From the Great Wall to the scenic Kashmir Valley, tourist destinations in Asia are looking to domestic visitors to take them through the second year of the Covid-19 pandemic.
As international travel is severely restricted, foreign tourists cannot enter many countries and locals cannot exit. In the metropolis of Hong Kong, glamping and staycations have replaced travel abroad for at least part of its 7.4 million inhabitants.
In the Asia-Pacific region, international tourist arrivals are down 95% in the first five months of the year, compared to the same period before the pandemic in 2019, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization. .
New variants of the virus are looming – a constant threat to any recovery even in domestic tourism. Warnings of a possible third wave in India worry Imraan Ali, whose barge on Dal Lake in Kashmir is his only source of income.
“As we expect a good influx of tourists, we don’t want this to be affected,” he said.
INDIA CAUTION AS EPIDEMIC ENDS
Tourists are returning to the valleys and mountains of Kashmir, as infections in the Himalayan region and nationwide decline after a second deadly wave earlier this year.
The ‘shikaras’, or traditional Kashmiri barges, are back on the calm waters of Dal Lake as Indians travel home. India is reporting around 30,000 new cases of coronavirus per day, up from a peak of 400,000 in May, but still enough for many countries to restrict travelers from India.
Nihaarika Rishabh said she and her husband were relieved to finally be able to leave their home in Agra city for their honeymoon, after their marriage was postponed in Wave 2. The Kashmir vacation has helped calm their nerves after months of the pandemic, she said.
Ali, the owner of the barge, is happy that the number of visitors has increased.
“We have been suffering for two years,” he said. “Our livelihood depends on tourism.”
But mountainous areas like Kashmir have seen an increase in infections as the number of visitors increases, fueling concerns about a third wave.
The hustle and bustle of Bangkok subsides
The Erawan Shrine in central Bangkok was once teeming with foreign tourists and locals making offerings day and night. Today it is strangely quiet. Only a handful of people buy incense or flowers from vendors who set up stalls outside.
“We’re still here because we don’t know what else to do,” said one of them, Ruedewan Thapjul.
As Thailand battles a Covid-19 outbreak with nearly 20,000 new cases every day, people who depend on tourism struggle in what was one of the most visited cities in the world, with 20 million visitors l year before the pandemic.
Suthipong Pheunphiphop, chairman of the Thai Travel Agents Association, urged the government to commit to its plan to reopen the country to foreign tourists in October.
Currently, the streets are almost empty in the Siam Square shopping district in Bangkok.
Passavee Kraidejudompaisarn, the third generation owner of a popular noodle shop, wiped away tears as he spoke of his fears of losing the family business.
Previously, the 60-year-old restaurant was packed with locals and foreign tourists, earning around $ 2,000 a day. Now, she says, she earns just over $ 2 on some days.
CHINESE STAY IN CHINA
Strict virus control measures have allowed China to return to a relatively normal life. The number of tourists visiting Beijing in June and July tripled from the same period last year, while income quadrupled, according to Trip.com, China’s largest online travel booking platform.
“Personally, I feel very safe,” said Olaya Ezuidazu, a Spanish national living in Beijing, during a recent visit to the Great Wall.
But even China is not immune to the delta variant. The outbreaks in July and August prompted authorities to suspend flights and trains to affected cities. Parks and museums have reduced the number of visitors to 60% of their capacity, compared to 75% previously.
Phil Ma felt the resulting impact on tourism at his cafe in a traditional “hutong” neighborhood, a short walk from Tiananmen Square in central Beijing. “It is evident over the three or four days from the weekend to today that the number of guests has dropped a lot,” he said.
The alley in front of his cafe was quiet, unlike the queue that formed for a cup of coffee at a big party in May.
GAMPING IN HONG KONG
The difficulty of traveling abroad has made glamping – or glamorous camping – popular in Hong Kong.
Berina Tam and Vincy Lee left with We Camp, a campsite in Yuen Long, a rural area north of Hong Kong.
“It’s actually a good opportunity for us to try and explore Hong Kong a bit more,” Tam said.
Many glamping sites offer clean beds, showers, and barbecue sites for campers to grill on skewers and chicken wings. The typical charge is $ 65 per person per night.
Bill Lau, founder of Hong Kong travel platform Holimood, said glamping offers an alternative for those who find camping too primitive.
“Families and couples need to find a place to go on the weekends,” he said. “If we’re trying to recreate the travel experience, it has to be an overnight experience.”
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This story was posted from an agency feed with no text editing. Only the title has been changed.