Confession time: I have always found traveling stressful. That’s right, from that first solo trip to Australia at 7 years old to a quick flight to LA to speak at a conference at 41, I have never been a relaxed traveler. I think this is partly why I’m a good travel coach…I haven’t sailed through life, breezily boarding flights while laughing about the ones I’ve missed, heck no, I go over packing lists, I arrive at the airport way earlier than necessary and I sit at the gate doggedly waiting for boarding to start, refusing to let my kids leave to get a snack in case they aren’t back in time! When I coach people with travel fears and worries I can relate! Just because I’ve done it a lot, doesn’t mean It's smooth emotional sailing!
Over the years I have learned not to change my behavior completely, but at least to laugh at myself and rein it in a bit. Then COVID! Entry requirements, tests needed, full flights with not even 6 inches of distance let alone the 6 feet we’ve become used to.
The first time we travelled was to Hawaii after Christmas for a week break in a villa on the beach. All eight of us! Eight flights that kept changing based on updated schedules and what worked with testing, eight required negative COVID tests done 48 hours before we traveled, eight people packed and wearing masks and eight people to keep safe and entertained AND masked for an entire flight. A week before we left I had gone over my mental checklist and prep list so many times it had become a mantra and I called my sister to tell her it wasn’t worth it. This was too much. My directive as a mother was to keep my kids safe, yet here I was jumping through burning rings of fire in an attempt to possibly put them in harms way. She laughed and told me she would see me there…she is not an anxious traveler. And she was right. We got eight flights booked, we got eight negative COVID tests and we got eight people fed, entertained and masked to Hawaii. Then we picked up the rented minivan, got to our villa and remembered how fun family and pools and vacations and travel all are!
Today my two older kids and I arrived in Belize. While Hawaii was during the pandemic this trip is post (I feel that word is being used loosely) pandemic. Less anxiety right? Heck no! Masks are still required and while I’m vaccinated my youngest isn’t and every cough on the full planes find my eyes on him, making sure his mask is up. While three was definitely easier than eight, we still had to get negative tests and proof of vaccination and packed and entertained and masked.
But then we arrived and like every trip I’ve ever taken in my life, it was worth it! To be out exploring again, to be adventuring! To be living in the world!
So I did the mental checklists, I jumped through the hoops and we made it! But as a travel coach I feel the collective anxiety of my fellow American travelers and the fear of the post pandemic world. We’ve spent a year sheltering, protecting ourselves and our loved ones and then it seemed as if overnight the world opened back up and we are encouraged to skip back out into it. And we should…guides, drivers, hotel staff, they all desperately need us to get back out there. And I encourage you to go, but I also want to recognize the anxiety of it, the added stresses of the testing and masking and no six feeting! This is an anxious time, we are all struggling to come to terms with what we’ve lost, what we’ve gained and what the next year will look like. It’s okay to admit that travel is scary and it’s okay to feel that anxiety. If now isn’t the time for you and your family that’s okay, if it is the time, that’s okay too. I’m owning my anxiety, I’m declaring it worth it and I am giving myself grace to return to the world and myself. But what's a coach without some tips for getting through it.
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
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has had a long history of military rule. After gaining its independence from Britain in 1948, the country was ruled by the armed forces from 1962 until 2011, when a newly-elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party won elections and returned the country to civilian rule.
On February 1, 2021, following a general election which the NLD party won by a landslide, the military staged a coup against the civilian government and declared a year-long state of emergency.
In response, protesters have taken to the streets in the largest protests since the 2007 Saffron Revolution, when thousands of monks took part in demonstrations against the military. During these most recent protests, the military has imposed restrictions including curfews and limits on gatherings, while security forces have cracked down on protesters with water cannons, rubber bullets and live ammunition at times, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of civilians.
In the aftermath, numerous Western nations have condemned the military coup and subsequent crackdown on protesters, and the U.S., U.K. and European Union have all responded with sanctions on military officials.
On April 20, 2021 the U.S. State Department issued a Level 4 - Do No Travel advisory for Myanmar “due to COVID-19 as well as areas of civil unrest and armed conflict.”
To get a better understanding of how people on the ground in Myanmar are feeling about the current situation, we asked our colleagues at 7 Days Travel - the destination management company Kaanect uses when planning trips to Myanmar - for an update.
Dar Le, Director of 7 Days Travel:
It's been over a year now since the COVID-19 pandemic brought everything to a halt for our travel business. Earlier this year, we were feeling like we were coming into the light again, with hopes that our business would come alive as Myanmar was getting vaccine doses from India. And then suddenly, the military took over power from the elected government and we felt that our hopes, our futures, and our livelihoods were swept away overnight by the coup. We cannot accept the dictatorship and therefore we will fight until this coup fails.
Tin, Guide for 7 Days Travel:
The February 1, 2021 military coup has brought lots of suffering and hardship here in Myanmar. The brutal crackdowns by the military are unacceptable in our civilized world. Unfortunately, it’s still happening all over the country.
As a citizen of Myanmar, I am totally against this coup and crackdowns! Now the country's economy is plummeting in all aspects. Being a guide and working in the travel industry, I had already noticed that travel was the hardest hit and longest suffering business since the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020. It has now collapsed into “ground zero” and the future is uncertain.
Thousands have lost their jobs already. Nonetheless, it seems that the Myanmar Spring Revolution will keep on going. After the darkest midnight, there will be a time for dawn and daylight again. Until then, we have to stay strong together. We hope that you will spread the word and speak out about what is happening here on behalf of all Myanmar citizens.
Thandar, Guide for 7 Days Travel (Mandalay):
Since 1962, Myanmar was largely ruled by a military junta which crushed any opposition. More than 4,000 people were killed in the pro-democracy movement in 1988. Dozens more were killed in 2007 during the Saffron Revolution led by monks. Now in the present day, soldiers and police shoot, arrest, beat, torture and kill innocent people and children too.
Based on our experience, we know that the country will not develop under military dictatorship. So we have to fight until the end of the military coup.
Melvin, Guide for 7 Days Travel (Yangon):
It is so shameful that Burma becomes very notorious again because of a military coup. And while the latest coup just happened in 2021, the problems have been rooted in our history since 1962.
Being a very earnest tour guide, I am very interested to learn everything about our country from all sides, and politics here is a topic that requires one to dig deeply to better understand.
I don’t want to get too deeply into the many different reasons why this last coup has happened, but instead want to broaden your understanding of a typical concept in the mind of Burmese people. We say there are five kinds of enemies: Fire, water, wind, thieves, and the government.
Of course, while we typically accept the government, now we are dealing with this last enemy and all of the negative impacts that a bad government can bring to the civilians in the country. When the government is not playing fairly and operating for the good of the country’s progress, but instead bringing about upside-down conditions, our hearts bleed with indescribable pain.
In a sense we are speechless, as there are no words to express our bitterness at the killing and bullying of innocent civilians by any means necessary. But at the same time, I will not forget to pass along this message to the next generation so that they can learn from these mistakes. I strongly believe in the people’s power and that we can always improve our country in the future. It’s a task we cannot fail in.
I don’t like to be pressured and tortured by this military coup and I swear to myself that I will keep moving ahead until the end for this movement. I believe that we will ultimately succeed at the right time, but know that there will be many sacrifices made along the way. So I will never forget to salute all the fallen souls sadly but proudly.
And above all, we must win this movement!
7 Days Travel is the destination management company that Kaanect Travel uses when building guest itineraries in Myanmar.
Vietnam closed its borders early in 2020 and to say it has been a challenging time for the tourism industry here is an understatement. Whilst we monitor cases and eagerly wait for our borders to reopen to international guests once more, we have ridden the COVID rollercoaster of ups and downs. This has meant adapting and rising to the challenge.
In Country Tours needed to shift our focus to domestic travel and we have been helping whoever we can, however we can through this hard time. Keeping eyes on experiences we can still offer now and going forward has been a challenge as everyone downsizes, adjusts, and sometimes closes. Only through heartfelt and honest two-way communication, empathy, sympathy and compromise have we been able to rise to the challenge.
Over the last year we have been providing English support, delivering domestic tours, networking, monitoring, communicating and developing new experiences as much as possible. The industry buzz and energy has been returning as vaccinations roll out across different countries. Vietnam has started its vaccination journey with some tiers already receiving their vaccines. Vietnam’s own ‘Nanovax’ vaccine is expected to be added to the options for rollout late summer. Border entry in conjunction with vaccine passports and quarantine policy is being discussed and we are waiting on the decision(s) and guidance to be announced.
Over the next year and beyond we are moving more out of our comfort zone as we bring our team back up to full strength. We are now expanding our journey adding sustainable travel to our survival and recovery strategy. We have always focused on responsible travel, but the pandemic has taught us that this is no longer enough and we can dive in more to be there and help.
There is no overnight solution, and the road will be complex but rewarding. It is the right way to move forward to our next chapter. Khoa has been engaged in an international training course to learn as much as possible about this incredibly important objective. We are building our strategy going forward for sustainable management, socioeconomic impacts, cultural impacts and environmental impacts.
We are excited to wake up every day knowing we are working hard on making a difference, bringing our guests meaningful experiences, and building up our team and our Vietnam.
See you soon!
By Khoa & Michelle Nguyen
Owners of In Country Tours
In Country Tours is the destination management company that Kaanect Travel uses when building guest itineraries in Vietnam.
When the COVID-19 virus was first identified in China and then began spreading around the world, Laos was largely spared from the worst of the pandemic initially. As of late April 2021, there were still only a few hundred cases reported total, with zero deaths. But the impact of COVID has nonetheless been great - everything has changed, many people have lost their jobs, and many restaurants, shops and hotels remain closed.
Without any tourism going on in the country, I've been working at my farm growing vegetables, avocados and dragon fruit. Recently I have begun working for a company called Loca, which is similar to Uber. I’ve been working as a driver in the capital city of Vientiane and the surrounding areas, driving passengers around the city and other provinces as needed. It’s an easy job and I can choose my own hours.
The situation on the ground in Laos right now is challenging, as the number of COVID cases began increasing in the spring, leading to a
government-imposed lockdown of Vientiane for a couple of weeks in late April and early May. This has made me doubtful that Laos will open to tourism before the end of this year unless we see dramatic improvements.
The good news is that Laos has begun its vaccination campaign, and hopefully everyone will get vaccinated this year. I still love working in the tourism industry and I am looking forward to welcoming travelers back to my beautiful country once again.
By Onkeo Phontasin
Owner of Journeys Within Laos
Journeys Within Laos is the destination management company that Kaanect Travel uses when building guest itineraries in Laos.
It has been over a year now since COVID-19 first spread in Cambodia, and the unexpected pandemic began changing the way we live from day one. People are facing a lot of challenges including physical and financial difficulties as they couldn’t go to work as they used to.
In the beginning, while the number of cases in Europe and the U.S. were growing rapidly, Cambodia still had a very low number of cases. We were allowed to go out but needed to wear masks and wash our hands all the time - instructions that most people were happy to follow because we thought we were lucky that we didn’t have to stay in our houses like people in other countries.
Personally, I spent a lot of my time exploring the temples in Siem Reap and trying to find the very best spots to witness the sunset inside the temple complex, now that there was all the time in the world to do so. The temples were empty just like in the early ‘90s.
It made me feel bad for people who used to make a living from the tourism industry because they couldn’t do so anymore. I have a lot of friends that used to work for hotels and travel agencies, while others are drivers and tour guides, and I’ve seen them changing their way of living into something completely different in order to survive and support their families. Some of them have started small chicken farms, while others grow vegetables for living. Some tour guides are now working as delivery people.
COVID-19 is teaching me lots of life lessons. It has been over a year since tourism in Cambodia was essentially put on hold, and at first it was hard to change my way of life from something I loved to new things I have never done. During the first few months after the COVID-19 outbreak closed the borders, I took some time off and spent a lot of time with my son, Seth, whom I used to only be able to see once a week before. We have been getting closer and closer since then. To keep myself busy I went out with my camera and my family to places that are now completely uncrowded to shoot portraits in these amazing landscapes and places. With all of this shooting and retouching work, I think my photography skills have gotten better.
My wife and I have also founded a new online jewelry shop called KORNG DAI, which means ‘bracelet’ in English. We’re selling jewelry that is made from freshwater pearl and sterling silver. While it’s hard to start a business during a pandemic, surprisingly it’s doing very well. We have received a lot of support from locals, and we’re able to ship the products directly to our customers’ homes after they’ve ordered.
Building up this new business has kept us both busy. I’ve been doing everything from creating content for social media posts, organizing photo shoots, retouching photos, replying to customers’ questions, packing orders and delivering them to the shipping company’s office. My wife also replies to customers and manages the live stream for the business. It’s been so much fun so far, and I’m very grateful that we found something we like doing in this difficult time.
After relatively few cases during the first year or so of the pandemic, the situation here in Cambodia took a turn for the worse around the beginning of the new year. We’ve seen some community outbreaks in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and some in other provinces that have increased the number of new cases repeatedly. This caused people to rush out to stores and markets to get food and supplies without thinking that they could also catch the virus while they were doing so.
I had left Siem Reap before the recent outbreaks, but now the city where I live is locked down too. It’s quite hard to handle because I love working with people, going out for meetings and making connections throughout the industry; or at least getting out to take some sunset photos.
We’ve all been asked to stay home as much as possible and not to go out unless it’s absolutely necessary. We’re hopeful that these new restrictions will help put an end to these outbreaks so that we can continue on the road to recovery. The government is definitely working very hard to stop the spread, and my hope for the next year is that things will continue to get better.
In the meantime, the government has been working on new infrastructure projects that will make a big difference in Siem Reap. Big paving projects will mean that all major roads will now be paved throughout the city. And there are other improvements designed to facilitate the return of tourism once the country is ready to open its borders again. So we’re all looking forward to that day when we can welcome travelers back to our country.
By Narla Phay
Co-Owner of Our Southeast Asia Journeys
Our Southeast Asia Journeys is the destination management company that Kaanect Travel uses when building guest itineraries in Cambodia.
You never know what is going to happen until it happens. That’s one of the bigger life lessons that I’ve taken from this COVID-19 pandemic.
Hello my name is Makara Put, and I’m proud to be from Cambodia - the country known as the “kingdom of wonder” which contains the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Angkor Wat.
Always be open to life-long learning. That’s another lesson that this pandemic has brought into focus.
Working in the travel industry for so many years, I never expected a situation like what Cambodia and the world finds itself in today… the travel industry no longer provides any income at the moment, meaning we’ve all had to do what we can to survive.
Before the start of the pandemic, my wife and I invested much of our savings in building up our business here in Cambodia. During these times when no revenue was coming into the business, we’ve had to sell almost everything we own - our car, jewelry, even our wedding rings - to make payments on the loans we took out with our bank. When that wasn’t enough, we resorted to selling our land.
At the same time, I have tried a few different part-time jobs, working for life insurance and real estate companies while also keeping myself busy shooting short films and modeling for photo and film shoots for hotels, clothing shops and even some motivational videos. Everything helps if I can earn some income to support my family and especially my little boy.
At home we installed an incubator so that we could raise and sell chickens - just one more thing I’ve learned during this crazy time.
Do more, learn more, share more and love more! Because you never know what is going to happen, be good to each other all the time. These are more lessons that will stay with me forever.
Working in the tourism sector, I hope to see people traveling around the world again. I can’t wait to meet our clients who have delayed their travel plans due to the pandemic, and to see people traveling to Cambodia again. And I look forward to getting out and seeing new places myself again.
By Makara Put
Co-Owner of Our Southeast Asia Journeys
Our Southeast Asia Journeys is the destination management company that Kaanect Travel uses when building guest itineraries in Cambodia.
Travel Exclusive Asia is a dynamic destination management company built by two entrepreneurs with decades of experience, who realized that tours in the region needed a new and different touch. Rowing against the stream, we believe it is all about putting our clients central and in the spotlight.
In March 2019, when COVID-19 hit us all, we decided it was time to rethink travel in the region and the services we offer. We spent our time conducting a lot of training for our staff and local guides. We embarked on a lot of inspection trips in collaboration with the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), and ultimately received the TAT’s “Amazing Thailand Safety and Health Administration: SHA” certification, which is designed to guarantee clean and safe travel once we are able to operate again for our guests.
A year after taking these steps, we are disappointed that most international borders remain closed, but we’re optimistic that soon we will be able to welcome guests back to the countries we serve, guests who will be excited to enjoy a vacation crafted to their own perfect standard.
When will this happen? The outlook for us seems to be around Quarter 4 of 2021 (October 2021) when we expect travel to begin opening up again step by step. Airlines will hopefully begin adding back routes and countries will begin opening up to each other for quarantine-free travel.
We are keeping our fingers crossed and hoping that all of our clients stay safe and well in the meantime.
Travel Exclusive Asia is a boutique destination management company that Kaanect Travel uses when building guest itineraries in Thailand.
-By André van der Marck
Founder and Managing Director of Travel Exclusive Asia
What a year! It is strange going through something that you could never have imagined.
The first time I heard about COVID-19 was late November 2019 when it was mentioned in the news here in Asia, in conjunction with the protests in Hong Kong. Like many people, I didn’t pay much attention to it as it was called a severe type of pneumonia. Little did I know that a year later I would still be trying to navigate the new reality we now live in.
Working in the travel industry on the ground in Southeast Asia, things became interesting very quickly. Even though my home base, Cambodia, only had one case by the end of January, it was getting harder and harder to move guests around the region as outbound flights were getting cancelled. We had our last guest depart the region on March 24, 2020, and shortly after, all countries in the region closed their borders.
Having worked full time as a regional manager, during which time I was on call for 24 hours a day, a whole new reality began for me. The first few weeks were filled with socializing and cocktails, which became boring very quickly. With some luck and a swift response to COVID, Cambodia had managed to contain the outbreak and the country was basically COVID free in May 2020. With this in mind, I decided to explore the country I have called home for the last seven years properly.
I have never doubted that tourism will come back, so this was a great opportunity to broaden my knowledge. In between short trips around Cambodia, most of my time was spent in Siem Reap and Angkor Park. With no tourism revenue in sight, the Apsara authority introduced yearly Angkor Park passes at an affordable cost for expats. The Angkor pass was one of the biggest blessings of the year. Being able to explore the entire Angkor Park without anyone around you for a whole year has been a truly magical experience. This once-in-a-lifetime experience was a lifesaver, and I will be forever grateful to have been able to experience it.
As we move into the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, unfortunately Cambodia has not been able to stay COVID free. While much of the world is starting to see light at the end of the tunnel, Cambodia is experiencing its first big community outbreak. It is heartbreaking to see a country with inferior healthcare go through what not even the western world could control. However, the resilience of the Khmer people is strong and with the vaccination program in full swing the country will pull through stronger than ever.
Cambodia is currently looking at reopening to travelers in October or November of 2021, and there is a lot of hope for the future. Siem Reap, which is the gateway to Angkor Wat, has invested 150 million in infrastructure and every single road in the city is being upgraded. I am thankful to be a part of the Kaanect team and to be working with my mentors once again.
Personally, I am excited for the future of the country and the region and excited for the first travelers to experience what I have been experiencing in the last 12 months.
-By Naida Dizdarevic
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