Mekong travel bubble may help the region to reopen to tourists

Plans to reopen Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar to tourists, along with a new China-Laos high speed rail link are reviving talk of a Mekong travel bubble.

Thailand has already welcomed foreigners to sandbox islands such as Phuket and Koh Samui and will open the country to fully vaccinated visitors from at least 10 nations next month. It may find that initial demand is not as great as hoped for.

“Domestic tourism reached its peak last November, thanks to low infection rates and an improving travel mood driven by many marketing campaigns and government stimulus schemes, but this year might not see such volume again,” Wutthiphum Jurangkool, chief executive of local low-cost airline Nok Air, told the Bangkok Post.

Vietnam plans to open the island of Phu Quoc to foreigners next month even as national daily infection rates remain above 3,400. The country ended a three-month lockdown of its largest city, Ho Chi Minh, at the start of this month but Vietnam has been closed to most foreigners since March last year.

Even Myanmar, which has been under military rule since February, is hoping to attract tourists.  A ban on travel between provinces has been lifted and Bloomberg reports that Hotels and Tourism Minister Htay Aung wants to allow as many as 300,000 foreign tourists to enter the country in the first quarter of next year.

Myanmar wants to create travel bubbles with Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam although commercial flights are still banned. In the past tourists largely boycotted Myanmar over the house arrest of National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was rearrested following the Feb 1 coup.

Cambodia started issuing e-visas for tourists on Tuesday but they will still face at least seven days quarantine at a cost of $1,000 when they arrive. The Kingdom is better placed than its neighbours to welcome visitors because the national immunisation campaign has reached 80 percent of the population, with nearly 100 percent of people in Phnom Penh fully vaccinated.

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