Slowly as the world is gradually opening up from strict lockdown and looking towards a new normal with squinty eyes, travel thoughts are making a comeback. Even as travel is on pause, Indian travellers have started making wish lists of the safest countries to visit in Asia. They might not be booking but they are looking.
Safety instead of the popularity now governs the desirability of destinations. Unnecessary flying will be avoided. A fact echoed by the survey conducted by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the biggest fear among the flyers is sitting next to someone infected. In this global survey, about 58% of the respondents said that they had avoided air travel because of this fear. Contrary to the fear, Air Travel is very safe. Read my detailed post on everything you need to know to fly safely in 2020.
While no one knows when will it be safe to travel again, people have gradually started moving out. Domestic road trips and staycations are making a classic come back. And once the confidence is back in global tourism, short-haul international destinations will pick up steam too after the domestic market.
To bring back tourism on track and promote safe and hygienic travel, World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) has launched a specially designed stamp that will allow travellers to recognise governments and companies around the world which have adopted health and hygiene global standardised protocols – so consumers can experience ‘Safe Travels’.
Below are the safest destinations you can travel to right now in Asia.
Safe and open for tourism
The tourism-dependent island nation will be your safest bet if you are looking to holiday in a paradise without having any fear of contracting the virus. The Maldives took proactive measures to contain the virus in the initial stages because of which there have been only 9,427 cases reported till date with 84% recovery rate. You can track the current Corona Virus situation in the Maldives here.
After being closed for four months, the archipelago opened for tourists in July. The ‘one island one resort’ philosophy of the Maldives makes it a preferred destination for anyone looking for safety and privacy. Some resorts are even offering you to reserve entire islands for you and your group.
Here is a detailed video that shares the latest travel advice on Maldives including the current covid19 situation in the country, air bubble arrangement, cost, stay options, food and almost every other information you need to know to plan a trip to the Maldives.
India and Maldives have recently set up an Air Bubble, which is first of its kind in South Asia allowing the citizens of both the countries to visit each other easily without undergoing quarantine and visas will also be free on arrival, except for those who have symptoms on arrival.
So far, majority of the cases are reported from the capital, Male. And, when you arrive in the Maldives as a tourist, you don’t spend much time at the capital. You are directly escorted from the Male Airport to your resort either through a speedboat or a seaplane.
Maldives has been very proactive when it comes to safety and hygiene, and now they are following even more stringent measures set by the international and local guidelines. Maldives is a proud holder of WTTC Safe Travels stamp for adopting health and hygiene global standardised protocols.
Maldives is more affordable than ever
Yes, that’s true! In fact, it is the best time ever to book a holiday to Maldives because of the ongoing offers. Resorts are giving as much as up to 50% discount, and features such as Flexi cancellation that allows cancelling or rescheduling your booking up to 24 hours before your arrival. However, if you are taking a seaplane, it is 72 hours. Make sure to book an all-inclusive package that covers your accommodation, food, drinks and excursions. It works out to be a cheaper deal than booking separately.
Tip: Before booking your holiday take care of two critical facts – you can only stay at one resort, and you need to install the Maldives’ contact tracing app ‘TraceEkee’ (like India’s Aarogya Setu app) prescribed by the Maldives Ministry of tourism.
Travel to Maldives requirements
- VISA: free visa on arrival like before by providing a confirmed hotel booking, sufficient funds and confirmed return ticket and Health Declaration Form x 2 (on arrival and before departure). Check the official website for details.
- Traveller Health Declaration Form: The Traveller Health Declaration form (THD) has to be submitted on http://imuga.immigration.gov.mv by all visitors twice – 24 hours before you fly into the Maldives and a second time before your departure from the Maldives.
- COVID test: All visitors to present a negative COVID-19 test on arrival at Velana International Airport. The test must be conducted within a maximum duration of 72 hours prior to departure from the country of origin.
- Quarantine: You are not required for any quarantine if you have a negative PCR test result certificate. But if your COVID-19 test result is positive, you have to undergo a 14-day quarantine at your own cost.
- Resorts COVID ready: All tourist facilities operating during this phase will have access to medical services, full PPE kits and a COVID-19 safety manager. Travel to other islands or the capital, Male’ City is not permitted during your entire stay.
Below links will provide you the updated and correct information on the COVID-19 scenario in the Maldives.
Latest COVID-19 updates: https://covid19.health.gov.mv/en/
Maldives COVID-19 Dashboard: https://covid19.health.gov.mv/dashboard/
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
India is a number one market for UAE, specifically Dubai. In 2019, out of the 16 million visitors that were welcomed by Dubai, 2 million were Indians – the highest from any country. Indians have always been attracted to the desert city for short-haul or weekender trips due to its proximity, similar culture, food, big Indian diaspora and attractions that are ideal for families, couples and MICE market. Whether you are looking for retail therapy at opulent malls or taking a much-deserved break at luxury resorts and hotels, adrenaline action at Dubai Skydiving or a quiet dinner in the sand dunes of Dubai; the city never disappoints to welcome you.
And, even during a raging pandemic the financial capital of UAE – Dubai – has topped the charts of many surveys as most sought-after international destination such as Unravel Travel: Fears & Possibilities in a Post Coronavirus (Covid-19) and, Booking.com survey. As of date, Dubai is among a few cities in the world that are currently open to both tourism and business. India and UAE are flying special repatriate flights between the two countries under an ‘air bubble’ arrangement, which allows carriers of both countries to operate repatriation flights.
Dubai is renowned for turning small things into mega attractions, and Dubai intends to use the same essence to attract Indian travellers back to the city while harping on the fact that the grandiose city is fully geared to provide a safe and hygienic world-class experience. In fact it received a seal of approval by none other than the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). Dubai is one of the very few international destinations in the world to earn the coveted WTTC Safe Travels stamp for adopting health and hygiene global standardised protocols – so consumers can experience ‘Safe Travels’.
It was the emirate’s strict safety standards and ease of pulling out big-ticket events at last minute that India’s largest sporting spectacle, Indian Primer League (IPL), decided to host the IPL 2020 in UAE.
PS: The situation is quite fluid and can change drastically overnight so please check the latest travel advise from Visit Dubai or the airline you are flying with for more details before booking your trip.
Travel to Dubai requirements
- VISA: Fulfil entry visa requirements to visit the UAE. PreCOVID Indians with passports valid for more than six months could apply for a visa and Indian Nationals, with a valid US Visa (minimum six months) could get a Visa on Arrival at the UAE Airports.
- Travel insurance: Before travelling, ensure your medical travel insurance has international coverage or fly with Emirates that is providing Free COVID-19 cover.
- Health declaration, costs form: You’ll need to sign a health declaration form undertaking to bear all costs of quarantine and treatment in case the need arises while in Dubai.
- COVID test: If you are a tourist intending to travel to Dubai, authorities have asked for a PCR test result certificate for a test taken up to 4 days (maximum 96 hours) before the date of travel. In case despite having a negative certificate if you display COVID-19 symptoms, the test can be repeated in Dubai. Also, Tourists are required to register all their details in the COVID-19 DXB app.
- Entering and leaving Dubai: All tourists must download the COVID-19 DXB App and register details.
- Quarantine: Tourists are not required for any quarantine if they have a negative PCR test result certificate. However, they’ll need to undergo a 14-day quarantine in case the COVID-19 test result is positive.
Safe but closed to tourism
Even as travelling to Singapore may be on pause now, the country remains the top choice for Indian and Asian travellers as per the Unravel Travel survey. The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) knows this fact and don’t want to break the connection with its visitors. It has launched a microsite as part of the tourism board’s efforts to make sure Indian travellers have Singapore in mind, whenever they start to travel again. The microsite encourages potential travellers to “Rediscover Now, Travel Later” with numerous activities in the joint programme with STB. Sections such as ‘[email protected]’, ‘[email protected]’ invites the audience to ‘virtually’ explore the countless attractions, foods and cocktails of the city in a fun and interactive way. The microsite also showcases how tourism businesses in Singapore are preparing to welcome back business.
Singapore is gradually reopening its borders to allow safe travel in limited numbers from a few countries with the necessary safety guidelines. So far, Singapore has implemented special safe travel arrangements with some countries/regions such as Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, China, Japan, Republic of Korea and New Zealand. Indian nationals belonging only to a particular category or status are permitted to enter Singapore. Transfer or transit passes for Indian passengers are not accepted.
General Advisory for Visitors
- Short-term visitors are not allowed entry into Singapore, except those coming in under the Green/Fast Lane arrangements, the Air Travel Pass or with special prior approval.
- All incoming travellers are required to abide by the national health regulations of the country.
- Singapore is discussing with various countries and regions to set up bilateral arrangements for safe travel. There is a possibility India might have an Air Bubble arrangement with Singapore soon.
Travel to Singapore requirements
- Arriving in Singapore: From 27 March 2020, onwards, all Singapore Citizens, Permanent Residents and Long Term Pass holders returning to Singapore, including work pass holders and their dependents working in essential services are required to submit a health declaration form through the SG Arrival Card (SGAC) e-Service before proceeding with immigration clearance. This health declaration should be submitted up to three days before arrival in Singapore.
- Quarantine rule: All the visitors need to undergo quarantine for a week and will need to test negative for the virus before they can travel freely in Singapore. From August 11, all incoming travellers including are required to wear GPS and Bluetooth-enabled wristbands while self-quarantining to enable enforcement.
Here are some useful links for updated information on the COVID-19 situation in Singapore.
There’s a lot we can learn Bhutan, a small Himalayan Kingdom that has successfully averted the COVID-19 crisis with timely action. Bhutan’s Health Ministry took swift action right from the beginning, which is one of the reasons why Bhutan could keep COVID-19 at bay. With zero coronavirus-related fatalities, the country contained the pandemic despite limited resources.
In mid-March, when (the) first COVID-19 case was detected in the country, Bhutanese authorities traced the primary contacts within hours. They mandated a 21-day quarantine period for people entering the country from abroad.
There is a lot we can learn from Bhutan on how to pre-empt and prepare for a future crisis. Although Bhutan did not have any prior experience of dealing with the 2003 SARS outbreak, it did, however, proactively prepare to deal with a similar disease outbreak in a simulation exercise at Paro airport in November 2019, just one month before COVID-19 surfaced in China last year.
One of the reasons why the Himalayan nation was so swift in tackling the coronavirus was the high level of public trust in government officials. The country’s subsequent rapid mobilization was strongly informed by science, with Prime Minister Lotay Tshering and Health Minister Dechen Wangmo both public health officials before entering politics. They were quick to comprehend the technical guidance from the WHO and used scientific literature to guide decision-making. As a result, government decisions were based on scientific evidence. Following an evidence-based approach of testing, effective quarantines, and border control, Bhutan has been able to avoid overloading its limited healthcare system.
Is Bhutan open for Tourism?
Travelling to Bhutan is currently not allowed as the Bhutan government has put an imbargo on tourism until further notice. The government is closely monitoring the situation within and beyond its borders, and updates will be provided progressively as the global crisis unfolds.
The country’s ‘High Value, Low Volume’ tourism policy anchored in promoting sustainable tourism makes it a unique and exclusive travel destination. It will continue with this policy even when it decides to open up again. To make travel safe it will continue following the safety measures set by the World Health Organization and the Ministry of Health. A contact tracing app is already in use nationwide. Unlike other nations, Bhutan has a 21-day quarantine rule as of now for incoming stranded locals.
The country sees opportunity in the current crisis – it wants to embrace the travel trend of wellness further, and think of positive ways to promote the destination as a place where people can reflect, rest and relax.
The landlocked nation with the communist government and Buddhist genes is one of the safest countries to visit in Asia once it opens its borders for tourists. With just 19 cases and zero deaths, it was able to contain the COVID19 pandemic effectively before it could spread its tentacles and was declared coronavirus free on June 10, 2020. It is easy to get into, is blessed with stunning nature, is dearth cheap to explore and has a unique Asian culture, which is still untouched by consumerism. Where else can you witness a 2500-year-old tradition of enigmatic, saffron-cloaked monks walking through streets seeking alms before sunrise or multi-tiered turquoise blue waterfalls thundering into a lush park with granite mountains?
How Laos handled the COVID 19?
Despite being small like Bhutan, Laos too imposed strict measures to contain the pandemic. After the first two COVID19 cases were confirmed on March 24, a mandatory lockdown was imposed, borders were sealed, and domestic travel to other provinces was prohibited. As a result, only 23 COVID19 positive cases and zero deaths have been reported till date. All this happened because of aggressive testing of migrant workers and travellers entering the country.
Is Laos open for Tourism?
Like other nations, Laos has closed borders for foreign countries. Flights are discontinued until 30th September except for essential reasons.
Foreigners who require to travel to Laos for an essential purpose must follow the following guidelines:
- Present a Certificate of Entry (from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), a declaration form, and a ‘Fit to Fly’ certificate issued within 72 hours of departure
- Undergoe free COVID-19 test on arrival, positive cases admitted to hospital
- In case of a negative result, quarantine for 14 days at designated facilities, costs covered by the traveller
Safe but open only through special Air Bubbles
India has established Air bubbles with 13 countries – US, UK, France, Germany, Canada, Qatar, UAE, Bahrain, Afghanistan, Iraq, Maldives and Nigeria.
Out of all these countries, only very few countries are open to tourists.
Air bubbles are bilateral agreements through which a specific number of airlines, from both the countries, can fly. However, as per the agreement, an airline can only fly passengers between the two countries, which have signed the agreement. It cannot fly passengers from somewhere else before or after the journey. Before Air Bubbles were formed countries were only allowing repatriating flights during lockdowns. While repatriating flights are one way and the passengers have to register themselves with the embassy to board such flights, air bubble flights are both ways. Passengers can book tickets directly from the airlines.
More destinations coming soon…
As per the Civil aviation minister of India, Hardeep Singh Puri, the process of gradually resuming international flights is ongoing, and more destinations will be added soon to the list of countries where Indians can fly.
Have you done any International Travel lately? Which places do you think are the Safest Places to visit post COVID19? Do share your feedback in the comments section below.