Travel Bubbles Proposed to Kickstart Tourism in the Region
‘Travel bubbles’ are being considered by Southeast Asian countries, including Myanmar and Thailand, as a means to safely resume travel activities. Members of the Mekong Tourism Advisory Group recommended creating travel bubbles to kickstart regional tourism in the absence of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine in their meeting in May.
A travel bubble is a ‘loose’ arrangement between countries to open their borders and allow free travel. These usually come with a set of specific conditions, such as coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing pre-departure or traveling for business purposes.
According to Hla Myint, Director (promotions department), Myanmar’s Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, travel bubbles will most likely start between neighboring countries. Countries that will explore travel bubbles must discuss the details and develop a system bilaterally.
Thailand Mulls Travel Bubble Proposal
Thailand’s Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) continues to mull the travel bubble proposal. Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul proposed the idea of pairing with countries that have contained COVID-19 like Thailand and countries that have shown to effectively control the spread of the virus. Each country would adopt health screening for arriving visitors. On 17 June, two senior officials were assigned to set the criteria for the “travel bubble” pact and negotiate with potential partner countries. The CCSA working group asked the Tourism Authority of Thailand to study the impact of travel bubbles.
Traisuree Taisaranakul, Deputy Government Spokesperson, further noted that the program would be implemented under a bilateral cooperation on tourism between Thailand and selected countries. The initial plan would prioritize business travelers and those seeking medical services. Visitors would be tracked via a smart phone application, and access to some areas may be prohibited.
Myanmar Includes Travel Bubble in Recovery Plan
Myanmar also included travel bubbles in their three-phase strategy to reinvigorate tourism, which was released in the second week of June. The government plans to create travel bubbles through bilateral agreements with Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Thailand, and Viet Nam, once the country reopens.
Consider Third Party Nationals
In considering the travel bubble initiative, ASEAN tourism leaders were urged to include third party nationals who have not crossed any borders during the COVID-19 outbreak in their consideration. Steven Schipani, Senior Specialist, Asian Development Bank, noted that there are a lot of third party nationals that would be eager to cross borders if countries do come up with a travel bubble concept.