The global pandemic has upended countless travelers’ plans. Since mid-March, 20 air carriers, including Philippines Airlines, Hong Kong Express, Jetstar Asia, and Lion Air have suspended flights altogether. Other Asian airlines such as Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines have reduced flights by 96%.
Governments worldwide are now cautiously reassessing the travel restrictions they instituted to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Some have begun to reopen their borders. But policies are subject to change as nations measure the impact of various re-opening decisions on infection rates. Coronavirus hot-spots can emerge in a matter of days and on account of a single event. Government health administrators are wisely studying both the events that trigger new outbreaks and the potential path of the virus when it resurges in a particular locale.
In the early months of the pandemic, China was its epicenter. But the Chinese government responded quickly, instituting severe (and controversial) lockdown policies. Evidence suggests that the scope of that country’s efforts to contain the virus paid off. While information coming out of China tends to be suspect, the country has reported no new COVID-19 deaths for the better part of a month. Travel restrictions in China have eased somewhat, but travelers are limited to certain airports and may be subject to quarantine regulations. The matter is made all the more complex because each Chinese province is enforcing its own set of rules on who may be allowed to enter and how they must restrict their behavior once they arrive.
While the early days of the pandemic left many countries in Southeast Asia relatively unscathed, experts now believe that Southeast Asia is at greater risk as a second wave of coronavirus makes its way around the world. The Philippines, Brunei, and Indonesia are among the destinations that are seeing increases in their COVID-19 mortality rates. There has also been a spike in new cases in Singapore. Capacity for testing in Southeast Asia compares poorly to testing in Western countries and health analysts fear that new cases are going unrecognized, and therefore, unreported.
Revenue from tourism has plummeted worldwide but Southeast Asia has been particularly devastated. The United Nations World Tourism Organization forecasts an 80% loss of tourism income in the region, driven largely by China’s traditional contribution to the trade and its current severe travel restrictions. But reciprocal relaxing of borders among Asian countries may help stem these losses.
The upshot for Scandinavian travelers is this: the situation is very fluid. Non-essential travel is still not recommended by any global health authorities. But you may want to proceed cautiously with planning a departure for some months down the road.
Interestingly, the response by a small subsection of the travel industry may make planning a trip to Southeast Asia somewhat easier. The pandemic, not surprisingly, has made many people squeamish about booking travel. They fear that flights will be canceled, hotels will close, or that they may fall ill and be unable to travel at all. Travel insurance companies, which initially denied claims under their trip cancelation policies in a wholesale way by deeming the global pandemic “unforeseeable” and therefore not a claim-eligible reason to cancel a trip, are making some changes to their policies. Travelers who contract the virus before departure may now be able to recover non-refundable expenses under trip cancelation policies. Several insurers have begun to cover the cost of coronavirus-related treatment under their travel medical insurance policies. Some policies are covering the cost of quarantine in destination countries. In addition, some companies are now permitting claims due to the declaration of high-level health emergencies.
Travel credit card companies, which are famous for offering perks for points, are also doing their part to reinvigorate the travel industry by promoting extra-large sign-on bonuses. Travelers can use these points—which sometimes come in the form of miles, airline upgrades, and other attractive benefits—to cover the cost of airfare, hotels, and other expenses when they pay using their newly-acquired cards. This may be a useful strategy for travelers looking for ways to fund their next trip when global circumstances permit.
Susan Doktor is a journalist and business strategist who hails from New York City. She writes on a wide range of topics including travel, finance, health, and technology. Follow her on Twitter @branddoktor.