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Southeast Asia travel is catching up at last as COVID curbs ease

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Passengers walk through a thermal scanner at Suvarnabhumi airport, Samut Prakan Province on Friday.

SINGAPORE: Southeast Asia is finally, tentatively throwing off the shackles of Covid-19 and reopening for travel, with airlines filling an increasing number of seats as holiday-starved masses arrange overseas vacations for the first time in two years.

While the region lags other places such as North America and Europe that reopened sooner, the upward momentum gathered pace in April. Ticket bookings are rising as popular tourist destinations like Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia allow quarantine-free entry for vaccinated travellers again.

“April has been a very important month for Southeast Asia,” said Gary Bowerman, director of travel and tourism research firm Check-in Asia. “The optimism is back, people are now thinking and talking about traveling the way they weren’t before. Just look at the search volumes that are happening.”

Google searches related to travel to Singapore have jumped, particularly from neighbouring Malaysia, as well as Indonesia, India and Australia, according to data tracked by economists at Maybank Investment Bank Bhd. Searches rose about 20% since the last week of March.

Air-passenger traffic to Singapore reached 400,000, or 31% of pre-COVID levels, in the week ending April 17 after most travel restrictions for fully vaccinated people were lifted at the start of the month, according to the country’s civil aviation authority.

In Thailand, where international tourism contributes about 15% to gross domestic product, the number of foreign visitors rose 38% in March from February after a relaxation of requirements on testing and health insurance, according to the tourism ministry.

The number of visitors to Thailand reached 358,364 from April 1 to 27, according to the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA). Travellers from Singapore accounted for the most, followed by the United Kingdom, India, Germany and Australia. The Government said on April 27 it expects tourism arrivals to reach 6.1 million this year, compared with only 427,869 in 2021. The figure was 40 million in 2019. Singapore’s Changi Airport handled 1.14 million passengers in March, the first time the figure climbed above 1 million since the start of the pandemic.



Monday, May 2, 2022 – 01:00

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