BANGKOK, 13 September 2021: A leading golf tour specialist
says it will probably take another year for leisure tourism to recover in
Southeast Asia.

Commenting from the perspective of Asia’s high-spend golf
tour market, Golfasian managing director Mark Siegel believes October 2022 is a
more realistic timeframe for recovery.

From 1 July to 9 September 29,921 visitors joined the Phuket Sandbox scheme. Phuket hotels gained 506,357 room night bookings. (Phuket Sandbox Daily Report 9 September.)

“Based on feedback from the travel trade contacts, golf
specialists and resilient golfers, there are too many restrictions, costs and
prohibitive logistics … there’s a wait and see response… if we are realistic,
everyone closely associated with the travel business knows it will take another
year.”

Siegel notes: “Internation travel experiments have
started in Phuket and other Thai provinces that will continue… (similar
projects) will begin on Phu Quoc island in Vietnam through the end of the year
and into Q1 2022.

“Singapore has restarted travel with Germany and will add
more countries that have controlled Covid-29. Malaysia and the Philippines will
stay closed to international travellers until mid-2022. Laos and Cambodia will
open for vaccinated travellers by year’s end.

Photo Credit: Bangkok Post Graphic.

“Quarantine-free travel without testing in both outbound and
inbound directions won’t return for cross-border travel in Asia until Q4 2022
or early 2023.”

Golfasian is a leading travel firm catering to a sophisticated market niche that brings golfers to a destination to play competition courses and join tournaments. It has seen bookings from golfers drop from around 200 a day to an average of just two during the last 18 months.

Siegel blames the below-par performance of sandbox schemes
on stringent health measures, quarantine, the high costs of tests, and the
daunting logistics involved that could put off even the most resilient golf
enthusiasts visiting destinations in Southeast Asia on annual tours.

But he remains confident that the Phuket Sandbox could still work for golf clients.
“Phuket has excellent golf, all courses are in the sandbox, and prices are at 20-year low levels. Travel paperwork simplification would make the Phuket Sandbox more appealing, though at Golfasian we handle administrative requirements for our clients.”

While the official tally on the Phuket Sandbox visitor intake stands at around 27,000 from 1 July to 31 August, tourism officials, who should have known better, talked up the forecasts saying around 129,000 would use the sandbox from July to September.

The variations of the sandbox formula in Phuket, Samui and
other southern Thailand destinations allow business travellers and those
seeking repatriation to Thailand, both Thai and foreigners, to enter the
country without a hotel quarantine, but it is a long stretch of the imagination
to credit the scheme with having revived a sustainable flow of genuine leisure
travellers.

But travel industry leaders believe the sandbox is essential
to boost morale for tourism and hospitality workers. The obvious downside is
that until quarantine rules are scrapped (in some instances, double quarantine
at each end of the journey), leisure travel will lack the pace to build
recovery any time soon.

Siegel suggests the experiments with sandboxes around
Southeast Asia will continue. Vietnam’s Phu Quoc island will likely be the
first to open in Vietnam, possibly for casino charters but not for ‘groups of
guys’ on golf holidays. They are unlikely to return as long as entertainment
restrictions and quarantine rules remain standard procedures.

The sandbox entry process needs simplification beginning
with a reduction in the required documentation and tests so the sandbox can
appeal to more travellers and generate more revenue for the participating
destinations.

The next one or two months will see governments in Southeast
Asia take steps to ease measures and slowly adapt to the realisation nations
have to learn to live with Covid-19. Living with Covid is now the watchword,
and with every small step taken to ease measures, companies hope to bring back
staff who were furloughed and rehire those who lost their jobs over the last 18
months.

Siegel, who runs a company that had 100 staff on the payroll
pre-Covid 19, is now down to around seven but is hoping to reinstate staff as
the recovery phase takes shape.

For those who venture to their favourite golf destinations
in Southeast Asia the good news is there are hoards of amazing bargains once
you get past the high cost of hotel quarantine and exorbitant PCR tests.

“Prices at resorts and golf courses across Southeast Asia are at their lowest level in 20 years. There are ongoing price wars and further drops expected. A few courses are offering zero green fees until year’s end for fully vaccinated golfers. Players still must pay for golf carts, caddies, and the courses hope that consumed food and beverages can make up some of the lost revenues,” Siegel explained.

Looking forward, Siegel says fully vaccinated international
travellers should be encouraged to visit Southeast Asian’s destinations.

“They pose less risk than locals and domestic travellers,”
he claimed. “By mid-2022, the travel sandboxes will be complete, and regular
travel will resume by implementing what’s learned from the sandbox
experiments.”

But a word of caution: “For travel to get back to
pre-pandemic levels, it will require bilateral quarantine-free travel without
in-destination tests… that will take one year or more to implement. Each
country needs to work out its systems, and global travel standard procedures
must be agreed upon and implemented.”

For more information visit:  www.golfasian.com