With vaccinations underway and more and more people, especially in wealthy countries, gaining immunity to COVID-19, travel is once again on the rich and adventurous list. Taking a plane to enjoy exotic sites or recharge your batteries in pristine surroundings won’t be easy, at least if your destination is anywhere in Asia.
For many Asian countries that depend on tourism to generate significant income for their economies, preparations for the reopening have been underway for some time. The Philippines is no exception, although tourism officials may have to twiddle their thumbs for longer to reduce inbound tourism levels to half of pre-pandemic levels.
On the one hand, no concrete measures have been planned to accommodate fully vaccinated tourists or those who can show proof of immunity to COVID-19. With border entry requirements changing from day to day, fully immune vacationers naturally avoid this region.
Quarantine requirements come and go as well, which vaccinated tourists don’t want to disturb. On the flip side, many governments in the region still have no foolproof way to trust vaccination passports that guarantee a traveler’s COVID-19 immunity.
With infections on the rise even in countries like Thailand, Singapore and Hong Kong – which previously held admirable records, previous plans to lift travel bans and ease travel requirements have been suspended, prompting fully vaccinated tourists to look elsewhere.
Freedom to travel regained
To date, more than 800 million people worldwide have received at least one dose of the vaccine and, in the coming weeks, will be able to obtain a certificate of immunity, which would give them the freedom to leave for this summer vacation. sharply shortened dream. last year by the pandemic.
The number is still well below the 1.45 billion tourist arrivals recorded in 2019, but the rapid deployment of effective vaccines and the resulting decline in infections in countries where more than 50% of the population has already received at least one dose are encouraging signs.
More and more Americans and Europeans who have passed the vaccination cycle are eagerly awaiting summer vacation, and many of them are not too concerned about whether the outbreak of the virus in their vacation destination. is serious as long as they are allowed to enter without hassle.
France and Spain, which were the top destinations of choice in 2019, adopted a form of traffic light-based filtering – red, orange, green – that would allow travelers from European countries, as well as from outside of the block, to recognize their risk status. .
The two countries have reopened more visa counters in “green” countries such as Australia, Israel, New Zealand, Rwanda, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand and China (including Hong Kong and Macao ). A number of third countries have also recently been included, such as the United States, in the list.
Specific to Spain, from June 7 any traveler vaccinated with any of the vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency from any country would be allowed entry.
It should be noted that France and Spain, even after being crippled by high infection rates and deaths last year, are still experiencing thousands of new cases per day comparable to our ratios measured against the total population.
Custom border controls
What France and Spain are doing deserves careful consideration from our tourism officials, and useful lessons in border control tailored to a growing population of vaccinated tourists in Europe and the United States could be applied. in the not too distant future.
Likewise, we can forget about all the travel incentive programs targeting tourists from countries that still have low immunization levels like Australia and New Zealand due to our inadequate pandemic responses and of our vaccination campaign hampered by vaccine supply.
Targeted immunity destinations
The positive value of having a large portion of your population vaccinated against COVID-19 is no longer questionable. Cities in the United States, which currently have one of the highest vaccine ratios in the world, are reopening with abandon.
New York City is even encouraging the entry of vaccinated tourists, people of means and determination who receive visas for the sole purpose or for a single purpose of getting vaccinated – and there are plenty of takers given the scarcity. vaccines in their country of origin.
This column does not, however, suggest having this targeted immunity destination. The Philippines is a long way from achieving the high vaccination rates that Israel and the United States have achieved, and will likely not achieve this herd immunity aspiration anytime soon.
We must, however, seek to make the best use of the scarcity of vaccines we receive, especially now that most of the beneficiaries of the priority lists (frontline workers, the elderly and people with co-morbidities) have been covered.
Expanding the availability of vaccines to more people who need to work is a step in the right direction. For the tourism sector, the determination of priority areas where vaccination will allow a safe level of openness for foreign tourists should be seriously considered.
Boracay and Panglao Island in Bohol, for example, should be seen as areas where the tourism bubble theory can be put to the test. The areas are small enough to allow our tourism and border officials to put in place the appropriate resources that can ensure that only the vaccinated are allowed to enjoy these coveted travel destinations.
Refinements and improvements can be added along the way. The opening of other bubbles of similar tourist destinations in the future could also be considered. The fully immune tourist market is too eager to travel and spend because it has been locked up for too long.
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