Tourism Potentially Halted Until Covid-19 Vaccine Becomes Available

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Bangkok Airport, pictured here in April, may not welcome foreigners until 2021 (Jaem Prueangwet/Shutterstock)

The travel and tourism industry has suffered several major setbacks in the last few days, with authorities in both Indonesia and Thailand suggesting that their respective country's borders may remain closed to foreign tourism until 2021.

The news will come as a blow to those hoping that Bali's plan to reopen on 11 September would ease the crippling burden imposed by travel restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic. Although the Bali plan was not specifically withdrawn, during a webinar held on Saturday, 15 August, Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment, Luhut Panjaitan said  'The problem with foreign visitors... we will not accept them until the end of the year.' Bali opened to domestic tourism in July.

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Kuta Beach, one of the busiest in Bali, closed until domestic tourism restarted in July (Denis Moskvinov/Shutterstock)

Erick Thohir, head of Indonesia's National Economic and Covid-19 Recovery Team, said: 'The reopening of tourist destinations to foreign tourists is something positive, but we need to do it at the right time. We don’t want that the programme to make Indonesia healthy become compromised by the plan to allow foreign tourists to come and create possible new clusters,' said Thohir. 'Therefore, the committee has decided to review this plan to allow foreign tourists to come.' He added that, 'vaccines may only be available next year.'

In a separate discussion, reported by the Jakarta Post, Mr Luhut seemed to confirm that there would be delays to the country's reopening. 'We are not going to reopen immediately,' he said. 'We must carefully select the originating countries. We are studying this carefully day-to-day.'

Indonesia, a country with a population of some 274 million, has, as of Monday, 17 August, recorded 141,370 Covid-19 cases and 6,207 fatalities.

Thailand Outlook 'Not Rosy'

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The popular Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand, photographed almost empty in April (SPBShutter/Shutterstock)

The news from Indonesia follows an announcement by a Thai official that hinted there would be no lifting on travel restrictions to Thailand until at least February next year. Deputy governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya, is reported in The Telegraph as saying that the situation for reopening to tourists 'is not a rosy picture.'

There has been little, if any, indication from Thai authorities as to when travel restrictions might be lifted. The country, with a similar population to the UK of just under 70 million, has, to date, registered just 3,378 Covid-19 infections and 58 deaths. So few recent infections have been recorded that Thailand was one of the first countries to which the UK lifted its 'all but essential travel' advisory. However, it may be well into 2021 before tourists will be welcomed back to its shores. 'The Christmas period, usually the high season, is in jeopardy,' said Khun Chattan, 'and I’m looking horribly even to Chinese New Year in February.'

Travel Bubbles Burst

Thailand and Indonesia had been involved in discussions with neighbours such as Australia, New Zealand and Fiji to form 'travel bubbles' between infection-free zones. While Fiji remains virtually infection-free with just one fatality among its 890,000 population, new spikes of the virus in Australia (mostly Melbourne, Victoria) and New Zealand (Auckland) seem to have put those plans on hold.

Australia, in particular, seems unlikely to lift restrictions on foreigners entering the country any time soon. Qantas, the country's national airline, has withdrawn all flight sales until March 2021.



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