Thailand still leading the pack on tourist arrivals in S.E.Asia

Vietnam gets ready for tourism, but on a much smaller scale than Thailand.

With Christmas and New Year round the corner, only Thailand has yet made a serious attempt to lure tourists to its shores.  After all, big money is at stake. The World Travel and Tourism Council estimates that 12% of ASEAN’s gross domestic product came from tourism in pre-pandemic 2019: that’s a mind-blowing 380 billion US dollars.

The Philippines isn’t exactly a sun-kissed beach paradise beckoning you right now.  Tourists are not even a specified entry group.  If you squeeze in as a businessman or because you are close to a Filipino national, the immigration authority website makes it plain you will undergo quarantine for two weeks – the first 10 days in a “facility” and the remainder at home.  Over eight million tourists visited the Philippines in 2019.  They are currently an extinct species.

Much international publicity this week has proclaimed Vietnam to be opening her gates to international tourists.  But ever so slowly it seems.  The only places to be visited are the ancient city of Hoi An and the beach resort of Phu Quoc.  And the Ministry of Culture website does mention that only group tours, not individuals, are admissible for the time being.

2. Laos is a very beautiful country, but you still can’t enter as a tourist.

Next on the list is Indonesia, in particular the exciting island of Bali which has been kinda open since mid-October.  But not to Brits, Americans and most Europeans who are apparently from “red zone” countries.  Even if you do manage to land, you will be turned away unless you are on a direct flight.  The Covid and separate travel insurance is pitched at US$100,000, although (interestingly) you can provide a letter saying you will personally pay for hospital treatment if disaster strikes.  That’s a unique offer in the whole ASEAN region.

Cambodia this week has been trumpeting it is opening up the whole country.  But the embassy websites are still not updated.  It remains unclear if you still need a deposit of US$2,000 in cash and insurance worth US$50,000 – from a monopoly insurance company –  in order to survive immigration rules.  Prime Minister Hun Sen made the initial announcement, but the detailed revelations are yet to come

On to Laos, still a very beautiful country.  However, you will need the permission of the awesome-sounding Task Force Committee of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who will also arrange the 14-days compulsory quarantine.  Even if you feel like tackling those bureaucracies, don’t forget that international flights to the country have been suspended.

You can certainly criticize Thailand’s recent scatter-gun approach to international tourism.  Everything has been tried: snowbird vacations, blue zone holidays, “special” tourist visas, travel bubbles which burst and Sandboxes which were only half full.  Meanwhile, the jury is still out on whether Thailand Pass will actually work in practice. Nevertheless, nobody else in ASEAN seems to have any better ideas to regenerate seriously the tourist income coffers.  If only the Thai government would quickly get rid of senseless booze restrictions in restaurants, we might yet have a Happy Christmas after all.