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The Great Bridge of China – the world’s longest sea-bridge opens

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The Great Bridge of China – the world’s longest sea-bridge opens | The Thaiger
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The world’s longest sea-crossing bridge, linking Hong Kong to mainland China, has opened today.

The opening is of immense economic and political significance for China, Hong Kong, the greater Pearl Delta and the region.

The Chinese President Xi Jinping presided over the ceremony in Zhuhai, next door to Macau, at the China end of the 54.7 kilometere-long bridge (Phuket, as a comparison, is 48 kilometres from northern to southern tip).

The new bridge links the semi-autonomous regions of Hong Kong and Macau. Digital fireworks exploded on a screen behind the Chinese leader as provincial leaders applauded.

The bridge has taken a decade to construct at a cost of US$20 billion. Along the way there have been delays and cost overruns. It provides the first physical connection between Hong Kong and mainland China. Hong Kong was ‘handed back’ to Chinese control in 1997 following a 100 year old ‘lease’. Hong Kong residents see the new bridge as a disturbing political symbol of greater interference and control in the previously autonomous economic zone.

Part of the new bridge includes an undersea tunnel which ships to pass over the top and continue to navigate the Pearl Delta, the heart of Chinese burgeoning trade and manufacturing hub and the most populous area in the world.

In the past its taken hours to cross the delta by ferry but now that will cut to 30 minutes. Chinese authorities say it will help to fuse the regions around the delta together and provide better options for local travel, trade and tourism.

Daily traffic is set to start tomorrow under a heavily controlled permit system.

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

An international Digital Travel Pass could be the magic bullet to restart global tourism

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An international Digital Travel Pass could be the magic bullet to restart global tourism | The Thaiger

A new international Travel Pass, a sort of digital health certificate, may be the way forward for countries to re-open their borders and international airlines to get their planes back into the air. The International Air Transport Association says the ‘digital’ certificate will support the safe reopening of borders.

As Covid-19 testing and the results becomes more reliable and nuanced, Governments are looking to testing as a means of limiting most of risks of Covid-19 when reopening their borders. The hope is that the new Travel Pass will replace the quarantine regime imposed by many countries and the hopes that a vaccine alone will solve the problems…

“IATA is calling for systematic Covid-19 testing of all international travelers and the information flow infrastructure needed to enable this must support:

  • Governments with the means to verify the authenticity of tests and the identity of those presenting the test certificates.
  • Airlines with the ability to provide accurate information to their passengers on test requirements and verify that a passenger meets the requirements for travel.
  • Laboratories with the means to issue digital certificates to passengers that will be recognised by governments, and;
  • Travellers with accurate information on test requirements, where they can get tested or vaccinated, and the means to securely convey test information to airlines and border authorities.”

IATA is calling for systematic Covid-19 testing of all international travellers. The concept was unveiled at at IATA’s 76th Annual General Meeting on November 24, which called on governments to reopen borders to travel. Of all the industries affected by lockdowns and the slowdown of economies, the airline and travel industry have been hardest hit.

IATA says that deep losses will continue into 2021, even though the situation is expected to improve over the coming months.

A net loss of US$118.5 billion is expected for 2020, while a net loss of US$38.7 billion is expected in 2021.

Improvements are expected in the second half of 2021 after a difficult first half. Aggressive cost-cutting may combine with increased demand during 2021 to see the industry turn cash-positive in the fourth quarter of 2021, which is earlier than previously forecast, according to the IATA.

“Testing is the first key to enable international travel without quarantine measures. The second key is the global information infrastructure needed to securely manage, share and verify test data matched with travellers’ identities in compliance with border control requirements. That’s the job of the IATA Travel Pass.”

Nick Careen, IATA’s Senior Vice President, Airport, Passenger, Cargo and Security, says that the main priority is to get people traveling again safely.

“In the immediate term that means giving governments confidence that systematic COVID-19 testing can work as a replacement for quarantine requirements. And that will eventually develop into a vaccine program. The IATA Travel Pass is a solution for both. And we have built it using a modular approach based on open source standards to facilitate interoperability. It can be used in combination with other providers or as a standalone end-to-end solution. The most important thing is that it is responsive to industry’s needs while enabling a competitive market.”

The IATA and International Airlines Group have been collaborating in the project and will arrange a trial to demonstrate that this pass, combined with Covid-19 testing, can reopen international travel and replace quarantines, which they say “essentially kill demand for air travel”.

The first cross-border IATA Travel Pass pilot is scheduled for later this year and the launch slated for quarter one 2021.

SOURCES: Reuters | IATA

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Tourism

Rejoice Thailand. 681 tourists will arrive in November!

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Rejoice Thailand. 681 tourists will arrive in November! | The Thaiger
PHOTO: You'll have all the beaches mostly to yourself, almost.

Rejoice, roll out the red carpet and sound the bells. Here they come! Thailand is about to be flooded with 681 tourists who have applied for, and received, the Special Tourist Visa. Ok, we’ll admit that’s the number is a bit down on last year’s monthly 3.3 million tourist arrivals (average). But, twisting the numbers like only the Tourist Authority of Thailand can, that’s more than DOUBLE last months’ total tourist intake.

The perpetually optimistic governor of the TAT announced the 681 tourists will be visiting Thailand during this month under the much-discussed Special Tourist Visa (STV) program.

263 of those ‘special’ tourists had already completed the 14 day mandatory quarantine, 134 were currently in quarantine and 284 would arrive before the end of November.

The TAT governor says that the TAT, Thai Airways and hotels associations had been working on what he called the “Amazing Thailand Plus Special Package”. This was a one-stop-shop service to make it easier for the tourists to get their air tickets, apply for their visa, find out about where to quarantine and book trips around the country once they finish their quarantine period.

Thailand would have normally be welcoming around 3.5 million tourists during November (according to 2019 data) but this year’s ‘disruption’, and the Thai government’s response to it, has all but closed down Thailand’s international tourism industry.

Whilst the TAT are painting a rosy picture of the November arrivals, the reality is the tourists have arrived at great costs, on a bankrupt airline, to a country where most of the tourist attractions are closed, and the streets of the tourist hot spots empty.

As of today, there is no plans to make it any easier for tourists to travel to Thailand beyond the current restrictions and visa offerings. The 14 day quarantine remains in play, although there will be a meeting of the CCSA on Wednesday this week to discuss, again, reducing this quarantine time to 10 days, for arrivees from low-risk countries.

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Tourism

Long weekend, busy roads and price gouging

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Long weekend, busy roads and price gouging | The Thaiger

Airfare and accommodation costs have skyrocketed over this long weekend, an artificially added 2 days of holiday by the Thai government to stimulate the local travel economy. Airfares, if you didn’t get the earlier ‘cheapies’, have risen to 2 – 3 times their ‘normal’ discount prices. And accommodation costs have followed suit (although the OTAs are still advertising plenty of cheap rooms around the country if you have time to search).

The Tourism Authority of Thailand is predicting 3 million Thais will travel during between November 19 – 22 with an expected 1.3 billion baht in revenue being generated for the industry.

The TAT Governor Yuthasak Supasorn is hoping the 4 day holiday will provide the same sort of revenue for the battered local tourism industry as the annual Songkran holiday (which was postponed last April amidst the ‘lockdowns’ in Thailand).

He noted that the revelation of a solitary case of Covid-19 in Krabi last week, an Indian expat, caused panicked hotel cancellations in the southern province. Similar responses have happened before, notably cancelations in Rayong province after an Egyptian military officer tested positive whilst staying there. The much-hyped “Phuket Model” was also shelved after local fears were expressed to Thai officials about the possibility of a second wave of cases.

A Phuket hotelier, who asked to remain un-named, said that they were hopeful of a surge in bookings but the response has been “mediocre”. Some Pattaya hotels are reporting high bookings but are still well under 50% occupancy. Bangkok rooms are still mostly 50% or lower than their advertised rack rate.

But it hasn’t been a long weekend for everyone. Many Thai companies, including The Thaiger, haven’t given employees the Thursday and Friday off, denting the expected revenue for hotels and transport businesses.

Typical discount fares from Phuket to Bangkok, usually less than 1,000 baht each way, are now selling for 3,000 – 5,000 per seat for the long weekend.

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