Can we expect South Asia’s tourism to bounce back in 2021?

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( — September 2, 2020) — 

From the Buddhist temples of Cambodia to the jungles of Vietnam, the beaches of Thailand and the honeymoon resorts of the Maldives, the ornate architecture of Myanmar to the cutting edge designs of Malaysia, South Asia has it all. These countries experience some of the highest tourist numbers, with visitors from all around the world. 

But as news began to spread of a novel virus back in January 2020 countries began closing their borders in a bid to stop the spread of the deadly Covid-19. With so many of South Asia’s economy relying on tourism, can they expect the same level of travellers – and do they want them?

An early response to the virus lead to an early peak

Nearly every country in the word has encountered Covid-19 since the outbreak of the pandemic. But it seems countries in South Asia were faster to react compared with countries in Europe and America in implementing travel restrictions and closing borders. This ensured they were able to flatten their curves at a faster rate compared with countries who were slower to react. However, because of the often unstable and turbulent governments in many South Asian countries the reopening statuses vary greatly. Whilst the Maldives welcomes travellers, India is still struggling to get the virus under control. 

Tourism is essential for South Asia’s economy

Whilst tourism is essential for every country’s economy, in South Asia it is imperative for not only their economic growth, but for their survival. Many South Asian countries are both politically and economically unstable and this pandemic will undoubtedly have long-term repercussions. As stock markets fall globally the economic structure of these South Asian countries begins to weaken. However, because of Covid-19 and the myriad of travel restrictions many are wondering when / if it will be safe to travel. We are constantly hearing about a worse outbreak in the winter months, which could seriously impact traveller numbers who are hoping to escape to warmer climes. 

Last year, 133 million tourists visited the region, with a dramatic influx of tourists from China – who are now responsible for the world’s largest market of outbound travel. And as China begins to restart its economy it is seeing an economic growth, although worryingly consumer spending is still below pre-Covid spending. This reticence to spend in the travel and leisure sectors could have a devastating knock-on effect for the countries that would normally enjoy a boost from Chinese tourists. 

Fewer tourists could actually be the key to saving South Asia

Whilst the pandemic has had a devastating impact globally, it has demonstrated the immense destruction our daily lives were having on the planet, and in fact Asia’s ecosystems were buckling under over-tourism. From dying coral reefs to vanishing marine life, damaged cultural sites to idyllic islands overflowing with plastic. The enforced shutdown of borders has offered countries the opportunity to examine how to rebuild their tourism industries in a way that benefits their economies and also protects the planet. 

Whilst many have put travel plans on hold for this year, there are plenty of people who are looking to take advantage of fluctuating currencies by booking their 2021 holiday now, with demand still high for around the New Year. Whilst it will undoubtedly take years for economies to recover, there’s now doubt that travellers will still want to explore the beauty and majesty of South Asia –  albeit in smaller, but planet saving numbers.