Thailand seeks travel bubble deals as SE Asia faces pressure to resume tourism

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Thailand is planning to hold bilateral talks concerning travel bubble deals with China and Malaysia in late February 2022, with the aim of establishing quarantine-free travel between the countries.

According to reports by local media, Thailand’s tourism and sports minister, Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn said that discussions with China will begin the week of February 6-12 2022, during his trip to the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is scheduled to meet with his Malaysian counterpart Ismail Sabri Yaakob by the end of February 2022. 

The talks will take place as Thailand continues to register more than 10,000 new COVID-19 cases for three consecutive days. 

As Southeast Asia is reeling from the effects of COVID-19, countries are under pressure to resume tourism and are exploring collaborative ways to bring back visitor numbers.

In Indonesia, where tourism makes up almost 5% of the countries’ GDP, there is a similar urgency to revitalize foreign visits. 

In January 2022, Indonesia and Singapore agreed on a quarantine-free travel bubble that is to be reviewed every week. Indonesia also has plans to secure a similar travel bubble deal with India and Japan. 

On February 8, 2022, the transport ministry of Indonesia announced that foreign tourist arrivals at Jakarta will be temporarily banned due to the Omicron variant spike in the country. It was an attempt to slow down infection rates as Indonesia recorded more than 36,000 infections on February 6, 2022, with the occupancy rate of hospitals in Jakarta at 63%.

Less than 24 hours after the announcement was made, the Indonesian government retracted the travel ban, opening Jakarta to foreign tourist arrivals once more.

Neighboring Philippines, where tourism takes up a 12% chunk of the country’s GDP, is also attempting to entice foreign tourist visits. On January 31, 2022, the government announced that it will begin accepting fully vaccinated tourists and will do away with quarantine starting February 10, 2022. Two days after the announcement, the United States issued a Level 4 “do not travel” warning against the Philippines due to the rise of COVID-19 cases. 

Economies in Southeast Asia have become heavily reliant on domestic and foreign tourists, who contributed 13% to regional gross domestic product in 2018, the second highest after the Caribbean.


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