PHUKET is expected to reopen to vaccinated foreign tourists next month. If this happens, it would be the first destination in Thailand to welcome visitors without a quarantine requirement. Phuket will also be the pilot destination to reopen to fully-vaccinated foreign visitors from low-risk countries under strict rules and regulations.
We in Malaysia have an opportunity to emulate Phuket’s bold plan to bring tourists back to our shores, and we can start with Langkawi. While Phuket is opening to the whole world, Malaysia can take a more cautious smaller step by opening, via an air travel corridor, to arrivals only from countries with the lowest Covid-19 numbers and aggressive vaccination programmes in the Asean region, namely Singapore and Brunei.
Start with opening only for fully-vaccinated citizens from these countries. Make it a condition that all tourists must and can only stay within Langkawi Island and for a minimum of 10 days. Identify good hotels located at the top five beach destinations (mostly on the northern and western shoreline) and invite them to join the scheme. These hotels must have the capacity and capability to provide sufficient amenities and services to keep tourists occupied and happy. A controlled programme could be drawn up for tourists to wander about within 5km of their resort hotels.
Langkawi is ideal for this programme. It has its own airport, a sparse local population that is rapidly being vaccinated, and numerous world-class resorts that are nicely spread out all over the island.
This is an opportunity for Malaysia to safely target two nearby travel-hungry markets with the strongest buying power. Start with one flight a day and slowly build up as confidence grows and the local vaccination numbers increase.
I urge the authorities to consider this proposal seriously and discuss it within their respective ministries, and also with their counterparts in Singapore and Brunei to work out the needful.
It’s a safe and viable win-win option to the gradual and eventual full reopening of the country.
It’s time to show tourists all over the world that Malaysia will be ready soon to welcome them back.