The day we have been waiting for is getting closer and closer. We will be traveling again soon, but the question is: What will travel look like? Will we travel like “normal” again or are adjustments necessary?
In general, the Southeast Asian nations have handled the pandemic reasonably well, with most closing their borders in the earlier stages of COVID-19. Even though tourism continues to be one of the sectors hardest hit and an opening of the borders is a much needed necessity for many economic reasons, the governments will be smart about it.
The fear of COVID-19 is widespread. Not just for personal health reasons but out of concerns of a strained and overloaded healthcare system. Because of this, the region will open with caution and consideration for the bigger picture. The first travelers will need to have pre-approved visas from the relevant embassy before travel and also itineraries approved by the relevant authorities in each country.
Vaccination/COVID passports alongside negative PCR tests will definitely be the new normal for any border entry. When in-country, consider your mask the new tote bag, as businesses large and small will see this as a marketing opportunity. Don’t be surprised if you leave a destination with more masks than you arrived with!
Social distancing, even after the pandemic subsides, will leave its trace with many venues choosing to limit the total number of visitors allowed at a time - a welcome development in many places, even if it makes securing advance reservations even more important.
More likely you’ll see quotas for entry into the country, and national border authorities will be the focal point of testing and verification of vaccination status.
In regards to hotels, we have already seen many properties making the necessary adjustments to offer more open-air spaces. One positive aspect in Asia is that the vast majority of hotels offer individual air conditioning units in each room, so worries about air circulation are not an issue. I anticipate that the first wave of travelers will seek out the smaller boutique hotels that can cater to their individual needs in a simple, relaxed and luxurious space.
Devastating as the effects of COVID-19 have been on the tourism industry, I am looking forward to seeing what the future holds as architects and designers come up with new ideas to satisfy the wants and needs of post-pandemic travelers. This “new normal” in travel and tourism brings with it a lot of possibility.
There is a belief that previous pandemics made people more adventurous and there is no reason to think that this pandemic will be any different. Much of the world has felt very trapped and restricted during this past year and people are more than eager to travel again. I believe that we will see travelers who are seeking a more substantial travel experience. They will want to bond and connect with different foods, lands, people and cultures.
Staying active and outdoor will be the main focus and Southeast Asia ticks all the boxes for outdoor experiences. Pre-pandemic, South East Asia already had a growing focus on eco-tourism and it’s something that will grow even stronger as we move ahead to our altered and, hopefully, more meaningful world of travel.
It may be a while before we see full planes again, but is that so bad? The world's landmarks all got a well-deserved break from the mass tourism we all were a part of. Hopefully this pandemic will have made all of us smarter and more appreciative of what we have.
One thing is for certain - the first travelers coming back will be very lucky. Who hasn’t dreamed of exploring an empty Angkor Wat or being alone on a white-sand beach in Thailand? These and many other once-in-a-lifetime experiences are here just waiting to be had.
By Naida Dizdarevic