Asia Cracks Open the Doors to Restart Travel, But Curbs Linger


The travel hotspots of Asia are eager to get visitors back, along with the dollars, euros, pounds and renminbi they used to spend. But restrictions on the ground as well as back home mean those tourists will be slow to arrive.

Thailand, which led Asia with a pilot program for travel to Phuket, just reopened its doors to more than 60 countries. Indonesia is welcoming some travelers back to Bali and the Riau Islands, while Malaysia will reopen the sugar sand beaches of Langkawi to quarantine-free travel starting in mid-November. 

Australia, which effectively locked its own citizens out of coming home for months, is allowing some inbound travel. Even Singapore, which is still hanging on to all manner of domestic regulations despite its 84% vaccination rate, has started easing on departures and arrivals. Quarantine-free travel from the city-state is now possible to the U.S., Canada, and several countries in Western Europe, and that will expand to Australia, Switzerland and South Korea later this month. 

But even as those restrictions fall, there are still enough local public health rules and other travel complications that it may take more than open borders to get business and leisure travelers back.

Thailand only allows entrance to certain provinces on arrival, though they’re generally the ones tourists flocked to in pre-pandemic times. Australia’s easing doesn’t cover the whole country, and it’s only for citizens and permanent residents, so no tourists for now. In Singapore, “quarantine free” still means isolating as long as 24 hours until mandatory on-arrival Covid test results come in.

Asia-Pacific destinations still restrict tourist travel far more than most cities in Europe or the Americas, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. At least five major Asian cities tracked are still closed off entirely to foreign travel. And where you can get in, restrictions often abound.

Consider Thailand, which ended quarantine for vaccinated travelers from more than 60 countries and where tourism is about 15% of the country’s GDP. They’d love travelers from Beijing, Hong Kong and Singapore to come back. But travel is a two-way flight. Returning from Bangkok or Phuket to Singapore is a 10-day quarantine on arrival. To Mainland China? 14 days. Hong Kong? That’s 21-days of isolation. Plus multiple tests and the expenses involved in the process. (China is also the largest outlier on opening back up. It remains largely shut to outsiders, and the country has shown little hesitation about shutting down schools, businesses or inter-city travel at a moment’s notice to stop cases.) 

So yes, the green shoots of travel are re-emerging across Asia after a long pandemic freeze. But how long until those saplings become trees you can actually park a beach chair under? It’ll take a while