Will Malaysia reopen soon? Asian country planning ‘travel bubble’ project

After news broke that popular Southeast Asian countries like Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines have relaxed travel restrictions and started to allow foreign visitors, many countries took notice.

Malaysia, a country that’s famous for its beautiful coastline, buzzing cities, and rolling mountain hills, has also been inspired to join its neighbours and jumpstart its tourist industry.

Travellers who are eager to visit this stunning country will soon have the chance to apply for the Malaysia eVisa and see it with their own eyes.

For now, here’s what we know about Malaysia’s grand re-opening scheme.

Ever since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Malaysia has been reeling from the effects of its ailing tourism industry.

In fact, one of the largest industries in Malaysia is tourism, which contributes almost 6 percent to its gross domestic product and employs nearly a quarter of the country’s total workforce.

Malaysia was also the 10th most visited country in 2012, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) thanks to its abundant natural attractions.

The country recently had one of its most successful years in tourism in 2019, when international tourist numbers topped more than 26.1 million.

However, this all came crashing down with last year’s pandemic, as Malaysia only received 4.3 million international visitors in 2020 — an astounding 83% loss from its previous year.

After a year of lockdowns, curfews, and vaccination programs, the country is ready to revive its tourism industry and welcome foreign visitors once again.

Nancy Shukri, Malaysia’s Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, stated that the country hopes to open up to travellers very soon.

In an interview with Nikkei Asia, Shukri notes, “We have proposed to open the borders for international tourists to Langkawi as a pilot for tourists from 10 countries including some ASEAN countries and a few others.”

Although the list of 10 countries is still unknown, many believe that at least a few countries will be Malaysia’s neighbours, such as Singapore. The two countries are currently in talks to create a dedicated ‘air travel lane’ so that Malaysians and Singaporeans may travel between the latter countries.

Minister Shukri also noted that Malaysia will open sometime next month, although the final date is up to the country’s National Security Council. She continued, “Personally, I target to have it by the middle of next month [November] because we have to give the stakeholders like airlines and hotels enough time to be ready.”

In a move that was inspired by Thailand’s “Phuket Sandbox” program, Malaysia will begin its pilot program with two popular destinations: the archipelago of 99 islands known as Langkawi and the state of Johor.

Choosing these two areas to lead the program was not a coincidence.

Langkawi was the country’s first domestic travel bubble destination and set the tone for all future reopenings. Malaysians who were fully vaccinated were free to explore the area without having to quarantine beforehand. After the success of the first pilot program, Langkawi will soon open to international tourists as well.

Likewise, Johor is strategically located in the south of the country, between Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, and directly linked to Singapore via causeways. Besides its convenient location, the state is also famous for its beaches, diverse rainforests, and national parks.

Although Minister Shukri has not gone into complete detail about the entry requirements to these two destinations, they will be similar to those of other countries.

For example, travellers who wish to be part of the reopening will need to be fully vaccinated; take out travel insurance that has a minimum coverage of at least $80,000 USD and must cover COVID-19 treatment (if needed); and take tests before and after entering the country.

Travellers will need to provide a negative test in order to enter Malaysia, test once again upon arrival, and possibly test one more time during their stay to ensure that they do not have the coronavirus.

By following these requirements, travellers will not need to self-isolate or quarantine. Minister Shukri noted that, “Our ultimate goal is to keep Malaysians and the tourists safe, so we don’t want to spoil their holiday by asking them to be confined in hotel rooms. But at the same time, regular testing would be key.”

Malaysia is one of many countries that are planning to reopen. Singapore, Malaysia’s closest neighbour, has already opened to fully vaccinated travellers from 10 countries, including Germany, Brunei, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States.

Likewise, Vietnam is planning to open its borders to foreign citizens by the end of the year, while Bali, Indonesia, has recently opened to citizens of almost two dozen countries (albeit, mostly from Europe and Asia).

The world has been waiting for Southeast Asia to reopen, and this announcement is sure to be welcoming news to many travellers worldwide.