SINGAPORE — Southeast Asia’s tourist economies are set to be leading beneficiaries of China’s scrapping of travel bans as they have steered clear of the COVID-19 tests before entry that Europe, Japan and the United States have imposed on Chinese visitors.
Even as the virus tears through its 1.4 billion people, the world’s second largest economy is opening its borders from Sunday, a move that promises to unleash a wave of travelers eager for diversion after three years of strict curbs at home.
Such newly mobile Chinese tourists will opt for “minimal hassle” and head for destinations that do not demand testing, which in turn stands to benefit Southeast Asia, said CIMB economist Song Seng Wun.
“The busier regional airports are, the better it is for their economies,” he added.
Australia, Japan, India, Japan, and the United States all require a negative COVID-19 testing from inbound Chinese. However, the requirements have been waived by many Southeast Asian countries, including Singapore, Cambodia, Indonesia, and India.
Except for airplane wastewater testing by Malaysia and Thailand for the virus, the region’s 11 nations will treat Chinese travelers like any others.
“We are not taking the stance of discriminating (against) any countries,” said Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.
The region attracted a lot of interest even before it was revealed that there were no test requirements.
According to ITB China’s December survey, 76% of Chinese travel agencies considered Southeast Asia the best destination for outbound travel.
This region is home many tourism-reliant countries. In the past, the majority of tourists to the area were Chinese. However, their disappearance in recent years has caused severe damage to the luxury malls, casinos and beach paradises.
They are now preparing to welcome Chinese tourists back to their tourism industry.
In 2019, 155 million Chinese traveled abroad, spending $254.6 billion, or close to the GDP of Vietnam, said Citi, whose researchers expect “meaningful recovery” in mass tourism to start in the second quarter of 2023.
In Vietnam, almost a third of the 18 million foreign arrivals in 2019 were from China, while about a fifth of Singapore’s international arrivals were Chinese who spent S$900 million ($671 million).
Thailand expects to receive 5 million Chinese tourists this year. This is about half the 10.99 millions of 2019 visitors. Malaysia, a neighboring country, projects 1.5 million to 2,000,000 Chinese tourists this year, compared with 3 million in the previous pandemic.
Ganeesh Rama, vice president of the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents, stated that they are preparing for a roadshow in Chinese cities to attract visitors.
FEW HEALTH WORRIES
Officials have downplayed health worries aired by other countries, such as the United States’ concern over insufficient information and fear that more cases in China could spawn new variants of the virus.
Singapore claims it has high population immunity. Around 40% of its citizens have been infected by coronavirus. 83% of Singaporeans were vaccinated. However, it has increased its healthcare capacity.
Karen Grépin, a public health professor at Hong Kong University, agreed with that approach, adding, “Everyday, countries import thousands of cases of COVID-19 from around the world.”
In Bali, Ida Bagus Agung Parta, the chair of the resort island’s tourism board, said it would “increase our defense,” as workers take a second booster dose of vaccine this month.
Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, an ally of Beijing, described other countries’ testing requirements as “propaganda” designed to “scare people.”
“Whatever other country wants to do anything, it’s their right,” Hun Sen said in a recent speech. “But for Cambodia, it’s an invitation to Chinese people: Chinese tourists, come to Cambodia.” ($1=1.3411 Singapore dollars) (With reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat in Bangkok, Mei Mei Chu in Kuala Lumpur, Khanh Vu in Hanoi, Jamie Freed in Sydney Neil Jerome Morales in Manila, Stefanno Sulaiman in Jakarta, Prak Chan Thul in Phnom Penh and Chen Lin in Singapore; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)