Explained: How some countries are wooing the tourists back


Despite a rising number of COVID-19 cases, governments across the world have begun working towards easing border restrictions to kick-start international travel in hopes of reviving the coronavirus-hit tourism industry.

Many countries are partnering to form exclusive travel ‘bubbles’ or ‘corridors’ in order to strategically reopen borders for tourists amidst the pandemic. Countries like the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Estonia, and Lithuania have all lifted restrictions for international travellers visiting from a few select nations.

Earlier this month, the European Union announced that it would soon be reopening its borders for tourists visiting from 15 countries outside the bloc. Algeria, Canada, Japan, Rwanda, Serbia, and South Korea were all included in the list.

However, in the midst of an unprecedented epidemiological crisis, tourists worldwide are reluctant to go abroad as the health risks associated with international travel appear to far outweigh the benefits of a leisurely summer vacation. To encourage tourists to set aside their fears and embark on both foreign and domestic travel, popular tourism destinations from around the world have introduced a host of incentives like discounts on flights and hotel stays, travel vouchers and even full refunds in case of a COVID-19 diagnosis.

Here are some countries, which have incentivised foreign travel for tourists:

Uzbekistan: The Uzbekistan government has promised to pay $3,000 to any tourist who contracts COVID-19 while visiting the country. The amount will cover the entire cost of medical treatment, and is part of a larger government strategy to welcome visitors back to the country.

“We want to reassure tourists they can come to Uzbekistan,” Uzbekistan’s tourism minister to the UK Sophie Ibbotson said in a statement. “The government is so confident that the new safety and hygiene measures being implemented across the tourism sector will protect tourists from Covid-19, that the president is prepared to put money where his mouth is.”

International travel to Uzbekistan from low-risk countries like China, Japan and South Korea is set to commence later this month.

Italy: In April, the southern Italian island of Sicily announced that it would cover half of flight costs and a third of hotel expenses for travellers planning to visit the scenic destination. It also offered free tickets to visit museums and archaeological sites.

Italy was one of the first countries in Europe to experience the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in February, this year. With over 35,000 deaths, it reported one of the highest tolls in the world. Due to the global health crisis, Sicily reportedly lost over 1 billion euros in tourism-related revenue.

Japan: Japan has launched its ambition “Go To” campaign to boost domestic travel after the pandemic crippled the country’s otherwise thriving tourism industry. The campaign provides subsidies of up to 50 per cent on all domestic travel spending — including, travel costs, accommodation, visiting tourist attractions and shopping within Japan.

The “Go To” campaign, which was officially launched on Wednesday, is expected to continue in the country till spring 2021. Due to a steadily rising number of coronavirus cases in the city, Tokyo has been excluded from the programme. Residents of Japan’s capital and those who wish to visit the city will not be able to avail of the government’s travel subsidies.

Mexico: In southeast Mexico’s Cancun, tourists can avail of two free nights of accommodation for every two nights they pay for as part of the ‘Come to Cancun 2×1’ campaign. Travellers will also receive a refund for one additional plane ticket, to encourage them to bring a companion for their beach vacation.

According to the Association of Hotels in Cancun, Puerto Morelos and Isla Mujeres, foreign tourists who are planning a holiday to Mexico can participate in a number of social media contests through which they stand the chance to win lifetime travel certificates to visit Cancun.

Cyprus: The Mediterranean country of Cyprus has vowed to cover the entire cost of accommodation, food, drink and medication for all tourists who test positive for COVID-19 while visiting the island nation.

“The traveler will only need to bear the cost of their airport transfer and repatriation flight, in collaboration with their agent and/or airline,” the Cypriot government announced in a statement released in May. The cost for their co-travellers will also be covered entirely, the government said. The country has also set up a 100-bed hospital exclusively for travellers who contract the illness while on vacation.

Greece: Greece is luring foreign tourists by slashing taxes on flight tickets. After effectively mitigating the impact of the pandemic, the country cut the Value Added Tax (VAT) on all modes of transport from 24% to 13%.

“The tourism period begins on 15 June, when seasonal hotels can reopen. Let us make this summer the epilogue of the (COVID-19) crisis,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced. “We will win the economy war just as we won the health battle.”

On July 1, 235 flights carrying tourists from across the world touched down in Greece’s international airports for the first time since the pandemic began.

Other countries have also introduced incentives to encourage tourism. The Portugal government has announced that foreign travellers will be tested for free upon arrival. Meanwhile in Bulgaria, tourists will no longer have to pay to access loungers, umbrellas, or tables while sunbathing on the beach.