NEWS Round-Up 24 to 29 June

ASEAN, coronavirus, post COVID, air transport, tourism surge, European Union


From July 1st, the European Union will start reopen its international external borders to the rest of the world while its internal borders are due to be fully reopened by the end of this month. Travel is already possible between a dozen of countries inside the Schengen area with new countries such as Denmark and Norway looking at reopening their borders by mid-July. Europe will reopen its borders to citizens from 14 countries in a first phase. In Asia/Pacific, the list includes Australia, South Korea, Japan, New Zealand and Thailand, the only ASEAN country.



Airport train operator PT Railink is planning to resume service between Jakarta stations and Soekarno-Hatta International Airport on July 1. Railink would have 50 scheduled daily departures in July. The company suspended operations in April because of the pandemic.

The company will operate trains at 70 percent of their passenger capacity during the first phase of reopening, as stipulated by Transportation Ministry rules on the maintenance of physical distance between passengers. Travellers will have to wear a mask inside rail stations and trains and will have their temperature checked at departure and arrival gates. “We are preparing to provide our customers with prime service during the new normal period. Our staff will implement health protocols; we will disinfect our facilities; and there will be seat blocking to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” stresses a company press release.



Myanmar Airways International (MAI) is restructuring its fleet of aircraft to operate more domestic and international routes despite a domestic and worldwide slump in travel and tourism, said U Tin Maung Than, head of the administration department at MAI.

MAI is expanding its fleet despite an ongoing suspension of international commercial flights to and from Myanmar until June 30. “We do see a 20 percent to 30pc drop in demand but we believe the travel and tourism space will adapt to the new normal. The travel space is expected to pick up once the travel restriction imposed is removed or relaxed,” said Tanes Kumar, Commercial Director of MAI to the newspaper Myanmar Times.

The airline recently took delivery of an Airbus A319 from Russia for its international routes, bringing to four the total number of its aircraft. Four more A320 are due for delivery until year-end. Domestic subsidiary will also integrate 4 second-hand Embraer planes to its fleet by August, which it plans to deploy on domestic routes. There are plans to add another 4 Embraer aircraft to the fleet next year, taking MAI’s total fleet of aircraft to 24. “This is in line with our original fleet and network expansion plan pre COVID-19, which was to position MAI as the biggest carrier in Myanmar, provide more flight options to the Myanmar travel market and position the country as a destination to the international tourism market,” Mr Kumar said.



Revenues generated by the Myanmar tourism industry has halved so far this year as a result of COVID-19, according to U Aung Aye Han, Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism. Between January and May, the travel industry received around US$53.2 million in tourism revenue compared to $114 million during the same period in 2019. As a result, more than one quarter of the 96,000 staff employed by hotels and guesthouses have lost their jobs, he said.

The dire situation in tourism had already a devasting effect on tourism business: around half the number of tour companies have ceased operations, while service providers such as those which provide car rentals for tourists have declined by about 17%, according to the ministry’s data. Only 680 hotels in Yangon, Mandalay and Shan State are currently open for business. These comprise the hotels which continued operating despite COVID-19 and those permitted to resume business after passing government health safety inspections. With the number of visitors to Myanmar down by more than 40pc year-to-date, U Aung Aye Han said he expects just half of the 2000 hotels in Myanmar to resume operations this year. Myanmar plans to start promoting again tourism on international markets starting from August according to the country’s tourism recovery plan.



Domestic travel will lead the recovery of the country’s tourism industry with Filipino travellers expecting to go to destinations closer to home and spending less amid lingering health concerns. This is the conclusion of a recent survey conducted on the pandemic’s effects on domestic and international tourism and on Filipinos’ travel behaviour in the post-Covid-19 “new normal.” The results are highlighted in a report released by Philippines Department of Tourism released on Monday, June 29. The report is titled “Philippine Travel Survey: Insights on Filipino Travel Behavior Post-COVID 19”.

The key insights of the survey, which was conducted last May among over 12,000 respondents across the country, were:

  • Domestic leisure travel will lead the recovery of Philippine tourism;
  • Majority of travellers expect a reduction of their income and travel budget;
  • Health and safety remains the primary concern of travellers;
  • Travelers prefer reduced-contact activities once leisure travel restrictions are lifted;
  • Travellers prefer online and digital channels for convenience and reduced contact; and
  • Travellers plan to travel close to home.

The survey found that domestic travel will lead the recovery of the Philippine travel industry, with 77% of respondents expressing their willingness to travel to local destinations once restrictions are lifted. Popular local tourist spots, especially beaches, are expected to see a surge in visitors with Boracay, Siargao and Baguio topping the list of wishes. However, Philippines tour operators and hoteliers in are urging the DOT and local government units (LGUs) to better coordinate and harmonise Covid-19 guidelines and regulations for the resumption of tourism activities as differences between local and national rules are confusing for most potential travellers.



Attractions including the Singapore Zoo, ArtScience Museum and Universal Studios will be allowed to reopen from July 1, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) announced on June 28. All have been closed for nearly three months, since the start of Singapore’s circuit breaker on April 7.

The 13 approved attractions are “The Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay”, Jurong Bird Park, River Safari, Singapore Zoo, the ArtScience Museum, the casino, SkyPark and observation deck at Marina Bay Sands, Universal Studios Singapore, SEA Aquarium, and the casino at Resorts World Sentosa, Madame Tussauds wax museum on Sentosa, trampoline park Bounce, and virtual reality arcade Zero Latency.Most attractions will be restricted to no more than 25 per cent of their operating capacity at any one time. Casinos will be limited to existing members and annual levy holders only for the time being, STB stressed.



Air transport in Thailand goes deeper into crisis. After Thai Airways International and its rehabilitation plan, long-haul low-cost carrier NokScoot Airlines will enter liquidation as announced by its parent company Nok Airlines. NokScoot is a joint venture between Thailand’s Nok Air and Singapore Airlines’ Scoot, wrestled to grow its network in a highly competitive sector for years and was yet to record a profit since formation in 2014. The joint venture is set to hold a shareholders meeting on July 14 to go ahead with the dissolution and to appoint a liquidator, Nok added.

Scoot said in a statement on Friday that it “does not see a path to recovery and sustainable growth for NokScoot”. In considering other possible alternatives to the liquidation, it also offered to sell its 49 per cent stake in NokScoot to Nok Air for a nominal sum of THB1 (5 Singapore cents), but this was not taken up.

“Thailand remains an important market for the Singapore Airlines Group. Singapore Airlines, SilkAir and Scoot are committed to continuing to serve customers in Thailand with their existing operations,” it said.

(Source: Reuters/the Business Times)



Dragged into turbulent times due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Vietnam Airlines Group will postpone its shareholders’ meeting until July 16, according to a decision signed by Chairman of Vietnam Airlines Executive Board Phạm Ngọc Minh. The meeting was due to be hosted on June 29 but it has been delayed as perspectives of a normalisation for the carrier remain dull. In the first quarter 2020, Vietnam Airlines was among Vietnamese businesses suffering the most from the COVID-19 pandemic, reporting a drop of 26.3 per cent to VNĐ18.8 trillion (US$808.4 million) in net revenue in the January-March period and an after-tax loss of VNĐ2.6 trillion. Vietnam Airlines was forced to suspend all international routes and has since only operated domestic routes, restoring most of its domestic flights in June. It currently flies 52 domestic routes and plans to open five more domestic connections in July. It has also asked for Government support in terms of a loan package worth VNĐ12 trillion to help ensure the corporation’s solvency.

In another development, Vietnam Airlines announced its restructuring schedule for low-cost airline Jetstar Pacific Airlines. The carrier was renamed as Pacific Airlines with a new logo and brand identity. Qantas, the carrier’s second largest shareholder, already announced to be willing to divest its 30% share into Pacific Airlines. 



Vietnam will not open its borders for international tourists anytime soon to avoid a resurgence of the coronavirus, according to Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc, killing any hopes for the travel industry for a short-term recovery. He stressed the importance of staying on “high alert” as he was addressing a cabinet meeting last Wednesday evening on COVID-19 prevention and control measures. Locals’ health protection continues to be given priorities to other considerations -including economic ones. That includes strict quarantine measures. However, the Prime Minister tasked the National Steering Committee on COVID-19 Prevention and Control with rounding up a list of “safe destinations” – meaning the locations must not have reported any community transmission in the last 30 days – to consider reopening flights to, with quarantine protocols still applied for all arrivals. Some simplified formalities might also be implemented for foreign investors and experts entering Vietnam.