Planning your next holiday? Here are some international destinations to consider…
From once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to see some of the world’s most popular tourist destinations without too many, well, tourists, to supporting responsible travel companies, travel author Mark Bibby Jackson shares his insider travel tips for the post-Covid world.
By Mark Bibby Jackson, TravelBeginsAt40.com
If you’re dreaming of finally going on holiday abroad again, where should you visit when you get the chance?
Pre-pandemic, there was much talk about over-tourism. Destinations that had traditionally welcomed visitors with open arms – such as Venice, Barcelona and Lisbon – had almost declared war on the international traveller, imposing tourist taxes, barring cruise ships and day-trippers, while locals adorned walls with graffiti making it abundantly clear that tourists were not welcome in their neighbourhoods.
Now countries are once more turning towards tourism revenue to support their economic recovery and provide people with much-needed income. Few of us advocate returning to the bad old days of mass tourism. But, over the past 18 months, we have seen how vital tourism revenue is to local economies. So, here is some food for thought about the international travel destinations we might decide to visit first, in order to make the greatest, most positive impact and finally getting away on a holiday abroad.
What are the lights saying?
The first question is, of course, where can we travel? To provide a definitive answer to this question at the moment is as futile as painting the Humber Bridge. As soon as we state categorically that we can travel to certain destinations, such as Portugal, a new variant is discovered and the traffic light changes colour, forcing us to make an emergency stop. And that’s not allowing for those people who get stuck on their holidays when the traffic light changes colour.
Last year, I was on a trip to Switzerland hosted by the Swiss Tourism Department, when the UK Government altered the travel status of the Alpine nation. Fortunately for us, the tourism department purchased a new ticket home a day earlier than intended, so we were able to land at Heathrow before turning into metaphorical pumpkins. Many were less fortunate than us, frantically checking to see if they could reschedule their flights and whether their insurance covered their losses. My key advice to you is that, before you commit to any international travel, you choose travel insurance to cover such an eventuality. I like to use Battleface Insurance when I travel.
Even when the UK Government is content for us to return home without entering quarantine, this does not mean the destination nation is equally as welcoming.
Take St Helena, for example. This year, the remote island off the coast of Africa is celebrating the bicentenary of Napoleon’s death there. Chartered flights commenced on 21st June from London Stansted Airport with Titan Airways. St Helena is also one of the countries – at time of writing – on the UK Government Green list. Sounds perfect? The only catch is that you have to quarantine for 10 days upon arrival, (recently reduced from 14 days). Not exactly perfect for your two-week vacation.
Keen to rediscover lost treasures?
If you have a bit more time to plan your journey, this might be a good time to do some Covid crystal ball gazing. With a fair wind, the likelihood is that certain long-haul destinations will open up for travel in time for the autumn/winter season.
Currently, Phuket is trialing what is described as the sandbox plan where double-vaccinated travellers are able to visit the Thai island without entering the normal 14-day quarantine period, so long as they do not venture to other parts of the country. The Thai government is aiming to vaccinate 70% of the islanders to facilitate this process.
Quite how this will work in practice remains to be seen. But there is a strong possibility that, once Thailand starts allowing quarantine-free travel to its borders, other countries in the region will follow.
Instead of heading to the – for now at least – deserted beaches of Thailand, why not head for neighbouring Cambodia? Having spent 10 years in the country, I know Cambodia very well and have many friends still living there. They all say how serene Angkor Wat is without any tourists. This really is a once in a lifetime opportunity to visit one of the most amazing temple complexes in the world bereft of tourists, in a way that has not been possible since the 1990s.
The country has the most advanced vaccination programme in South-East Asia, after Singapore, and the hope is that towards the end of the year – possibly November – the current onerous quarantine entry requirements will be relaxed as the country achieves 70%+ adult vaccination rates. This should allow you to visit Angkor, sample the wonderful cuisine, visit eco-lodges such as the Cardamom Tented Camp, and relax on deserted (even pre-Covid) beaches, as you escape the UK winter.
Flights with airlines such as the world-beating Singapore Airlines are currently priced only slightly above those in 2019, and hotel rates are a snip. However, if you book now, make sure you check the cancellation policy on your travel insurance.
Time for a multi-stop tour?
It seems almost inevitable that when international tourism does return, multi-stop tours will be the last to recover. However hard it is to visit Thailand or Cambodia at the moment, just imagine trying to visit both – and then throw in Laos and Vietnam into the mix too.
The 21-day, four-nation Indochina tour will return, but hopefully not too soon. This will allow us to enjoy travel to a region as it should be experienced, spending longer in each destination, sharing more with the host community and helping to invest more in their future.
Responsible tourism companies, such as Yaana Venture (who run the Cardamom Tented Camp, mentioned above), work closely with local communities, investing in their education and long-term livelihoods as well as preserving the local environment – and tourism treasures.
For instance, one by-product of the effect Covid has had on tourism has been the reported increase in poaching in Africa. Without tourists to get in their way, and with a reduced number of rangers to police them, poachers have been able to venture more freely into reserved wildlife areas, with potentially devastating effects on the wildlife.
One of the things that we travellers can do is to support responsible travel companies that are working with luxury safaris to support local communities: helping them stop poaching and providing them with much-needed income to feed their families. Two initiatives that are worthy of consideration are World Female Ranger Day by How Many Elephants, and Project Ranger by the Great Plains Foundation. The Mantis Group also has a series of initiatives that support local communities and wildlife.
Red. Amber. Green. At some point, we’ll have the the green light for all international travel. In the meantime, go where you can travel safely and plan for your future trips. After all, we’ve learned many lessons from the pandemic – including not to take travel for granted.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Bibby Jackson is passionate about travel and sharing the joys of visiting new places and people. He is the founder and group editor of websites Travel Begins at 40 and London Begins at 40, as well as the award-winning author of three thrillers set in Cambodia. He is the former editor of AsiaLIFE Cambodia, ASEAN Forum and Horizon Thailand magazines.