BANGKOK -- Almost all Southeast Asian countries have thrown their doors open to tourism again, with Thailand dropping its last COVID-related entry requirement from July 1, as governments hope that the sector will help to boost their beleaguered economies.
Thailand, one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world, will abolish online registration on its Thailand Pass system for those entering the country, the cabinet decided on Tuesday.
This means that all of Thailand's barriers to entry will be lifted right before the peak summer season for Indian and Middle Eastern tourists, whom the government hopes will compensate for the drop in Chinese arrivals in terms of numbers and spending.
The government is counting on tourism to give the Thai economy a boost, as signs of stagflation in the U.S. and Europe cloud the outlook for the kingdom's high-value exports. The industry contributes 12% to gross domestic product even during the pandemic.
Thai authorities are also further relaxing domestic COVID rules. Masks will no longer be required outdoors, and hotels can begin serving alcohol before 5 p.m. Entertainment venues will be able to stay open until 2 a.m., beyond the current midnight closing time. Masks will still be required for service staff and for all at events attended by more than 2,000 people.
With COVID rules ditched, Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn said he expects arrivals to increase to 25,000 to 30,000 a day, for a total of 7.5 million to 10 million by the end of the year.
As tourism is a major source of income and employment in Southeast Asia with more than 140 million travelers -- about 10% of all tourists -- visiting the region in 2019 before COVID hit, countries are rushing to get themselves back in shape to encourage arrivals.
Since April, several Southeast Asian countries have started welcoming fully vaccinated tourists without requiring quarantines and negative pre-departure COVID tests. Most have removed the requirement for face masks outdoors. In Vietnam, many have already ditched masks, even though the government has not officially lifted the rule.
Indonesia also said earlier in June that it would no longer require tourists to be insured medically as an entry requirement. The government also in May removed a requirement for arrivals to present negative PCR tests. However, foreign tourists still need to download its tracking app PeduliLindungi to gain entry to facilities such as shopping malls.
"The peak of the tourist arrivals will happen in July and August 2022," Sandiaga Uno, Indonesia's tourism minister told local media last week.
Southeast Asia's largest economy is aiming to attract 1.8 million to 3.6 million foreign tourists this year. It expects most of them will come from Australia, Singapore and Malaysia.
"Hopefully, once the pandemic is under control, the number of flights to Indonesia, especially Bali, can continue to increase," Uno said. "We are optimistic that the target of tourism activities will be achieved this year."
Indonesia had 1.56 million foreign visitors in 2021, a huge drop from the 4.02 million in 2020. But there are signs of recovery. In April, Indonesia welcomed more than 11,000 foreign visitors, up fivefold from the previous year.
Cambodia's Angkor Wat, a complex of ancient temple ruins assigned a UNESCO World Heritage site, received more than 45,000 foreign tourists from January to May, up 859% from the same period in 2021, according to local media citing official documents. The country reopened its borders to fully vaccinated travelers last November in hopes of rebooting its economy.
Some restrictions remain in the region. For example, the Philippines -- where tourism comprised a fifth of pre-pandemic GDP -- still requires inbound travelers to register online with the Bureau of Quarantine, similar to Thailand Pass.
Additional reporting by Nana Shibata in Jakarta, Tomoya Onishi in Hanoi, Yuichi Shiga in Manila, Yuichi Nitta in Yangon and Kosuke Inoue in Bangkok.