For Asian countries that heavily rely on tourism, the closures have had a massive economic impact. A study by the flight booking company Next Vacay estimates that Thailand’s economy lost more than $13.5 billion last year because of the pandemic.
“Testing and tracking methods across Asia have allowed infection rates to stay relatively low, while their tourism destinations have become some of the worst-hit in the world,” said Next Vacay founder and chief executive Naveen Dittakavi.
That doesn’t mean demand isn’t there.
“[Clients] want to go to Asia again, and it’s restricted,” said John Rose, chief risk officer for the travel management company ALTOUR. “So they’re asking, ‘Hey, who’s open for business now?’ ”
TourScanner co-founder and chief executive Simone Semprini said that with a trend of significant declines in coronavirus cases, more countries in Asia are lifting travel restrictions for domestic travelers and plan to welcome international travelers in the coming weeks.
Here’s a look at where Americans can go and what might be on the horizon.
Desiree Overhage, a travel adviser part of Global Travel Collection’s BookHuman.Travel who has spent the past seven years living in Asia, said that with coronavirus rates falling, Indonesia’s plan to reopen Bali for tourism to some countries in October looks promising. However, Americans are not included in that initial reopening.
“But I think once they see that it can be successfully open for specific countries, the U.S. is probably going to follow,” Overhage said.
Beginning Nov. 1, fully vaccinated visitors from the U.S. will be allowed to visit Thailand without quarantine. Travelers will have to provide proof of a negative PCR test result taken before their trip and take an additional coronavirus test upon arrival in Thailand.
Prior to this, travel in Thailand was only possible through specific quarantine requirements.
On July 1, Thailand’s Phuket Sandbox program allowed vaccinated foreigners to visit again, but with strict rules. The original plan required approved travelers to stay in Phuket at least 14 nights before being allowed entry to other Thai destinations such as Bangkok or Chiang Mai.
On Oct. 1, that mandatory stay period will be reduced to seven nights if travelers meet certain requirements, including proof of vaccination, a negative test and travel insurance. Unvaccinated travelers (unless they’re 18 and younger and traveling with their parents) will have to quarantine on arrival for 10 nights.
Thailand recently launched a similar program to the Phuket Sandbox called Samui Plus, which allows travelers to stay on the islands of Ko Samui, Ko Pha-ngan and Ko Tao. Visitors must stay 14 nights in a Samui Plus destination first if they would like to travel to different parts of Thailand.
Travel advisers Tom and Lora Chongruk of Escape 2, an independent affiliate of Montecito Village Travel, have been planning a couple’s three-week honeymoon to Thailand in October. They say that despite the pandemic and restrictions, the couple should be able to have a relatively normal honeymoon. Popular Thai tourism activities such as scuba diving and spas are available, but they may be tweaked for safety reasons.
Rose said because better-known Asia travel destinations such as Japan and China remain closed, smaller spots that are open may have an opportunity to gain more attention. Case in point: Sri Lanka, which reopened to foreign tourism on Jan. 21. Rose said he believes Sri Lanka is a natural fit for travelers who are interested in South Asian culture, warm weather and beaches.
Those who have always wanted to stay in an overwater bungalow in the Maldives don’t have to wait. Travelers must provide proof of a negative PCR test taken 96 hours before the trip and submit a health declaration form within 24 hours of departure. However, where travelers can stay depends on whether they’ve been vaccinated; the health ministry website provides more details on restrictions for unvaccinated visitors. “It will be a good choice for travelers looking for tropical weather during winter,” Semprini said.
Since Sept. 24, vaccinated foreigners are allowed in Nepal without a quarantine requirement. Travelers must provide proof of vaccination, a negative PCR test taken three days before arrival, proof of a hotel reservation, and any trekking or mountaineering permits, among other requirements.
While not yet open, at least part of Vietnam is set to open to international visitors soon. According to the country’s government newspaper, VGP News, Vietnam’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism intends to allow a limited number of preapproved travelers with vaccine passports and a negative PCR test result into Phu Quoc Island.
On Oct. 7, India’s Ministry of Home Affairs announced that the country will begin allowing foreign tourists into India by chartered flights starting Oct. 15. Foreign tourists arriving by commercial flights will be allowed into India as of Nov. 15. Visitors must get a new tourist-visa ahead of their trip and present a negative test taken within 72 hours prior to departure to India.
“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all visas granted to foreigners were suspended last year,” the MHA statement said.
On Oct. 12, Singapore began accepting applications for vaccinated travelers from the U.S. as a part of the “Vaccinated Travel Lane.” Travelers can apply for a “Vaccinated Travel Pass” seven to 30 days before visiting Singapore and must fly in on a designated VTL flight.
Ahead of their trip, short-term visitors must provide proof of travel insurance covering their whole stay.
American travelers must prove their vaccination certificates via SMART health card (SHC) by issuers in Canada or the U.S. on the Common Trust Network. They also have to show proof of a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours of their departure to Singapore, as well as take an additional test at Changi Airport when arriving.
The Singapore SafeTravel website has more information and a helpful tool to guide travelers through their specific requirements.
United Arab Emirates
The United Arab Emirates is open to tourists again. However, there are requirements to enter, including testing before arrival. Semprini believes that with Dubai’s high vaccination rate, no quarantine requirements for tourists and Expo 2020 beginning, the city “will be one of the most visited destinations in wintertime in Asia,” he said. “In the last weeks, we have already noticed a 50 percent increase over 2019 in terms of bookings.”