Here’s a Bright Spot for Tourism

A view of airport shops.
International travel is still restricted in many parts of the world, including in Southeast Asia. Photo credit: ADB

International recognition amid the pandemic is a bright spot for tourism and travel players struggling to regain their business.

The World Travel Awards announced its winners in Asia this week, and they include destinations and airlines in BIMP-EAGA countries.

The Philippines was voted as the top beach and the top dive destination in Asia. Amanpulo in Palawan province was named the best private island resort. The country’s Department of Tourism was also recognized as the leading tourist board in the region.

Royal Brunei Airlines received Asia’s Leading Cabin Crew award while Malaysia’s AirAsia was voted as the top low-cost airline in the region.

Appetite for travel still strong

This year’s World Travel Awards received a record number of votes from the public, not just from travel industry professionals, indicating that people still have a strong interest in tourism and travel.

Airlines, hotels, and other travel and tourism businesses have been crippled by measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). International travel is still restricted in many parts of the world, including in Southeast Asia. However, countries have recently made tentative efforts to reopen their borders or at least allow domestic travel and tourism to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic.

Three BIMP-EAGA countries, Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, and Malaysia, have created bilateral green lanes with Singapore for essential business travel or official purposes.

In the meantime, the Philippines is focusing on domestic tourism. Top destinations that have been reopened to local tourists include El Nido, a popular beach and dive destination in Palawan. An Asian Development Bank study shows domestic tourism could make up for the revenue loss from the absence of foreign tourists. This is possible for countries with a strong domestic tourism market.

Rising to the challenge

In the meantime, industry players are finding creative ways of jumpstarting their business during the pandemic.

Royal Brunei Airlines is among the airlines that have started to offer sightseeing flights that start and end at the same airport. In an interview with Breaking Travel News, the airline’s chief executive Martin Aeberli said customer response to the service was quite positive and it has helped their airline crew to “keep their licenses current.”

AirAsia has changed its business model and embraced the digital economy. It is transforming itself into a one-stop travel, e-commerce and fintech platform, which seeks to provide consumers with a personalized and seamless experience.

Branding itself as the Truly ASEAN airline, AirAsia has continued to expand its services in Southeast Asia even during the pandemic. For example, it now flies from the Philippine’s capital Manila to Zamboanga province in Mindanao.

This article was first published by BIMP-EAGA on 5 November 2020.