Today, November 1st, is a good day.
Granted, it is also All Saints Day, Authors Day, World Vegan Day, Independence Day in Antigua, along with a list of other celebrations and holidays, but it also represents a key milestone for the APAC region as 1 November marks the first day of no official quarantine for many traveling to Thailand.
This may seem trivial to some, but to those in the aviation and tourism industry, this is a significant development. It also signals a general awakening of a region from a self-inflicted slumber.
Let’s have a closer look at the progress being made across Asia, as many Governments ready to re-open:
The announcement by the Thai Government on 21 October to open the doors of tourism and trade from 1 November to those vaccinated from 46 countries, was welcome relief for many.
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha announced on his Facebook page that “If we want to attract more foreign tourists to stimulate our tourism and tourism-related businesses, we needed to be proactive,” Prayut said. “If we wait until everything is fully ready, we’ll be too late. Besides, tourists may choose to go elsewhere.”
"Tourism in Thailand accounted for almost 20% of GDP, pre-pandemic."
Thailand took an additional step on 31 October, when the Government announced a further 17 countries were added to the quarantine-free list, including the remaining ASEAN markets and India, notable as it is one of the largest markets for inbound tourism to Thailand.
Tourism in Thailand accounted for almost 20% of GDP, pre-pandemic. Since the borders were shut to tourists in March 2020, airline demand collapsed. During the last 18 months. of the seven main airlines in Thailand, we have seen NokScoot entered liquidation whilst Thai Airways and Nok Air are both in Administration, undergoing business rehabilitation.
Since the re-opening announcement, Thai Airways moved quickly to open flights to 36 international destinations from 1 November, aiming to capitalize on any demand over the upcoming peak holiday period of November to March. Airports of Thailand (AoT) has said it expects 7,000 international arrivals today at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport, and 110 international flights to land.
For the Kambr APAC team, headquartered in Bangkok, there is a waft of optimism in the air as we dust off passports and plan for our return to the skies and visit our growing list of customers in the region.
In neighboring Malaysia, the Langkawi travel bubble initiative has seen a surge in domestic travel and has been a welcome sign for the local airline industry. Langkawi will also be accessible for all international tourists from 15 November under a pilot scheme, with the Tourism Minister recently stating hopes that the country will fully reopen as early as December.
Malaysia, largely cut off from the world since March 2020, had implemented a strict Movement Control Order which curtailed domestic travel.
These restrictions have been eased as the vaccination rate now exceeds 90% of the adult population. Interstate travel restrictions were also lifted in October, but travel to Sabah, in Borneo, is slated to open today, 1 November.
By the end of November, AirAsia is planning to operate all domestic destinations they were operating pre-Covid having seen an “upward trend” as noted in their third quarter 2021 operating statistics, released on 29 October.
In Vietnam, the Government announced in September that it would reopen the popular resort island of Phu Quoc to vaccinated foreign tourists by October, but that reopening has been postponed until November.
There is a concerted effort within the Government to prepare a roadmap for reopening and the Prime Minister’s office has requested the Tourism Ministry to provide a plan by November 5th to resume scheduled international flights.
The Tourism Ministry has also submitted a proposal to the Government to remove quarantine restrictions for all vaccinated visitors.
For VietJet, the largest airline in Vietnam, the outlook is improving as it plans to have its entire domestic network restored by 30 November. Vietjet has taken an aggressive approach to stimulate travel, with its signature zero-fare promotion to encourage flyers.
Free COVID-19 rapid tests are also being provided to all passengers departing Hanoi. Vietnam still has a way to go when it comes it vaccinating its population: less than 20% are fully vaccinated, making it one of the lowest rates in Asia.
Over the border, in Cambodia the Government lifted its 15-month flight ban from Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia on 23 October as the country continues its roadmap towards living with Covid-19.
In a country where almost 15% of GDP is tourism-dependent, the lifting of the ban came after the Government had called for a review on the flight ban as several ASEAN countries have started to relax or lift quarantine requirements.
The Tourism Ministry announced last week that from 30 November select beach destinations will reopen, and Siem Reap – gateway to Angkor Wat – will be added to the countries quarantine free travel scheme from January 2022. Cambodia has also started accepting E-Visa applications for tourism purposes to resuscitate its economy.
The Southeast Asian recovery is not all even however, with Indonesia, the largest economy within the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) bloc, still struggling to curb the pandemic.
In an effort to control traffic flows, the Ministry of Transportation implemented a cap on international arrivals at Jakarta airport to 90 passengers per flight however, this was quickly overturned due to industry protests. Mandatory quarantine of 5 days remains in place for all Indonesian and foreign arrivals at any international gateway.
Bali, home to the 2022 G20 Summit, reopened in mid-October to tourists from 19 countries, however with 5 days quarantine mandated for fully vaccinated visitors, it is seen as a barrier that will disadvantage the island when compared to other destinations such as Thailand that are quarantine-free. As of 25 October, no international flights had landed in Bali.
Australia, the source of majority of Bali’s arrivals, was not on the list of 19 countries, but it is understood discussions between the two Governments are underway.
Whilst domestic services to Bali are increasing, with 54% of Bali’s economy being tourism dependent, the removal of strict entry conditions for international arrivals is key to any sustained revival. Like Bali, Bintan and Batam, both a short ferry ride from Singapore, are also included as islands under the same framework to reopen for tourism.
Having struggled with frequent policy changes to lockdowns, the Philippines is now actively promoting domestic tourism as vaccination rates increase. In mid-October, restrictions on businesses in the capital Manila were eased, and from 16 October, the country lifted quarantine requirements for vaccinated travelers coming from a list of 49 ‘green’ countries (using a traffic light system) – which is subject to review every two weeks.
"Flag carrier, Philippine Airlines, is another airline to have entered bankruptcy protection during the pandemic whilst the low-cost carriers who dominate the market – Cebu Pacific and AirAsia Philippines – are well positioned to rebound rapidly."
A negative PCR test, and proof of vaccination will be required. This is welcome relief for the tourism industry, which the Department of Tourism (DOT) has stated accounted for almost 13% of GDP pre-pandemic. Flag carrier, Philippine Airlines, is another airline to have entered bankruptcy protection during the pandemic whilst the low-cost carriers who dominate the market – Cebu Pacific and AirAsia Philippines – are well positioned to rebound rapidly.
Focused on a zero-Covid approach, Hong Kong is home to some of the harshest quarantine rules in APAC, with a mandatory 21-day quarantine period required for all arrivals.
This stringent approach is having a severe impact on the business sector, and for local airlines such as Cathay Pacific, which has seen passenger numbers languish at less than 10% of pre-pandemic levels.
However, Cathay has announced an increase of services in coming months to cater to the demand connecting via Hong Kong. There is some positive news within the aviation community with a new airline startup – Greater Bay Airlines – recently securing its Air Operators Certificate (AOC) with a target of launching commercial flights by early 2022.
With the largest domestic market in APAC, outside China, the Indian aviation industry has seen a gradual resurgence in recent months. The Indian Government has lifted its capacity restrictions on the domestic airlines, which was implemented at the beginning of the pandemic to limit movement.
On 10 October, the domestic market saw its highest number of passengers flown in a day with over 300,000 travelers, its highest since 28 February 2020.
"Despite travel-bubble pacts in place with 28 countries, to reignite tourism, the Government has also taken the proactive step of waiving all visa fees for the first 500,000 tourists."
The Indian Government also announced on 7 October that it will be partially lifting its ban on international arrivals, and tourist visas will be issued again from 15 November, for those traveling on scheduled flights.
Despite travel-bubble pacts in place with 28 countries, to reignite tourism, the Government has also taken the proactive step of waiving all visa fees for the first 500,000 tourists. With the Tata Group securing the rights to privatize Air India and plans well afoot for a new low-cost airline – Akasa – to launch in the first half of 2022, there is some buoyancy back in the local industry.
From early September, Singapore opened Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTL) once the populations inoculation rate reached 80%. The VTL initiative has been largely viewed as a success and an indication the path to recovery may be quicker than many thought.
Whilst a unilateral move from the Singapore Government, the VTL does allow those vaccinated travelers entering Singapore from 13 approved countries to enter quarantine-free – with Switzerland and Australia the most recent additions to the scheme from 8 November.
The Transport Minister recently announced that since the VTL launch on 8 September to Germany and Brunei, over 5000 travelers have entered Singapore with only 5 testing positive to Covid-19.
On the day of the VTLs being announced, the Singapore Airlines (SQ) website went into meltdown, and there were long queues at its ticketing centers, unable to cope with the demand. On the first day people could apply to enter Singapore through the VTL, 2,409 travelers from Europe and North America did so.
Whilst unlikely to lessen the immediate cash burn challenges faced by Singapore Airlines, the SQ share price did jump 10% on the VTL announcement, given the airline relies solely on international travel. In addition, SQ has reactivated several A380 aircraft and will start A380 flights to London and Sydney in December.
Further south, Australia has also announced the removal of quarantine restrictions for Australian travelers from today, for those entering the main gateways of Sydney and Melbourne.
Qantas has brought forward the re-launch of many international routes with flights to Los Angeles resuming on 30 October, and London on 2 November.
Alan Joyce, CEO of Qantas, recently revealed that in the first 3 weeks of October, Australians had spent over 2.5 billion frequent flyer points for flight redemptions – highlighting strong demand for travel once restrictions ease and borders reopen.
The Qantas Group has also signaled all Qantas and Jetstar staff will be back at work by early December which is welcome news for many who had been furloughed for over 12 months.
Virgin Australia has also been active, launching one of its largest ever sales campaigns on October 25th which saw 1.7 million seats on sale at promotional fares, for travel to 28 domestic and international destinations in Australia, Bali, Fiji, and New Zealand.
Developments and initiatives of many Governments and airlines across APAC are helping to revive travel and tourism in the region. Promising signs are ahead, despite added costs and inconveniences that will be with us for some time, but the holding patterns that aviation has been bound by over the last 18 months look to be easing.
Today is a good day, but here is hoping the good days endure and the skies remain clear as we head in to a brighter 2022.
The environment remains very fluid at the moment. Therefore, this information is subject to change.