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Travel News in South & Southeast Asia – The News Hub

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Welcome to our travel News in South & Southeast Asia hub. One of the reasons people travel with ETG is our on-the-ground know-how, contacts and community throughout South and Southeast Asia.  As specialists in travel to the region, we’re always on the ball and ‘The News Hub’ is the place to come up for up-to-date travel news in South & Southeast Asia.

As a UK-based company, we will occasionally include news on events and places related to South And Southeast Asia in the UK and beyond. Finally, there will be some limited news about ETG itself, so we can keep you up to date without too many emails.  We also have our Hotel Hub and Flights Hub for up-to-date information on new hotels and flight routes in Asia.

For all travel news related to Covid-19 please see our Where Can I travel in Asia? updates

NEW 26 August 2022

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office Lifts Sri Lanka Advisory

Today, the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) lifted its advisory against ‘all but essential travel to Sri Lanka’. This change follows the recent moves by France, Switzerland, Norway and others. The Sri Lanka Government lifted the state of emergency on 19 August and the tumultuous months of protests and change appear to have receded as the new Government begins the process of rebuilding Sri Lanka’s finances.

Several huge fuel shipments came into Colombo last week, the rationing system (or QR code) now appears to be working, and there are no longer extensive queues at petrol stations. Allowances have been made for additional fuel for tourist vehicles, recognizing the sector’s massive importance to the economy.

Tourists travelling with a tour operator such as Experience Travel Group have been able to visit Sri Lanka safely throughout the period and have reported very positive things about their experience.

Sam Clark, Experience Travel Group’s CEO, says:

This is excellent news! While ETG travellers have visited Sri Lanka safely throughout the crisis, removing this remaining obstacle to travel will give the Sri Lankan economy a huge and much-needed boost. We’re so pleased for our friends and colleagues in Sri Lanka and for all of our customers looking forward to trips over the coming months. Sri Lanka is back!

NEW 30 July 2022

Bhutan set to Open on 23rd September

The Kingdom of Bhutan will be reopening to international tourists on 23rd September. The first time with no quarantine restrictions since the beginning of the pandemic, two and a half years ago.

ETG’s Bhutan Specialist, Sara Wells, says:

This is fantastic news. Just in time for the festival months of October, November which make a visit to Bhutan all the more special.

NEW 07 July 2022

Experience Travel Group Becomes a B Corporation

After a nine-month wait for assessment and then certification, ETG has been awarded B Corp Certification.

Sam Clark, MD of ETG, says:

We’re proud to join this growing movement of successful, sustainable companies using business as a force for good and positive change. Just as we fly the flag for a different kind of travel, the B Corp community is driving the shift to a new way of doing business that is better for workers, communities, and the environment.

We’ll wear our B Corp badge with pride. It will spur us on to do more of what we’ve been doing all along – creating opportunities to expand ‘our world’ horizon, delivering amazing, immersive holidays that are transformational for the traveller, the destination and those we connect with along the way. We’re a small company doing rather significant things.

For more on our B Corp journey.

RECENT23 June 2022

The IMF Arrive in Sri Lanka to Begin Negotiations

The IMF team arrived in Sri Lanka last Monday to formally begin negotiations on a bailout for the Sri Lankan economy. Representatives of the financial and legal advisory firms Lazard and Clifford Chance are now in Sri Lanka to assist in their debt restructuring efforts.

The new Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Ranil Wickramasinghe, has made headlines
worldwide in a speech where he said: “the economy has faced a complete collapse”. The message was clear: there is an urgent requirement for assistance from the IMF and the international donor community. This speech was a commentary on the situation on the ground over the last few weeks/months, and there were no new facts. He is also issued a rallying cry for Sri Lankans to come together to work through the crisis:

If we can set aside our differences for a short while and only think of our country at this juncture, I believe we will be able to safeguard our motherland from this impending disaster. The flock of quails were only able to escape the hunter’s net by flying away together along with the trap set for them.

Despite all this, we encourage our customers to travel to Sri Lanka this summer or beyond. Our MD, Sam Clark, says:

We’re delighted to have our first travellers since the FCDO lifted the travel advisory, leaving for Sri Lanka this weekend. We are confident we can deliver a full level of holiday experience. Moreover, the awareness of the importance of tourism amongst the general population means the welcome will be pretty special. Tourism is critical to their recovery efforts, and Sri Lanka is the most resilient country we know. You can help Sri Lanka in their recovery and enjoy a glorious holiday this summer and well beyond.

RECENT10 June 2022

The FCDO lifts its advisory against travel to Sri Lanka

The UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) today lifted its advisory against travel to Sri Lanka. This shows they agree with the ETG assessment for holidays in Sri Lanka as outlined below, released on 9 June.

In consultation with our Local Experience Manager, Thushni De Silva, our hotel and experience partners and chauffeur guides, we are confident that we can safely and fully operate our holidays to Sri Lanka once again.

While intermittent fuel shortages remain a feature of life on the island, ETG can ensure our vehicles always have sufficient fuel, as we did in March and April this year. The Government of Sri Lanka has helpfully made provisions for refuelling tourist vehicles at public stations around the country, otherwise reserved for buses and lorries. The measure recognises the crucial contribution tourism will make to the economic recovery.

Politically, the new regime, under Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe, has stabilised Sri Lanka, secured short-term credit lines for essential imports, and has made considerable progress in talks with the IMF.

We are confident in recommending that our clients travel to Sri Lanka as planned during the upcoming ‘mini-season’, from July through to the end of September.

RECENT08 June 2022

Harnessing the positive power of mangroves on World Oceans Day

On World Oceans Day ETG is proud to announce we are an Ocean Positive brand. We are taking action to sequester more carbon emissions than we are creating. Since partnering with SeaTrees in 2019 we have donated £6342 to mitigate the emissions of our travellers’ flights, but we have also planted 1860 new mangrove trees and restored 465 square feet of kelp.

SeaTrees is a non-profit organisation that funds blue carbon projects to restore ocean health. Initiatives we are delighted to support include coral reef restoration in Bali that provides employment for local villagers and protection of mangrove forest in the Southern Cardamom watershed in Cambodia.

Did you know that blue carbon coastal ecosystems like mangrove forests are 5x more effective at removing carbon from the air than a rainforest? Not only that but planting mangroves creates critical habitat for threatened species, protects coastal regions from storm surges and sea level rise and provides sustainable employment.

World Oceans Day calls for transformative action to celebrate, protect and restore our planet and at Experience Travel Group we are pleased to be harnessing the power of mangroves and travel to do just that.

RECENT 1 June 2022

ETG Launch Crowdfunding Campaign for Chauffeur Guides

ETG launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise £2500 to match the contribution already pledged by the company. The money raised will support our team of ETG freelance chauffeur guides through this tough period for them.

Coming hard on the heels of the pandemic, the decision by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) to ‘advise against all but essential travel to Sri Lanka’ and the subsequent drastic fall in visitors from the UK has had a massive impact on the lives of these freelance guides.

The good news is that with fuel shortages easing substantially and a level of stability returning to the country, we believe the FCDO will likely follow suit with Germany and other countries and relax the advisory soon.

In the meantime, our freelancers need our help until we can get visitors out to them once again.

Watch this space for more updates.

21st May 2022

State of Emergency lifted in Sri Lanka

Today the state of emergency was lifted in Sri Lanka which is a small step in the right direction.

The UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (The FCDO) is still advising against all but essential travel to Sri Lanka ‘due to ongoing political and economic instability.’

We’ve heard that fuel shipments are arriving to help ease the burden a little more.

Watch this space for more updates.

18th May 2022

Vietnam Returns to Pre-Pandemic Travel Rules

After a cautious approach during the pandemic, Vietnam became the first country in Southeast Asia to revert to pre-pandemic travel rules. There is no requirement for testing, before or on arrival whether you are vaccinated or not.

For more, please see our comprehensive guide: ‘Where can I travel in Asia?

Holiday ideas for Vietnam.

13th May 2022

Ranil Wickramasinghe Returns as Prime Minister of Sri Lanka

Yesterday, Ranil Wickramasinghe, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka five times previously, was sworn in again to replace outgoing PM, Mahinda Rajapakse.

While Gotabya Rajapakse remains President, the outline of the deal appears to be positive, with the President agreeing to the demands outlined by the opposition, namely:

1) The President must resign ASAP
2) Within two weeks, an all-party government to revert from the 20th amendment to the 19th (the 20th amendment extended the powers of the executive presidency)
3) Abolish the executive presidency
4) After stabilising the economy to a minimum degree, call elections at the earliest possible date

We strongly support these measures and hope that Mr Wickramasinghe has the credibility on the international and domestic stage to guide Sri Lanka through this crisis. These developments are a tentative first step in that direction.

Today, the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (The FCDO) advised against all but essential travel to Sri Lanka ‘due to ongoing political and economic instability.’

Experience Travel Group reacted to the change in the travel advisory by releasing a joint statement with our friends at The Travel Gallery. You can read it here.

9th May 2022

Sri Lanka Declares a State of Emergency as Anti-Government Protests Continue

The Sri Lankan Government declared a State of Emergency over the weekend as anti-Government protests continued. Over the weekend, several incidents occurred at the main protest site at the Galle Face Green in Colombo.

The latest protests followed an announcement on Sunday that Mahinda Rajapakse, the Prime Minister and former president, would stand down to be replaced by the leader of the opposition, Sajith Premadasa. This compromise falls some way short of the demands of the protestors that the entire executive (including the executive President himself, Mahinda’s brother, Gotabya Rajapakse) resign immediately. The move has seemingly led to heightened tensions across the island.

As a result, an island-wide curfew was imposed. The curfew does not apply to tourists and the travellers we have in-country are continuing their holidays as normal. However, as a pre-caution we will be re-directing tours away from Colombo until further notice.

9th May 2022

Laos Opens: Testing Requirements Dropped

The Laos Government announced today that fully vaccinated visitors are no longer required to test on or before arrival from the 1st May 2022.

For more details, including coverage of the testing required for non-vaccinated travellers, please see our ‘Where Can I Travel in Asia‘ piece.

1st May 2022

Thailand & Malaysia Opens: Testing Requirements Dropped

The Thai Government announced that fully vaccinated visitors are no longer required to test on or before arrival from the 1st May 2022.

The Malaysian Government followed suit soon afterwards confirming that there is no longer any need to take either a pre-departure OR an on-arrival test before entering Malaysia (or the two provinces of Malaysia on the island of Borneo, Sabah and Sarawak). Again, this is limited, for now, to fully vaccinated travellers.

For more details, please see our ‘Where Can I Travel in Asia‘ piece.

5th April 2022

Sri Lanka Engages with IMF As Anti-Government Protests Continue

After an initial ‘soft’ default of their sovereign debt interest payments earlier in April, Sri Lanka has begun negotiating an IMF bailout. The newly-appointed head of the central bank in Sri Lanka, Mr P Nandalal Weerasinghe, has started to lay out some of the measures needed to return the country to economic stability. In practical terms, fuel has begun to be rationed, prioritising tourist vehicles and hotels, making the process more orderly and predictable. The protests continue around the country, but there is a huge ongoing protest centred on Galle Face Green in Colombo. For the large part, the protests remain overwhelmingly cheerful, optimistic and peaceful.

Travelling in Sri Lanka at The Current time

The majority of our clients travelling in Sri Lanka over the Easter holiday have reported no disruptions to their holidays, with activities proceeding as usual and the people as hospitable and welcoming as ever, if not more so. We have re-routed a small number of customers away from Colombo and switched one to a hotel further from the main protest but still in the city’s centre. There have been detours to refuel, though, in the main, our chauffeur guides refuel while their guests relax at the hotel.

Reported Medical Shortages

There have been reports in the UK press of medical equipment shortages, but this is categorically not an issue for the private hospitals where we would take any customer should they fall ill during their holiday. Travel insurance would cover this expense in the normal way.

Ordinary Sri Lankans are well aware of the importance of tourists who bring needed foreign currency (the lack of tourists during the pandemic was critical in causing the crisis). All our returning customers have reported that they are glad they decided to proceed with their holidays to Sri Lanka as planned.

Dan Stern, who travelled to Sri Lanka with his family during the Easter holidays commented:

My family (children aged 10 and 9) have just returned from the most amazing trip to Sri Lanka with Experience Travel Group. I must admit we had a bit of a wobble reading the headlines but am so relieved that we made the trip. We had no disruption whatsoever and felt incredibly safe the whole time. We did notice some very small peaceful protests and large queues at petrol stations but they were much more orderly than the queues in the UK last October. There were also some power cuts but all the hotels had generators. There was some talk of reduced menus but we didn’t notice that anywhere. The Sri Lankan people are sadly used to terrible politicians but they are the most welcoming and brilliant hosts, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second. The most chaotic part of our whole trip was Heathrow Airport!”

Sam Clark, MD and Co-founder of ETG writes:

As Sri Lanka specialists, our hearts go out to the people suffering in the economic crisis. We’re hearing that despite the undoubted hardship, the people of this wonderful island have never felt more united, and prouder of being Sri Lankan. We salute the peaceful protesters standing up for change island-wide and we thank ALL Sri Lankans for the wonderfully warm welcome they continue to give to our customers.

5th April 2022

Indonesia Opens: Requirement to Test on Arrival Dropped

The Indonesian Government announced today that visitors are no longer required to test on arrival.

They will still be required to show a valid PCR test taken within 48 hours of departure. They have also announced that several more airports will be open for the visa on arrival system, including Yogyakarta, Medan and Makassar.

Dropping the requirement to test on arrival is brilliant news for travellers wishing to get to Asia over the next six months. The requirement was a substantial barrier, but with that removed, we can count Indonesia as ‘fully open!’. Holidays in Indonesia are ideal from a weather perspective from April through to the end of September throughout most of the islands.

Please see our comprehensive where can I travel in Asia article.

4th April 2022

State of Emergency Declared in Sri Lanka

Following the worsening economic situation and the resulting protests in Sri Lanka, the Government declared a nationwide ‘State of Emergency’ this weekend. A curfew took place from 6 pm on 2 April 2022 until 6 am on 4 April 2022.

The country is suffering from an acute shortage of foreign currency reserves following long-term mismanagement, corruption, and the pandemic’s shorter-term impact (when income from remittances and tourism fell sharply). The Government of Sri Lanka is unable to meet the basic energy needs of the population and is therefore rationing power with long power cuts. There is also an acute shortage of imported goods, and at times diesel has been in short supply. These shortages have led to a very sharp cost of living crisis and large scale protests around the country. These protests have been overwhelmingly peaceful. The Government responded by dissolving and re-forming the cabinet and seeking temporary loans from India and discussions with the IMF about restructuring Sri Lanka’s debt.

Due to the importance of visitors in bringing in much needed foreign exchange, tourism is largely insulated from the crisis. Hotels have generators and can ensure there are no power cuts for tourists. The Government has taken steps to ensure that tourism vehicles are given priority for fuel. Tourists and their guides were exempted entirely from the curfew at the weekend. ETG customers in Sri Lanka have continued their tours as planned, unaffected by the shortages or the protests.

ETG’s MD, Sam Clark, says:

‘Our hope is that the Government of Sri Lanka can come to a speedy resolution to the severe political and economic issues facing the country. We are in constant touch with our customers, and they can continue their holidays safely and as planned with visitors not subject to any curfews. Tourism brings in much needed foreign currency for Sri Lanka, and visitors are being welcomed with arrangements made to ensure their stay is unaffected.”

16th March

Vietnam is Open With No Test On Arrival

Vietnam is now open without requiring a Covid test on arrival with immediate effect. The authorities in Vietnam have removed the last remaining significant barrier to travel.

Visitors still require a pre-departure test and to download the PC-Covid app during their stay in Vietnam. In further positive news, the authorities lifted visa exemptions for 13 countries, including the United Kingdom, Denmark, Germany and France, meaning visitors from those countries will not need to apply for an e-visa in advance.

For more details, please see our comprehensive where can I travel in Asia article.

9th March 2022

Import Restrictions on Fuel & Foodstuffs in Sri Lanka – The Impact on Holidays

The UK Foreign, Development and Commonwealth Office (FCDO) updated their advice on the 7th March to warn that Sri Lanka was experiencing severe shortages of fuel, foodstuffs and even essential medicines. It was a dramatic update.

We have been monitoring this situation for many months now. Sri Lanka is suffering from a severe shortage of hard currency, caused, in part, by a lack of tourists during the pandemic. The government is struggling to import fuel and other imports to the level needed. These shortages are having a substantial impact on the lives of Sri Lankans, with queues at petrol stations and daily power cuts.

We wanted to reassure our customers that the impact on your Sri Lanka holiday will be limited. The hotels we use have generators and can run them during power cuts, which are, in any case, not unusual in Sri Lanka. Our local office in Sri Lanka has a generator to continue with business as usual for our staff and partners. Menu’s in hotels will be more limited than usual, though of course, the mouthwatering ‘rice and curry’ spreads will remain unaffected as they use mainly locally grown ingredients.

The challenge is ensuring that our chauffeur guides using diesel vehicles have sufficient fuel for the journeys. We have been taking the following steps:

* The Government of Sri Lanka has given vehicles in tourism priority. This means guides can get their vehicles filled up at state owned stations around the country designed to service the bus network

* Sending out messages with updates to all our chauffeurs with fuel arrival updates and where and when to fill-up

* We use our network of contacts around the country to restock in advance of arrival at a hotel when needed

As usual, we’re in awe of the resourcefulness of Thushni, our Local Experience Manager and the partner team we have on the ground. They are the best in the business. Apart from the occasional fuel stop (usually, we would never refuel with a customer in the vehicle), this situation has not impacted our holidays.

At the time of writing, the worst of the shortages appear to be over for now, at least. Current estimations give Sri Lanka until June to refinance their debts or find a solution with a donor government or the IMF. We will update again then, but in the meantime, we will continue to monitor the situation and work hard in the background to ensure we continue to deliver the best possible service so you can enjoy Sri Lanka’s many charms.

Remember, spending your hard currency is precisely what the people of Sri Lanka need right now. Your holiday brings much-needed income and support to the 1 in 8 families who rely on tourism as their primary income. In our view, your holiday experience is as impactful, if not more so, than any charitable donation you could make.

8th March 2022

Dramatic Loosening of Travel Restrictions for Bali and Indonesia

The Government of Indonesia today announced that fully vaccinated holidaymakers to Bali will no longer have to quarantine with immediate effect.

Visitors to other islands throughout Indonesia will be able to use Bali as a ‘gateway’ to avoid any requirement to quarantine.

For more details, please see our comprehensive where can I travel in Asia article.

3rd December 2021

New railway line opens in Laos

Laos has opened a new Chinese built high-speed railway line connecting the capital Vientiane with the Chinese city of Kunming. The 414-kilometre (260-mile) track was constructed under China’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative.

Laos President Thongloun Sisoulith heralded a “new era of modern infrastructure development”.

There are plans for high-speed rail ultimately to take passengers down through Thailand and Malaysia to Singapore. The implications for visitors to Laos are significant as it opens quick and efficient train travel in a country where previously the only options were journeys by boat, road or plane.

ETG Director, Melissa Nicholas says:

“The new railway is great news for Laotions in terms of infrastructure and opens up fantastic possibilities for travel to this beautiful landlocked gem of a country. Do get in contact to discuss how we can incorporate a train journey into your holiday to Laos.”

20th May 2021

ETG to Offer Tip-Inclusive Bespoke Holidays

Experience Travel Group today became the first UK travel company to go fully ‘tip-inclusive’ throughout their bespoke holiday programme.

Instead of a discretionary amount decided by the client, will now be a fixed daily amount. This amount will be automatically included in the overall cost of the holiday and split fairly between each experience provider involved locally. Research has shown us that the average amount earned by our guides across several customers will be higher than if individual clients are left to decide the amount themselves.

If the client feels that they did not receive satisfactory service from their guides throughout the holiday, they are entitled to a full refund of the tip on their return. Experience Travel Group will refund that amount ourselves without recourse to the individual guide or service provider.

Please see our tip-inclusive holiday blog for more on our reasoning and the research that went into this revolutionary change.

UP TO DATE WITH THE TRAVEL NEWS IN SOUTH & SOUTHEAST ASIA AND KEEN TO TRAVEL?

If you would like to discuss any news items or are keen to on and organise your holiday, do get in touch on 020 7924 7133  or drop us an contact us here. We have various example itineraries for privately guided tailor-made trips that can provide you with holiday inspiration. 

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