DIFFERENT government travel requirements across the globe continue to be an obstacle to the recovery of international tourism amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

James Kaplan, CEO of Destination Capital said, “Inconsistent government policy and regulations around the world is causing this sort of paralysis of travel…. And unfortunately, each government has sort of taken the high ground that, you know, their way is the best way.”

He added, “What we’re hoping for 2022 is for governments to finally recognize that keeping people in jail, isn’t the way to grow an economy. We’re hopeful that in the middle of 2022, different governments will look at things like the ‘Phuket Sandbox’ and see it worked, and there is a way to move forward. It’s a model that people [in the Philippines] are looking at. I think it’s a good model and that it can expand elsewhere.”

Under the Phuket Sandbox model, vaccinated tourists may enter the island   (or Koh Samui or Krabi) quarantine-free, but they have to stay there for 14 days before entering mainland Thailand and its other destinations.

Speaking from Phuket, Bill Barnett, Managing Director of C9 Hotelworks said about 50 percent of the recent arrivals in Phuket are via international carriers. Since the Phuket experiment started in July, “for the first 60 days, we’ve seen about 26,000 travelers and about US$ 50 million in revenue directly generated from that.” Prior to the pandemic, Phuket received about 175,000 travelers a week.

Not just about tourism

More importantly, he underscored, the experiment is not just about tourism. “We’ve seen business people coming back in the country. The same people transacting and flying in and having business meetings, our partners flying in from Bangkok as well. You’re seeing families get back together.

You’re seeing people who actually want to invest in the country as well.” He added, the Phuket Sandbox can be replicated in Cebu, “because you need direct airlift to be able to fly in otherwise, it’s extremely complicated.”

The Department of Tourism (DOT) is considering adopting the Phuket Sandbox template for Bohol’s Panglao Island or Boracay Island, which is why it’s rushing on getting many tourism workers in both destinations to get vaccinated. In Phuket, about 75 percent of the island’s population have been vaccinated, or at least received their first vaccine dose.

Kaplan and Barnett spoke at a recent tourism webinar hosted by real estate agency Santos Knight Frank and the British Chamber of Commerce.

Price-led recovery

Barnett also said competitive pricing will be the mark of the tourism recovery in Southeast Asia: “We’re at the beginning of a new cycle, a new trajectory of recovery. It’s obviously going to take three or four years for broad tourism to come back in these markets. We talked to hotels across the region, they’re expecting that rates are going to be floating, trying to get business. There’s a lot of competition out there as well. So it’s going to be a price-led recovery and that can take longer than we thought it [would]. Some markets will perform better than others but airlift, will determine everything. You can’t stay there if you can’t get there.”

He added that resorts will likely lead the industry’s recovery. “Urban hotels will be harder to sell right now. For a business traveler, you’ll combine business trips with resort trips. I think resort destinations will come back quicker.”

Prior to the pandemic, the Philippines received some 8.26 million international travelers who generated revenue of $9.1 billion (P455 billion) in 2019. Due to international travel restrictions, the Philippines received only 1.48 million international tourists in 2020, with visitor receipts falling to $1.6 billion (P80 billion).

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