politics, so their association makes sense.

Surveys show that Chinese tourists are keen to stick with what they know and not travel too far, said Bill Barnett, managing director of C9 Hotelworks, a global hospitality consultancy. This means that Thailand, which attracts around 11 million Chinese tourists a year, could be one of the first to open trips to China.

China may be less interested in opening trips to places where there was anti-Chinese sentiment during the epidemic – places like Australia, says Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, lecturer at the University of Australia from the South who is researching tourism.

“I think tourism will be damaged by geopolitical games or the strategies that have been implemented to take advantage of the crisis,” she said.

And the bubbles will be volatile. If there is a resurgence of cases in a country, the travel lanes will just close, adds Hardy.

Reopening of borders

Experts say it will likely be a long time before the trips spread far beyond our regional bubbles.

That means travel from the United States to Asia, for example, will be far away, Hardy notes.

“Until they get to grips with the situation in the United States, no country or very few countries will allow them to get there,” said Hardy. “Others who are not in control will be excluded for a while.”

For countries heavily dependent on tourism, they will have to find a balance between health problems and economic concerns. But even if they feel pressure to open beyond a bubble, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will see a flood of visitors.

“If a country wants to open up, but no one is comfortable going to that country for whatever reason, it will not work,” said Sobie.

And there may still be travel strategies in addition to the bubbles.

Thailand plans to open certain areas to foreign tourists, which means that visitors are effectively confined to one place, such as an island.

New Zealand says it has “phased out” the coronavirus as the country announces the relaxation of restrictions from “level four” to “level three”, with new cases in single digits.

“This will benefit tourists and local residents, as it is almost a kind of quarantine,” said the governor of the Thai Tourism Authority, Yuthasak Supasorn.

But the attractiveness of that will depend on the quarantine rules that will remain in place – if Australians still have to go through quarantine two weeks after returning from vacation in Thailand, they might not be too keen on an island retreat.

Meanwhile, countries that normally attract a large number of foreign students might consider relaxing the rules to let them in. This includes New Zealand, which plans to allow foreign students to return to the country if they are in their two-week quarantine, the national broadcaster Radio New Zealand reported.

Immunity passports

Airports around the world have deployed additional security measures after September 11. Experts expect the coronavirus to be the same, but with an emphasis on health.

It remains to be seen what these measures will look like.

Passengers can have their temperature checked at the airport or have a coronavirus test before boarding the plane. But there are problems to be resolved on this subject. Authorities will need to ensure that the rapid tests are accurate and decide how long before a flight a passenger should be tested.

Another suggestion is that passengers carry immunity passports, which means they are immune to coronaviruses. China has already deployed some form of this – all citizens have a QR Code which changes color depending on their state of health. They must show it to enter restaurants and shopping malls.

But again, there are problems to be resolved.

Immunity passports are based on the idea that people who have recovered from Covid-19 cannot be reinfected. But for now, there is no evidence that they have antibodies that protect them from a second infection, according to the World Health Organization.
Even if they have developed immunity, it is not known how long it would last. In addition, we have not yet generalized antibody tests, which would be necessary for this to work.
Immunity passports could also be used to indicate whether a person has been vaccinated against the coronavirus – but this could be 18 months or longer before there is a vaccine on the market, and even longer before there is mass vaccination worldwide.

“I don’t think you can expect international travel to return to what it was before, really until we have a vaccine,” says Higgins-Desbiolles. “Lots of things are guessing right now and looking to the future.”

What happens after

With so many unknowns about the future of tourism, a battle is raging within the industry over whether this could end up changing tourism forever – maybe even for the better.

Some, like Barnett, believe that things will eventually return to normal.

“I’m not saying it’s going to happen today or tomorrow, it’s going to be a two-year climb uphill to recover this,” he said. “This is not going to 360 the trip.”

Others, like Hardy and Higgins-Desbiolles, see this as an opportunity to reset – a time to examine long-standing issues such as the effects of over-tourism on local cultures and the environment.

“There are people like me who say that we have to rethink everything”, explains Higgins-Desbiolles.

“If you do it right, where you get this idea of ​​tourism based on this idea of ​​fairness, hospitality, respect and good interactions, everyone benefits because then you feel welcomed as a tourist. “

She wants to see slower and more thoughtful tourism – tourism that benefits not only the traveler, but also local economies and local communities.

In theory, this means that people like Cletana and others working in Bangkok will benefit. But for now, they are focusing more on the immediate future.

Niwet Phumiwetsoonthorn, who drives tuk-tuks on Khao San Road, told CNN Travel on Thursday that his daily income had dropped from $ 70 to $ 2 or even nothing. He has no money to send to his wife and children in another province.

For the first time in his life, he is lining up for food donations.

“I just can’t spend my whole day in my room and watching the news on TV. It makes me even more anxious,” says Niwet, who is still waiting on the street with his friends even though he doesn’t have of customers. “We are cheering for the day.”

Store owner Cletena – a widow with a son who needs treatment for health problems – has little savings and no plan B.

“I don’t know if and how it will improve,” she says. “This kind of epidemic – people will be afraid for a long time.”

Julia Hollingsworth reported and wrote from Wellington, New Zealand. Kocha Olarn has been reported from Bangkok, Thailand.


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