- First such easing in 18 months seen boosting travel industry
- Hundreds of tourists arrive in Bangkok
- Thailand gives green light to visitors from over 60 countries
- Australia opens more slowly
- The two nations had adopted some of the harshest borders
BANGKOK / SYDNEY, Nov. 1 (Reuters) – Australia and Thailand significantly eased international border restrictions on Monday for the first time in 18 months, offering a first litmus test of tourism and travel demand in Asia to the following the coronavirus pandemic.
Hundreds of vaccinated foreign tourists have arrived in the Thai capital for a quarantine-free journey after the Southeast Asian nation gives the green light to these visitors from more than 60 countries, including China and the United States. .
Several European countries are also on the list as Thailand, one of the region’s most popular destinations, seeks to capitalize on visitors to the northern hemisphere looking to escape the winter blues.
Those hopes seemed to pay off quickly, with German tourist Simon Raithel and a group of friends among the first to arrive in Bangkok.
“Right now in Europe it’s pretty cold,” said Raithel, 41, who was planning to visit the islands in southern Thailand. “We just chose this flight and it is quite surprising that we are the first flight to arrive.”
In Sydney, hundreds of citizens were greeted by family and friends, receiving gifts of Australian chocolate cookies and wildflowers as they became the first to arrive without a permit or the need for a quarantine since April 2020.
â(It’s) a little scary and exciting,â said Ethan Carter, who took a Qantas Airways (QAN.AX) flight from Los Angeles. “I came home to see my mother because she is not well.”
While travel is initially restricted to a few states and Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families, and New Zealand nationals, this heralds a plan to reopen to tourists and international workers, both of whom are essential to reinvigorate a tired nation.
Australia’s announcement of a quarantine-free travel for Singapore citizens from November 21 was a step towards “a new normal,” said Philip Goh, Asia-Pacific vice president of the organization of IATA airlines.
“We are excited about this positive development and look forward to further easing of border restrictions by Australia and other countries in the region,” Goh said.
“This will give the necessary boost to the recovery of the aviation industry and the airline industry.”
Despite the relaxed borders, booming travel is still a long way off. IATA estimates losses at $ 200 billion due to the pandemic for the global aviation industry over the period from 2020 to 2022.
In Asia alone, losses reached nearly $ 50 billion in 2020, while in August and September, international travel to Asia-Pacific was around 4% of 2019 levels.
“LONG WAY TO GO”
Thailand has been hit hard by the pandemic, losing an estimated 3 million jobs dependent on tourism and an estimated $ 50 billion a year in income.
Thai authorities tested the waters by reopening the resort island of Phuket in July, letting fully vaccinated tourists skip the then mandatory two-week quarantine, provided they stay on the island, where tourism accounts for 90% economy.
However, the “Phuket Sandbox” has been less popular than expected, with arrivals in July at just 1% of pre-pandemic levels.
The Ministry of Finance forecasts only 180,000 foreign arrivals this year and 7 million next year, up from around 40 million in 2019.
Thailand’s new program requires visitors to spend their first night in a pre-approved hotel and get a negative COVID-19 test before they can travel elsewhere.
Australia’s changes allow millions of people to travel for free in the states of New South Wales and Queensland, as well as the Australian Capital Territory. Other locations, however, are closed or restricted.
âWe still have a long way to go in terms of relaunching our industry,â said Geoff Cuthbert, Managing Director of Sydney Airport.
“But allowing fully vaccinated Australians to travel without quarantine will provide the model for bringing back students, business travelers and tourists from around the world.”
Western Australia, one of the world’s largest producers of iron ore, will however remain largely closed to the rest of the country and the world as the state tries to stay virus-free.
Thailand and Australia have adopted some of the toughest restrictions in the world to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
While a Delta outbreak kept Sydney and Melbourne locked out for months until recently, infections in Australia are far lower than in many countries, with just over 170,500 cases and 1,735 deaths.
Most of Thailand’s 1.9 million infections and more than 19,000 deaths have occurred since April, with around 42% of its 72 million people vaccinated.
Reporting by Jonathan Barrett, Jamie Freed, Jill Gralow, Jiraporn Kuhakan, Orathai Sriring and Artorn Pookasook; Writing by Jane Wardell; Editing by Clarence Fernandez
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