Brunei among top 10 Muslim-friendly travel destinations

Azlan Othman

As one of the hardest hit industries, travel and tourism stakeholders seek answers and solutions for the devastation they experienced amid COVID-19.

The Mastercard-Crescentrating Travel Readiness Report (COVID-19 in Asean 2020) published this week probes into the impact of the pandemic to identify key gaps and tension themes arising from COVID-19. The recognition of such gaps will then allow such stakeholders to gather their action plan for the future of travel and tourism.

The report also said ASEAN as a region is one of the most Muslim-friendly regions in the world. Two destinations (Malaysia and Indonesia) are joint first in the Mastercard-Crescentrating Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI) 2019.

Brunei Darussalam and Singapore along with Malaysia and Indonesia from ASEAN occupy four of the top 10 ranked destinations in the GMTI. Singapore has been consistently ranked number one among non-Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) destinations. Thailand is ranked 18 overall and second among non-OIC category.

The Philippines has also steadily climbed the ranking the last few years and is now among the top 10 non-OIC destinations. This strength allows ASEAN destinations to position strongly to attract the Muslim market as travel opens.

Muslim travellers represented 21 per cent of the domestic tourist and 43 per cent of the intra-ASEAN travellers. The high percentage of intra-ASEAN Muslim travellers is due to the large Muslim travel outbound market of Indonesia and Malaysia travelling to neighbouring destinations.

With its strength as one of the most Muslim travel friendly regions in the world, ASEAN could benefit from this segment of travellers as intra-regional travel opens up.

File photo shows the Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Mosque in Bandar Seri Begawan. PHOTO: BAHYIAH BAKIR

But COVID-19 has severely impacted the tourism industry globally. The report said the first reported cases of COVID-19 in ASEAN were in January. Singapore and Vietnam were the first destinations to implement international travel restrictions. The first fatalities were reported in February.

This led to most of ASEAN implementing movement controls across their international and inter-state borders by mid-March. These destinations are now easing travel restrictions starting July. ASEAN largely implemented similar measures due to their close cooperation, which has helped the region to better contain the spread of the virus.

Most of whose finances were negatively impacted by COVID-19 were from low and medium income households across all three destinations. From an age group perspective, all age groups were impacted. Even when the destinations start to open up for domestic tourism, the impact of finances on these groups will hamper the re-start of domestic tourism.

The most common daily activities that people were doing less are shopping, eating out and patronising entertainment venues. Locals from all destinations were alike in postponing large purchases. As these are typical activities in domestic tourism, destinations will need to address these to re-start domestic tourism.

A vast majority of people have either cancelled or delayed both domestic and international travel. Destinations will need to rebuild traveller confidence, primarily on health and safety.

Destinations are opening up in different phases for tourism. Most will initially open up for domestic travel. In the next phase travel will open up between certain destinations. These are known as travel bubbles, travel corridors or green lanes. The next stage will open regional travel such as intra-ASEAN travel. The final phase will fully open all travel including international travel.

As ASEAN looks at opening international travel, the greatest opportunities will be in its inbound markets. It may be able to create travel “bubbles” with destinations which have managed the COVID-19 health issues better.

Mastercard and Crescentrating have closely monitored the impact of COVID-19 on ASEAN destinations since the virus first broke out in the region in January 2020.

Notwithstanding the significance of the availability of a COVID-19 cure, the speed of ASEAN travel recovery will also depend on the presence of travel readiness drivers in the destinations as well as the ability of ASEAN to open their travel markets to serve the full spectrum of domestic, travel corridors, intra ASEAN and international travel.

Based on these dynamic factors, the report suggested three COVID-19 growth recovery paths facing ASEAN till 2022: Positive, plausible and pessimistic. Market projections on the size of the ASEAN travel market are also indicated in each recovery phase.

The COVID-19 recovery plan for ASEAN requires a comprehensive analysis of key tourism performance areas, gaps caused by the pandemic and steps that can be taken by different travel stakeholders to inject recommendations to strategically address these challenges.

To date, ASEAN has responded strongly to combat COVID-19 with various measures taken by different tourism stakeholders in their economies. Greater regional cooperation will also help mitigate any future waves and result in a stronger ASEAN post COVID-19.