Southeast Asia is struggling to spice up its ailing tourism trade because the pandemic slows demand
Southeast Asia, home to some of the world's most tourism-dependent countries, has been hit by the global lockdowns caused by coronavirus – and many of the region's travel industries are struggling to survive.
Although travel-related activities have been discontinued in other regions such as Europe, the borders of Southeast Asia have remained largely closed.
The World Tourism Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations, predicts that the number of international tourists could fall by up to 80% throughout 2020. A UNWTO report in May showed that Asia and the Pacific had the "highest relative and absolute impact" terms in the first three months of this year, with visitor arrivals falling by around 33 million.
"Travel Bubbles" in Southeast Asia
Although the pandemic remains largely under control in most of Southeast Asia, the unpredictability of infections has largely deterred authorities from opening their borders faster.
A pilot project in Thailand was originally intended to issue special tourist visas for long-term travelers that would have enabled healthy international tourists to travel anywhere in the country after a mandatory 14-day quarantine. However, those plans were temporarily suspended after a new case was reported, which delayed plans to reopen.
"Travelers can come to Thailand and choose Bangkok or Phuket for their state quarantines," Tanes Petsuwan, deputy governor of marketing communications for Thailand's Tourism Authority, told CNBC in an interview.
Brunei, Cambodia and Vietnam have resumed some international flights. Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia and Timor-Leste remain closed to foreign arrivals, while non-essential travel for leisure and tourism is not permitted in the Philippines.
Tanes named Singapore and China as countries where Thailand is looking for possible future travel bubbles that would only allow residents of those countries to move around among each other.
Singapore is gradually opening limited safe travel arrangements with other countries, including its Southeast Asian neighbors Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and most recently Indonesia.
It remains to be hoped that easing travel restrictions or the introduction of so-called green flight lanes, which allow visitors from certain countries to enter, would not be premature as decision-makers and hoteliers alike struggle to balance public health with economic growth .
Opportunities to accelerate digitization
Keith Tan, CEO of the Singapore Tourism Board, told CNBC that the city-state is pushing tourism industry players to develop new products and innovative ways to take care of travelers as the country seeks to attract residents to explore attractions.
"At a time when you're so busy with 19 million visitors, you don't have time to develop and innovate," said Keith. "Now the time has come to deepen and expand new skills in the areas of digitization and contactless virtual reality functions."
GTRIIP, a digital identity platform, offers the hospitality industry a simplified, contactless web check-in solution that allows guests to use their own smartphones without the need for a separate mobile app.
This technology is already implemented in hotels in Singapore, Thailand, Macau and Japan.
"Southeast Asia, and the Asia-Pacific region in general, is quite a driving force for innovation, especially because it is a rapidly growing market," Maxim Tint, CEO of GTRIIP, told CNBC in an interview.
"The first implementations will be difficult," he admitted. "With the Covid situation under control, this is no longer just a good thing. It has become a must to check-in safely and contactless. "