The islands of Southeast Asia are reopening their doors to visitors, one small step at a time.
The region is home to countries, like Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, which have kept Covid rates low throughout 2020.
That changed with the arrival of the delta variant, which forced many countries in Southeast Asia to face large epidemics for the first time.
Plans to reopen popular hotspots such as Phuket and Bali have been put on hold. Singapore also saw a spike in cases and kept its borders largely closed to tourists.
Many countries in the Southeast are cautiously opening up to travelers. One seems to be opening its doors wide.
Thailand pioneered the reopening of tourism in Southeast Asia on July 1 with its one-of-a-kind ‘sandbox’ program.
Thailand this week announced plans to reopen popular tourist destinations and major cities by the end of the year.
Under this plan, vaccinated travelers who test negative for Covid-19 before and after arrival can enter Phuket without quarantine. The island welcomed 26,400 vaccinated visitors and generated tourism revenue of 1.63 billion Thai baht ($ 48.5 million) in July and August, according to a report by the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
Now, vaccinated travelers can visit other parts of Thailand, including Koh Samui Island and parts of Krabi and Phang-Nga provinces.
On Monday, Thai authorities announced plans to open up much of the country over the next three months. Authorities have approved a four-phase reopening schedule that prioritizes popular tourist destinations, including Bangkok.
The Vietnamese island of Phu Quoc (pronounced “foo kwok”) is expected to reopen to international visitors vaccinated in October, according to VGP News, the Vietnamese government’s online newspaper.
The island, the largest in Vietnam, is less well-known than other islands in Southeast Asia, which is one of the reasons travelers are drawn to it. Home to white sand beaches and night markets, Phu Quoc has a UNESCO recognized biosphere reserve and one of the longest cable cars in the world, which connects the neighboring island of Hon Tham (Pineapple Island) .
The Phu Quoc cable car is one of the longest in the world, covering a distance of almost eight kilometers in 15 minutes.
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The opening of Phu Quoc is planned in phases. During the first three months, the island targets 2,000 to 3,000 visitors per month, according to Vietnamese authorities. These visitors can arrive via charter jets and visit a limited number of places on the island.
During the second phase, which is also expected to last three months, some 5,000 to 10,000 visitors can enter via commercial flights and experience more of the island, according to the report.
Vietnam is expected to welcome “visitors from markets with high tourism potential and epidemic security … such as Northeast Asia, Europe, the United States and the Middle East,” according to the article.
Singapore welcomed flights packed with European tourists this month, its first in about a year and a half.
Under Vaccinated Travel Lanes, vaccinated travelers from Germany and Brunei can visit Singapore without quarantine if they pass four Covid-19 tests.
Singapore welcomes visitors from select countries through two programs: air travel passes and vaccinated transport routes.
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If the program works well, Singapore plans to open traffic lanes to other countries, according to Singaporean authorities.
Travelers from parts of Asia can also enter Singapore regardless of their vaccination status if they apply for an air travel pass. Currently, this program is open to travelers from Hong Kong, Macau, Mainland China and Taiwan.
After being repeatedly postponed, plans for a travel bubble between Singapore and Hong Kong ended last month. The two governments have decided to drop the pursuit of the travel bubble due to differences in their anti-Covid strategies.
The largest and most populous country in Southeast Asia is taking steps to welcome visitors soon.
The islands of Bali, Bintan and Batam are part of a pilot project to reopen, thanks to their vaccination rates, safety protocols, health infrastructure and international demand, a representative of the Indonesian tourism ministry told CNBC.
However, a reopening date has not yet been announced, the representative said.
As of this month, Bali is set to open to international tourists in October.
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Bali’s reopening has been postponed several times this year due to outbreaks of infection on the island. As of September 17, Bali was on track to open in October, according to the representative.
However, not everyone will be able to enter when the island reopens.
“For now, only countries with a high level of Covid-19 containment are taken into account, such as South Korea, Japan, Singapore and New Zealand,” the ministry spokesman said. “Australia will most likely be considered once it has already achieved an 80% vaccination rate.”
Langkawi reopened this month as part of Malaysia’s tourism stimulus package. However, the archipelago located 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) from the northwest coast of Malaysia is only open to vaccinated domestic tourists.
The government has indicated that it plans to welcome domestic visitors to other popular tourist destinations such as Tioman Island, Johor, Melaka and Sabah State on Borneo Island.
Langkawi has reopened its doors to travelers, but only to those residing in Malaysia.
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International travelers will be welcome in Phase 4 of the plan, according to the Malaysian Tourism Authority.
Langkawi is a popular resort destination for regional tourists and is known for its beaches, rainforests, and abundant wildlife.
Malaysia has seen a significant drop in tourism income due to restrictions linked to the pandemic. The country saw $ 9.08 billion withdrawn from its annual revenue last year and gave up 83.4% of its total visitors in 2019 – the third highest of any country, according to Next Vacay.