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SE Asia’s most popular islands still ‘on hold’ as they wait to re-open to international tourists

Tanutam Thawan



Foreign tourists may be allowed back on to Boracay’s famed beaches in the Philippines as early as October. Meanwhile the Indonesian beach resort of Bali has shelved any immediate plans to re-open the island. In Thailand, the beaches of Phuket remain largely empty whilst the provincial government tries to promote the island as a “safe and sealed” destination to limited tourism, again with an intended October 1 launch.

The region’s most popular beach destinations have suffered the full ravages of Covid-19 lockdowns with their tap of regular tourist flow turned off back in March.

Boracay is trying to be the first island travel bubble in the region as local authorities consider prying open the doors to foreign tourists as early as October. In April 2018, the Philippine resort island was temporarily closed to the general public as part of the government’s efforts to rehabilitate and redevelop island infrastructure. As part of the closure Boracay was closed for 6 months, except to registered residents and employees. The Philippine’s President famously described the island as a “cesspool” and ordered sweeping upgrades to the popular beach destination at the time.

Negotiations with South Korea are underway, and barring no further Covid spikes in either South Korea or Boracay, officials are confident the first flights could begin in October. But a spike in infections in South Korea over the last 3 days could jeopardise talks and leave negotiations with any country hanging on the vagaries of the virus.

The main requirement for potential travellers focuses on strict RT-PCR testing of all passengers before boarding flights to the Philippines. Flights will be conducted exclusively by Philippine Airlines. The national airline wold fly between Incheon and the Kalibo International Airport, closest to Boracay.

There are still a few obstacles to overcome, such as the the island’s hotels being asked to offer a 75% discount off published rates for the duration of the tourist bubble program.

Boracay, renowned for its powdery white sand beach, is currently open to tourists from Western Visayas, one of the the Philippines 6 provinces, under modified general community quarantine.

In Phuket, the Thai Tourism and Sports Minister, Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, says his ministry hopes to kick-start a “careful and limited” re-opening to international tourism to the island from October 1. Phiphat’s ministry is meeting with the Public Health, Interior, Foreign and Transport ministries on August 27 to discuss the introduction of the “Safe and Sealed” campaign. The campaign aims to revive tourism from international provinces or cities considered “low-risk” for Covid-19. The program is being considered for other popular Thai tourist destinations, equally hard hit.

Further south, Bali’s tourism industry may have to be content with domestic travellers until the end of the year.

Plans to open Bali to wider international tourism in October has faded as Indonesian government officials announced this week that international tourism would be postponed until much later in the year, or even the start of 2021.

With the Indonesian island on pause as it waits for international tourists to come back, the Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry has confirmed discussions on turning Bali into a ‘work hub’ for foreigners, particularly in the tech and high-earning sectors. But like opening the island to international tourism, the plan is still under consideration.

Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Wishnutama Kusubandio, concurrently the Head of the Tourism and Creative Economy Agency, says that economic recovery in Indonesia’s tourism sector will be upgraded to become a major government program in 2021.

The program will prioritise marketing and promotions in 5 priority Indonesian destinations – Lake Toba, Borobudur, Mandalika, Labuan Bajo and Likupang.


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  1. Avatar

    Perceville Smithers

    Wednesday, August 19, 2020 at 9:00 am

    Been to all 3 and enjoyed thailand best. All the maybe/maybe not and day-to-day changes is tiresome for the general tourist.

  2. Avatar

    Toby Andrews

    Wednesday, August 19, 2020 at 11:07 am

    Thailand will look quite stupid if countries around open up to tourists, and Thailand is still closed to visitors.
    This could be the way the Thais will stop being unreasonably cautious, and see sense.

  3. Avatar


    Wednesday, August 19, 2020 at 11:37 am

    Confined to an island, thanks but no thanks.
    What on earth are you trying to achieve. Do you not realise the likelihood is that thousands of Thais from all over the country will flock to Phuket to try and make money, Phuket accommodation prices will go through the roof and if there is an infection. It will have the same effect as not confining visitors to one area as it will be spread across Thailand by all the nationals going home to their villages, unsuccessful in achieving their goals due to an overkill situation anyway.
    Pointless exercise. Open the borders and utilise track and trace with local control of any outbreaks.
    Entry conditions simple, just have to have Covid healthcare insurance. It is available.
    Test 72 hours before travelling pointless, as it does not mean you are clear of Covid
    Test on arrival pointless, As it does not mean you are clear of Covid
    Temperature check has some value as shows you are possibly sick on arrival and must quarantine (at a welcoming and sensible price)
    Standard 14 day quarantine nobody will come.
    If you want us to come back, you need to get real.

  4. Avatar

    Mankok Hayon

    Wednesday, August 19, 2020 at 12:47 pm

    Prison Earth is now officially Planet North Korea.

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