As tourism reopens from Asia to Europe, here are the dos and don’ts of post-pandemic travel

A tourist wears a face mask to prevent spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) during sunset near the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, on Jan 7, 2022.
PHOTO: Reuters

After two years of border closures replete with a host of quarantine and travel restrictions, free travel has finally returned, to most places, for the vaccinated.

Those who choose to travel now will also benefit from many destinations' removal of testing requirements, making at least some trips more convenient and less expensive than they were.

Reservations have surged to the point that Booking.com said April 2022 was the first month in which global room bookings exceeded 2019 levels.

Still, health protocols remain in many nations and the rules continue to shift. Here are some things to know when travelling post-pandemic.

Flight costs up, for now

With many governments lifting quarantine restrictions for vaccinated travellers, airline tickets are being snapped up quickly. This means flight prices have risen too.

Briton Sin Pui Ip, 31, who works for a tech start-up and is a permanent resident of Hong Kong, flew to Singapore in March, paying around HK$2,500 (S$400) for a return ticket including the ability to change dates for free a few times.

But Hongkongers wanting to head to Singapore next month would have to pay upwards of US$375 (S$500) for a return ticket.

The same is happening for people travelling from Singapore. A return economy flight to the Indonesian resort island of Bali in June cost about US$240 in April but now hovers at around US$720.

Singapore Airlines has said prices will remain high for the next couple of months as demand rises. But the airline's commercial executive vice-president Lee Lik Hsin expects fares to come down after that.

Still, there are deals to be found as it "really depends on when you need to travel and where you need to travel", Lee said.

For instance, while flights to Bali are more expensive, for US$200 travellers can get a round-trip economy ticket on Singapore Airlines to Thailand's Phuket, also an island paradise but less popular recently due to the monsoon season.

Foreign tourists carrying their luggage walk as they arrive at the I Gusti Ngurah Rai International Airport, as the local government kicks off the first day of the 'quarantine free' trial, amid the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, in Bali, Indonesia, on March 7, 2022.
PHOTO: Reuters

Masks on or off? Check the rules

Remember to check the pandemic rules in your chosen destination a few days before your flight. While Singapore, the United States and many European nations don't require people to wear face masks outdoors, other countries including Malaysia, South Korea and Thailand still insist on them.

Contact tracing and proof of vaccination for various activities also differ in each country. In Singapore and Italy, only vaccinated people are allowed to dine indoors, while Switzerland has dropped the need for vaccination certificates and masks, even indoors.

Some places still require pre-departure and on-arrival testing. South Korea, for example, needs travellers to either take a rapid antigen test within 24 hours of departure or a PCR test 48 hours before departure. But those heading to Singapore, Thailand or Indonesia don't need any tests at all.

Travellers should prepare all their documents, keep a copy of their vaccination records handy, and register with the relevant contact tracing apps in the country they are visiting.

What if you catch Covid-19 overseas?

Travel may have opened up, but the virus still exists and someone in your party could catch it on holiday. Again, countries have different rules, but travellers generally have to self-isolate until they have tested negative. This means travel schedules can be turned upside-down, so there should be some flexibility to extend your stay, work remotely and shift plans around.

Journalist Yasmine Yahya, 40, put off her one-week trip to Seoul in March with two friends because one of them did not clear the pre-departure test. The trio rescheduled their holiday for September.

Travellers should plan for several scenarios, such as deciding whether to extend their stay as a group if one person gets sick, or fly home without them. It is helpful to pack medication that eases Covid-19 symptoms as well as a few rapid antigen test kits.

In April a foreigner uploaded a video of himself dancing naked on Bali’s Mount Batur, causing an uproar on social media.
PHOTO: Instagram/mind_body_healer

Remember: you're a guest

It's been a long time since people have travelled and some may have forgotten how to behave. Bali has already deported a few people for disrespecting local traditions.

Last month, a Canadian actor was kicked out of Bali after he filmed himself dancing naked on top of the sacred Mount Batur, while a Russian influencer and her husband were also ejected from the island after she posed nude against a 700-year-old tree within a Hindu compound.

Malaysians, too, have recently bemoaned the return of opportunistic Singaporean drivers illegally filling up their cars with petrol subsidised for locals. A Malaysian influencer last month also caused consternation in Vietnam for wearing a traditional ao dai dress without any trousers and posing provocatively.

Travellers should respect local customs and be mindful that while locals are happy for tourism's return, they've also had a peaceful two years with few or no rowdy foreign visitors.

Residents in Japan's old capital of Kyoto, for example, told The Guardian they had loved the months of peace and quiet without the "tourism pollution".

Be kind to nature

Two years of border closures have allowed "nature to recover" as human activity was curtailed at tourist destinations during the pandemic.

Take Thailand's Maya Bay for instance. The cove on one of the two Phi Phi islands - made famous by the 2000 film The Beach - used to host more than 5,000 visitors a day, leading environmentalists to caution about pollution from boats and tourists whose sunscreen affected the coral reef beneath the clear turquoise waters.

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Now, the government only allows 375 people at one time and the bay is again teeming with wildlife, including blacktip sharks. Across the region, there are signs of a renewed push by tourists and the hospitality sector to double up on efforts to make tourism sustainable and centred on local communities.

In April, Booking.com released a survey of 29,000 travellers from 30 countries that found that 61 per cent of travellers said the pandemic made them want to travel more sustainably.

The survey respondents said they were concerned about excess waste, threats to local wildlife and habitats, and overcrowding at the destination. They also said they intended to stay in sustainable accommodation.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.